There are summer camps and then there is Creative Arts. Now in its 27th year, this program on the Upper East Side brings together children from all over New York City who love the arts, everything from writing and photography, to singing and dancing. In a warm, supportive environment, the children are encouraged to let their artistic sides shine. Each afternoon brings with it a Noontime Show, a performance that can contain such acts as music from the Groove Band, dancing from Basic or Advanced Tap, or even a fashion show from Wearable Art.
There are frequent surprise guests, established performers who enjoy sharing their experiences and thoughts with an eager group of young people. Those who have visited the camp in the past include Kevin Kline, who talked with campers in a Shakespeare class, Cliff Robertson, who answered questions about Spiderman, and Carey Lowell, of Law & Order, who spoke about her journey as an actress. Frequently, the guest artists are “blown away,” by the talent they see in the camp. Indina Menzel, the Tony-award winning actress, was enthralled listening to a camper sing “Defying Gravity,” her signature song from Wicked. Ben Vereen enjoyed the camp’s rendition of “Magic to Do,” his opening number from Pippin. When Jimmy Buffett appeared, he played “Cheeseburger in Paradise” with the Groove Band.
Although there are many people responsible for this amazing camp, Suzanne Walsh, the founder and director, continues to be the life force behind this four-week miracle. Walsh has B.A. and M.A. degrees in educational theater from New York University, and taught drama at the Convent of the Sacred Heart on East 91st Street where the camp is usually housed (this summer because of construction at Sacred Heart, the camp was moved around the corner to the Nightingale-Bamford School). More than 80 classes are offered and Walsh heads up a team of professionals, both teachers and artists, as well as high school and college students who sign on as counselors. This summer, there were about 250 campers in the program.
“Creative Arts means the absolute world to me!” said Walsh. “It’s a huge satisfaction that NYC kids have an opportunity to explore artistic options, stretch their creative imaginations, and make new friends in a nurturing and supportive environment that we call CAMP!” While the camp only lasts for four weeks, Walsh labors throughout the year to make it happen. Besides handling applications, creating the classes, raising funds, and hiring staff, she works to arrange support and appearances by celebrities. “I tap into all the connections that I have (my husband’s too!) and through Benefit Committee Members as well as CA parents,” she said. “It takes all year.” Walsh’s husband, Peter, owns and manages Coogan’s Restaurant in Washington Heights.
On July 16, Creative Arts held a benefit, coordinated by Tara Moncure, to raise money for its scholarship fund, a program that benefits children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend this camp that introduces them to the many facets of fine and performing arts. Although contributions are still coming in, Walsh estimates that the event has raised more than $40,000, all for the scholarship fund. Donations also come in throughout the year for CA’s “Sponsor a Camper Appeal.”
The benefit began with an Evening Noontime Show on the stage at Nightingale that included songs from The Wiz, this year’s musical, as well as an impressive show from the two sections of Tae Kwon Do. Olympic Gold Medalist Dominique Dawes (in photo) introduced each act. The festive evening then moved to the ballroom at Sacred Heart where guests enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres while bidding on more than two dozen items up for silent auction. Former New York Giants running back and now NBC correspondent Tiki Barber served as the master of ceremonies, welcoming everyone and drawing the winning raffle tickets, as well as graciously signing footballs, magazines, and other sports paraphernalia.
The camp will wind up its session this Friday, July 24, with the Arts Festival, a daylong celebration of the campers’ hard work. Visual works of art, such as digital and print photographs, clay creations, and paintings, are displayed for all to see. Throughout the day, there are performances of various classes showing off their accomplishments, in addition to camper-written, -directed, and/or –produced video media.
“The mix of scholarship kids into the fabric of the program gives it a special dimension,” said Walsh. “The kids aren’t even aware of who is who. They just enjoy!”
Photo, above the story, shows, from left, Tara Moncure, Tiki Barber, and Suzanne Walsh.
For more information, go to www.creativeartsnyc.org