By Suzanne Clifton Walsh
This is the time of year when parents begin to explore summer camp possibilities for their children. While out-of-the-city sports and sleep away camps are good alternatives, one of the best summer camps is located right here on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Creative Arts encourages children to learn by doing and by trying new things. And at this camp, those things include everything from creating video or putting together a daily newspaper to playing in a band or learning Tae Kwon Do.
At Creative Arts, students are empowered to choose their own classes and encouraged to explore and see “What if?” in the arts and other areas. As the camp prepares to celebrate its 28th season, those involved are proud to see how campers stretch and grow year after year. Oh, and did we mention that actual celebrities sometimes drop in to sing, dance, and answer questions from the students? (Or ask questions, like Dominique Dawes, three time Olympian, who came to interview the campers). In short, at Creative Arts all the world’s a stage and all the students can be performers.
Here’s just a sampling of what the camp offers:
Boys Do Dance
“I’ll show you that it’s one and the same/Baseball, dancing, same game.”
–High School Musical 2
Nearly thirteen years ago, Savion Glover (above) tapped his way into the back of the theatre at Convent of the Sacred Heart as a visiting Guest Artist at Creative Arts. The next day, a score of girls and boys signed up for Tap 1 for first period of the camp day. Four of these boys stuck with the program for ten more years; one even went on to teach the class to a beginners group recently!
Since that day in 1996, we have seen more and more boys sign up classes like for Showtunes; Broadway Showstoppers; Bring in da Boyz, Bring in da Funk; and last summer’s hit Mad Hot Ballroom. With the recent landing of Billy Elliot on Broadway, we fully expect ballet to become a popular class offering once again for boys and girls alike. It’s now cool to see boys tap, pirouette, back flip, hip-hop and even plié. At Creative Arts, it is possible for a boy to play basketball, learn fencing and tae kwon do, then make a music video and try the rhumba.
How It Works and Why
“It’s like a very fun version of school . . . and it prepares you for life.”
–A Creative Arts Camper
The camp’s staff of professionals meets in the spring to create approximately one hundred classes. These are broken down into five periods throughout the day, thus affording a choice of nearly twenty classes each period. Scheduling is, of course, a logistical nightmare, but every attempt is made to give the campers at least a few of their top choices. In the end, no child has ever left because of disappointment over a class schedule. In fact, some have been pleasantly surprised that by being closed out of ceramics, for instance, they discovered a new interest in mask making.
Not only are students provided with the ability to plot their own course, they are encouraged to perform. While we know that the performing arts are a valuable tool for developing one’s sense of self, we also know that what comes so easily to some can be quite painful for others. Accordingly, there are numerous and natural opportunities for campers to experience the freedom of expressing themselves. A perfect example is the Noontime Show.
Every day after lunch in the courtyard, the entire camp (joined by the six- and seven-year-old Junior Campers) gathers in the theater for this show—a highlight of the program. On any given day one might see Advanced Tap working on one of their challenging routines, listen to the Groove Band do a Jimmy Buffett tune (or hear Buffett himself perform), watch Broadway Showstoppers perform a number from Barnum, or view a demo from the Tae Kwon Do class. Then there’s Alli and Sadie, both twelve years old, who feel safe and brave enough to get up and perform a song and dance routine that they have worked on outside of camp. It isn’t perfect; it isn’t polished, but the applause is thunderous. They have worked hard without having an assignment; they deserve to feel proud.
Manhattan as a Playground
“I’ll turn Manhattan/Into an isle of joy.”
At the end of the school year, many New York City kids are loaded into a car for a summer of beach and tennis. Some may be scheduled to spend time on academic turf, taking advanced courses that will prep them for “getting ahead.” Others might have the luxury of sailing the Caribbean or joining an environmental excursion to Costa Rica. But there are some who will stay behind and have the best time of their lives.
There are great advantages to staying in Manhattan at Creative Arts in July. We are surrounded by a wealth of museums and theaters, and just steps from Central Park. Guest Artists from Broadway and beyond find their way to us with ease and enthusiasm. Some memorable moments include Jim Dale reading from Harry Potter, Jimmy Smits lending words of advice to young thespians, Rosanne Cash jamming with our Jazz Improv Ensemble, and Hoda Kotb (below) telling stories of her journalistic adventures abroad. Where else but here can you get that kind of line-up?
Further, we are committed to embracing and reflecting the population of this city: Creative Arts is committed to providing scholarships for over twenty-five percent of the enrollment each summer; additionally, boys and girls travel from all five boroughs and beyond to participate in the program. The variety of children who enter the school’s building at 91st Street and Fifth Avenue reflect our city’s racial, religious and economic tapestry.
“What will the classes be next year?”
–A Creative Arts Camper, July 25, 2008
As each July draws to an end, preparations for our Arts Festival are in high speed. Movies are edited; photos are hung; art is displayed; and the list of dance, music and theatrical performances runs long. The nearly 250 campers who showed up excited and nervous on the first day of camp will celebrate a myriad of accomplishments made in just four short weeks … and soon begin to count the days until next summer.
This summer, we will once again offer classes of all types and levels, including Sewing, Jewelry Design, Creative Writing, Fencing, Tae Kwon Do, Musical Theatre, Dance, The Groove Band, Photography, Ceramics, Circus, Painting, Computer Animation, Video Comedies, and more. There’s nothing more exciting than to see a camper proud of a new accomplishment. Can’t wait to see what this summer brings!
For more information on Creative Arts, please go to www.creativeartsnyc.org or call 212-722-4745 x856.
This year’s camp runs from Wednesday, June 30 to Wednesday, July 28. Registration is limited and space fills up quickly!
Suzanne Clifton Walsh is the founder and Director of Creative Arts, the summer program at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City.