Spotlight on Central Florida: Summer Arts Camps

by Jennifer BonnerInterim Director, Orange County Arts Education Center

Jennifer Bonner

As part of my job with the Orange County Arts Education Center located in Orlando, I collect and publish the listings of summer camps from local arts organizations in our annual Arts Summer Camp Guide.  This year I went one step further and visited the Arts Summer Camps listed in the guide. Hello summer!

It was wonderful – absolutely like being a kid again! This summer I’ve seen 270+ summer camps.  Let me rephrase.  270+ summer ARTS camps in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties. The arts opportunities available to the next generation of Central Floridians are thriving, and I was lucky enough to peer into that world for just a short while.

From ancient Egypt to Hungary, from improv to Brazilian martial arts and drumming, I was transported throughout the world through the power of the arts. The joy I felt KNOWING this was happening in my area cannot surpass the joy students were feeling learning and absorbing a tremendous amount of information disguised as “fun.”

As an arts educator I have always been haunted by the “fun” aspect of my area subject (theatre, in case you were wondering).  It’s “just for fun,” you get to “play around.” I will tell you now, not because of my own subjectivity, but because I saw it through the eyes of the students: “fun” is the best way to learn.  The arts are a model for all teaching.  This is especially true in the summer.

Where else, would you find the all of the majors of a college department spending their entire summer at school?  In.   The.   Arts.  Valencia College, the 2011 winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, holds the Summer Dance Institute each summer for all dance majors and select high school students culminating in a performance at the end of the intensive.  These students receive no credit.  They are simply there to better themselves, to learn and grow.  Led by Department Chair Dr. Suzanne Salapa and Artistic Director Lesley Brasseux Rodgers, the Intensive creates a wonderful atmosphere.  And that atmosphere seems to be contagious.

There is also an “Acting Gym” which takes place every Saturday from 1-3 p.m.  Used as his student enrichment hours, Professor John DiDonna is continually amazed that over 30 students show up every Saturday including the summer, and that participation figure is growing weekly.

Mennello Museum of Art Summer Printmaking Camp. Image submitted and used by permission of Jennifer Bonner.

All of the large arts organizations in our area have summer camps.  The Orlando Repertory Theatre alone has over 50 summer camp offering for students.  The Orange County Regional History Center brings history alive with their artistic process.  Students – ranging from 5 years of age through middle school – learn about ancient Egypt through maps, mummification and the painting of hieroglyphs.  The Orlando Shakespeare Theater is teaching Shakespeare, make-up, history and costuming through an innovative “Zombie Shakespeare” camp.  Crealdé, a local visual art center, has a finely tuned model.  Each students enrolled moves through drawing, painting, sculpture and photography.  I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, I had none of these options!

Here’s the wonderful thing about this area: it isn’t just the large arts organizations that have camps. There are literally hundreds of camps run by individuals or small arts organizations I mean, a first-timer trying out theatre might be intimidated by the word Shakespeare (although as a theatre person myself, I can promise you that he is very friendly).  Summer Drama Camp, a camp that has just begun running year-round starting this year, is a one-woman operation.  Focusing on a production, students are also taught responsibility, character and the business side of theatre.  Magic Curtains Productions, run by a husband and wife team, taught the basics of theatre to those that have never been on the stage before and those who have been in the program since its inception.  The innovative Lego camp, iBrick Academy run by James Jones, a technology teacher in Orange County Public Schools, along with his son, has three different locations, including LEGOLAND Florida.  Students are taught through the STEAM process (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) using innovative and creative ideas to create windmills, cars and robotic bugs.

Words of the day and research materials at the Mennello Museum of Art Summer Printmaking Camp. Image submitted and used by permission of Jennifer Bonner.

And while most of the camps are geared towards the preK-12 years, there are even a few for the adults and the professionals.  The Art and History Center Maitland offers workshops and classes all summer specifically geared to adults and the newly opened Starving Artist Studios has adult classes in ballroom dance and ballet, as well as private instruction and group classes in theatre, music and dance for professionals.  The Orlando Ballet’s Summer Intensive serves a diverse body of participants, ages 7 through adults. Orlando Ballet also offers adult walk-in classes for those in the community who just want to try it!  Capoeira Brazilian Pelourinho teaches a form of martial arts that incorporates music and dance has level for all ages, including special “Mom/Dad” classes following the youth classes so the students and parents can experience the art together.

There are so many more that I could mention, so many more that I visited and am in awe of.  Each with their own strengths.  Each with their own approach to learning.  Each with their own fun.  Being a kid again this summer couldn’t have been more fruitful.  Thanks for the arts fun Central Florida!

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