Monday, April 15, 2013

Getting ready for Art Camp

Preparing for a five day art camp for a small group of "older" kids is an interesting endeavor for me.
I want to be prepared with the right materials, while at the same time, I want to be flexible enough to follow the group's interests. Camps are often marketed with a theme I'm somewhat bound to - I come up with five days of fun activities to be used for advertising, then discover some great material in the closet I'd love to use, or get inspired by something I see... the list of "possible projects" grows.  Expectations of parents is another variable that reins in the possibilities a bit. While I want to focus on the kids' experiences and the artistic processes, parents invariably want products. Especially when the word "camp" evokes nostalgia for crafts (lanyards!).
To make matters more interesting, in a small town/rural area, it can be hard to fill a camp program... we needed a minimum number of kids to sign up to pay for the costs of running the camp - which we barely had a week before the starting date. Several days before the start date, I'd heard we'd run the camp, but with only 4 or 5 kids. I simplified my game plan.
Needless to say, the day before camp started we were up to ten kids.
Tomorrow I'll have 12.

Having worked in informal ed. for most of my teaching career, I know better than to over-prepare specifics that may or may not fit the situation at hand. One thing I invest my time in is the environment.
The space you are in with kids has a huge effect on outcomes. Mood, attention, inhibition, energy level/noise, and creativity are all factors that we have more control over that some might think!

During my time at the Children's Museum, I was able to design my own space after years of observing visitors and figuring out what we needed. I lucked out - everything was as perfect as one could ask for. Ample, locked storage (sized to fit my containers!), plenty of natural light, great artificial light, plants, display areas, moveable tables and stools that fit our visitors, flooring that cleaned up easily, and aesthetic considerations like warm, natural colored counters, and sleek black tabletops... the space was called an "oasis"in a chaotic building. It was hard not to feel good there.

Teaching after school programs, camps, adult ed classes, and whatever else comes my way, I'm lucky if I get to see the space before teaching there. In schools, I may be moving from one classroom to another week to week. At Waterfall Arts, I'm teaching in the newly renovated "fallout shelter" - a pretty foreboding name everyone seems pretty accustomed to. Contrary to the sound of it, it has lots of sunlight, bright new floors and paint. There's an eclectic collection of furniture, including rows of movie theatre seats and a "bar". The space is used as a staff kitchen, so there's some amount of necessary clutter. The space is large - bigger than what's needed for ten kids. The walls are cement - even with new sound panels, the space could get loud fast. Just a week ago Waterfall hosted a huge party with live music and dancing in this room. If one has as little tolerance for chaos as I do, one needs to create the opposite atmosphere in the same space!

I've used the space several times now and I'm happy with what I was able to do in a couple of hours to transform the room into something that works for me and the kids.

I created a "living room" area to act as a magnet for kids arriving. It pulls them in from the expanse of the room we aren't using (which is intentionally left bare) while separating them from the work space. This way I can be setting up materials without having to swat them away until I'm ready! The couches put kids at ease - much more so with the "coffee table" I made with an art podium I found in the hall. I don't need to give any instructions  - "sit on the couches and talk to each other" happens, while I'm welcoming parents and preparing.
I bought some books at Goodwill with nature photography, animals, and threw in one of those "Magic Eye" books to occupy curious, fidgety types and those needing "a break". This feeds inspiration while keeping hands off of the other shelves around the room. I also bought an old calendar of Inuit artwork. I cut it up and hung the artwork with double sided tape around the room - thematic (all nature-inspired), consistent (borders and size - cuts down on visual clutter), varied (different artists - something for everyone), and best of all, numerous. 12 pieces of cool artwork for a dollar.

In the interest of allowing artists to explore and indulge in "what works for them", I created a variety of work areas. A table for one, close to "home base" where I prep materials, another a bit further away for someone who doesn't want anyone looking at their work, a floor area, clipboards for the couch area, and worktables pushed together for spreading out and socializing. I loved seeing the artists make themselves at home (the boys took their shoes off almost immediately) and gravitate to these spaces naturally. They worked on their Artist Bios for fifteen minutes. At desks, this would've felt like "homework" and lasted five minutes (speaking from experience)!
Another must-have: music. I have some playing during work-times and at the beginning and end of sessions. While kids came in this morning, I mentioned music and headed toward my laptop. "Oh! Um, can you play some rock and roll? I love rock. I seriously live rock." So we started the day with some Led Zepplin. The artist was thrilled - he went to the group mural paper and drew an electric guitar. What otherwise might have felt awkward and a little scary to kids coming in felt like a party - I noticed the 2 songs I played aren't really "dancy" - so kids weren't jumping around. Later, I played some Pat Methany while we painted. It's relaxing instrumental stuff that's pleasing without putting anyone to sleep. The room was quiet but busy for twenty minutes.
Looking forward to turning the lights out and plugging in the christmas lights (still up from the party) this week!

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