Creativity Camps

Summer Programs with a Focus on the Fine Arts

Summer Programs with a Focus on the Fine Arts

By Taylor Harris

Tales of summer camp often involve three main characters: mosquitoes, a crotchety cook and an unrecognizable craft made of yarn. While the acrid odors of citronella or Tuesday’s mystery meat chili are perfect fodder for lifelong memories, some campers need more than sequins and school glue to satisfy their inner artists.

Northern Virginia is a region rife with specialty camps, including those devoted to the study of fine arts. If that brings to mind an image of Thomas Jefferson holding a gold-plaited paintbrush, think again. The camps highlighted here, all within a two-hour radius of Fairfax, offer everything from painting in a teepee to recording an original rock song onto a CD. A 3-year-old can be a fairy princess ballerina, a pre-teen can write science fiction, and a high school senior can engage in realistic stage combat.

Summers provide children with the chance to pursue creative passions outside of the classroom. The following camps, while ranging from Shakespeare to U2 in style, share a mission: to provide campers with the tools they need to excel both as artists and as people.

Mighty Girl Art Camp
2139 Colts Neck Court, Reston, VA 20191

Courtesy of MightGirl
Courtesy of Might Girl Art Camp

Mighty Girl is a week-long art self-empowerment camp for girls, where tween artists gather to create art inspired by nature. Founder and local artist Wendy Cook comes from a line of mighty women and started the camp in summer 2009 to help girls feel better about themselves.

“We live in a society where a girl’s confidence is challenged daily by an assault of messages that suggest they are somehow not good enough the way they are,” Cook says. She borrows the words of Eve Ensler to outline her mission: “Women are the primary resource of the planet … If we can figure out how to make women feel safe and honor women, it would be parallel or equal to honoring life itself.”

At Mighty Girl, a 30-foot teepee serves as a “girl fort,” representing a circle of unity and wholeness for the group of three to six girls. Every morning, the fort quickly fills with funky music, handmade peonies and lanterns, and deep conversations about life—an environment Cook believes will help to nurture campers’ self-esteem and creativity. Mighty Girl focuses on freedom of expression rather than technique, and emphasis is placed on every girl’s voice being heard.

Cook is certain that Mighty Girl is truly a transformative experience: “It is magical, meaningful and memorable. It’s the kind of class I wish I had when I was 10 years old.”

Writopia Lab
Various NoVA and D.C. locations

Young writers, whether they keep daily journals or have complex novels unfolding in their minds, don’t have to write alone anymore.

“Those who excel at sports can play on school or travel teams, musicians can try a band or chorus or orchestra, but where do the young writers go for support, camaraderie and recognition?” asks Kathy Crutcher, the director of Writopia Lab DC.

One answer is Writopia, a writing program for students (ages 8 through 18) that flourished in New York City and has now come to the Metro-D.C. area. During a week-long summer Writopia workshop, each of the three to six participants completes a story with a narrative arc while offering constructive feedback to fellow writers. For three hours every day, writers explore the genre of their choice—memoir, playwriting, short fiction, humor writing or another form—with a Writopia instructor available to assist, should a writer’s block crop up or a character fall flat.

The results are threefold. Writers who complete a story will be published in a Writopia Lab anthology, invited to read their work at a local bookstore, and encouraged to submit to contests and publications where past Writopia participants have experienced success.

“It’s a really empowering place for young writers, because we take their work seriously and help them to complete pieces so they leave with a sense of accomplishment,” says Crutcher.

National Building Museum Summer Camp
National Building Museum
401 F St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001

dance exchange day
Courtesy of National Building Museum Summer Camp

At the National Building Museum’s summer camp, young architects-in-training will develop an eye for great architecture and discover how buildings influence cultures. Students in third through fifth grades can choose from three two-week sessions.

Building Artists learn about the museum’s architecture through creative movement, visual art and pop-up architecture. Students who love to travel can register for Worldly Builders and explore the cultures and structures of three regions from around the world. Young Designers will explore visual art and photography, as well as create their own museum exhibitions to showcase in a gallery.

All summer camp instructors have backgrounds in arts education or architecture and encourage campers to be their own builders. “We let them become architects and artists themselves,” says Joanne Seelig, NBM’s family programs coordinator.

And just in case “museum” brings to mind painful memories of field trips past, Seelig emphasizes the fondness that young architects develop for their workspace. “Campers start to love being in the museum because it’s a different space than they’re used to, and the design of the building influences their work.”

The structure of buildings outside of the museum also informs the campers’ designs as students study the aesthetics of a district neighborhood or visit an embassy to broaden their perspectives.

Conservatory Ballet Summer Camps
Conservatory Ballet
2254-L Hunters Woods Plaza Road, Reston, VA 20191

The Conservatory Ballet utilizes the “one-room schoolhouse” model, according to instructor Alexia Redick, in which older students help younger students learn. “It gives everyone a sense of accomplishment,” says Redick.

Even the tiniest of ballerinas can don a tutu and attend the Fairy Princesses Ballet Stories Workshop, a half-day camp for girls ages 3 and 4. In one week, students learn elements of classical ballet before exchanging their leotards for costumes and dancing in a performance for family members.

Twelve Dancing Princesses is another half-day program that exemplifies the Conservatory’s model of education, as older students designed the class, its curriculum and its costumes for 5- and 6-year-olds. These accomplished ballet students teach the summer program under the guidance of their director.

Dancers ages 7 through 10 can plié to Saint-Saëns’ musical suite in “Carnival of the Animals” or attend one of the Conservatory’s full-day programs. Dance Workshop participants (ages 10 through 15) learn ballet, jazz, hip-hop and folk dance techniques, while Irish Dance students (ages 7 through 12) explore styles of dance from various regions.

Redick emphasizes the lifelong benefits of dance. “It’s more than just ballet. It’s teaching them to be excellent at everything they do.”

Northern Virginia Writing Project Student Summer Institute
George Mason University
4400 University Drive, MS 3E4, Fairfax, VA 22030

The mission of the Northern Virginia Writing Project is to help teachers teach writing. But NVWP reserves two weeks every summer to instruct young writers through its Student Summer Institute. Students in fifth through 12th grades who are passionate about writing can attend the day camp (with one overnight stay for 11th- and 12th-graders) at George Mason University.

Passion is the common denominator in this enrichment program.

“There is one requirement,” says NVWP director Don Gallehr. “It has to be voluntary. We can accept a child only if he wants to come.”

In other words, the Student Summer Institute is not a writing boot camp for kids who would rather be at the pool. Institute participants are eager writers who come early and read quietly in the back of the room until exercises begin.

“They love to be with other kids that are writing,” says instructor Mark Farrington. “It’s really pretty amazing.”

Young novelists, playwrights and essayists can expect to begin each morning with spontaneous writing exercises before breaking into grade-specific groups of 10 to 12 students for focused writing instruction. At the end of each day, students share their work and provide each other with feedback.

Of his students, Gallehr says, “They have more confidence than I’ll ever have.”

Traveling Players Ensemble Camp
The Madeira School
8328 Georgetown Pike, McLean, VA 22102

Courtesy of Traveling Players
Courtesy of Traveling Players Ensemble Camp

Traveling Players Ensemble has a unique focus: to bring great theater to the great outdoors. The Ensemble’s outdoor component is not simply an excuse to roast marshmallows.

“It teaches them to ‘rough it’ and pitch in—it’s like working together on stage,” says director Leah Vonderheide.

Fans of Shakespeare and Moliere can join the middle-school or high-school ensembles for four weeks of rehearsing classical theater, cooking over an open fire, and performing at area locations. The high-school ensemble’s performance schedule also includes a hike at Skyline Drive between shows.

Vonderheide is always impressed with her campers’ progress. “These kids produce such amazing work for their age. They can command an audience after four weeks.”

Young thespians can also audition in the winter for an advanced troupe. The Commedia Troupe (rising ninth- through 12th-graders) spends four weeks creating an original comedic play before touring during the fifth week and performing at Colonial Williamsburg.

Members of the Traveling Troupe will experience a professional tour as high-school students. Five weeks of rehearsal culminate in a two-week tour that includes hiking the Appalachian Trail and performing in “Shakespeare in the Park.”

For aspiring actors with less time to spend at camp, Traveling Players Ensemble also offers one-week intensives in clowning and stage combat.

Summer Arts Adventure Camps
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
545 Seventh Street, S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003

Summer Arts Adventure campers “travel” to New Mexico, Madagascar, Spain or Australia for two weeks, exploring the art and culture of that destination through ceramics, visual arts and music and movement. The Capital Hill Arts Workshop (CHAW) will offer four two-week sessions in 2010, during which professional artists will guide students (ages 5 through 12) on their quests and prepare them for a final gallery show and performance.

PreK students with a passion for Picasso don’t have to wait at home another year. In the afternoon Jr. Arts Adventure Camp, they will learn basic artistic elements through creative play and classes in drama and literature, art and architecture, and music and movement.

“Early exposure to arts is great,” says Amy Moore, the director of education and programs at CHAW. “They become lifelong participants in and consumers of art.”

Students with talent or interest in a particular art form can attend a two-week Arts Specialty Camp to study musical theater, rock and roll, ceramics or photography. Campers ages 7 through 13 will spend the afternoon honing their crafts in a supportive environment created by experienced professionals.

For Moore, these art camps are about much more than aesthetics. “The arts are really a vehicle for a greater understanding of the world,” she says.

St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes Middle School
4401 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA 22304

Rockers of all experience levels, ages 8 through 15, can star in their own concert at DayJams, a rock music day camp in Alexandria. Each week campers choose an instrument (bass, drums, guitar, horns, keyboard or vocals) and are placed into curriculum-based classes according to their musical proficiency. Young musicians receive two hours of class instruction each day and, in between classes, practice with their band mates. Every band writes an original song under the guidance of a faculty coach.

Campers also flex their creative muscles by designing artistic band logos and working to promote their talent. “The exciting thing about the camp for me is that it really focuses on the kids’ creativity and problem solving,” says DayJams Alexandria director Scott Seifried.

The highlight of every week at DayJams is the Friday night live concert, in which bands perform their original songs for an audience of family members and friends. Performances are recorded onto a CD by sound engineers and distributed to campers at the end of the summer.

Seifried is consistently impressed by what campers are able to achieve. “It’s amazing to me because a lot of times they come up with really cool songs that make sense musically,” he says. “They do what adult bands struggle to do.”

(February 2010)