• Camps inspire youth to be more than they ever imagined
By Christina Whiting
With the school year over and sounds of summer filling Homer streets, many schools around town have closed their doors, ready to lay relatively dormant until August rolls around again.
West Homer Elementary is an exception.
From June 16-20, any singing, picking, dancing, painting or acting heard emanating from the Orca’s headquarters comes thanks to the Homer Council on the Arts annual arts camp.
“The goal of the camp is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for youth to discover and develop their artistic interests,” said Gail Edgerly, HCOA Director. “It also provides an inclusive community of peers.”
The art camp started more than 10 years ago as a bluegrass camp for kids. The band, “Bearfoot Bluegrass” staffed the camp and performed in Homer. Last year, Andrew Vait teamed up with HCOA and Bluegrass Camp for Kids, adding his own rock/pop element to the camp.
This year, HCOA has added even more art forms, including instruction in everything from individual instruments to visual arts, improvisational theater, music theory and more.
The camp offers an opportunity to explore a diverse range of traditional and contemporary music styles, instruments and fine arts in a supportive and encouraging environment. Classes are open to students of all skill levels. Those who do not have an instrument will be provided with access to borrow or rent one.
Students will engage in four classes per day for five days, including an ensemble class that will perform at the end of camp. Morning and afternoon activities include open mics, ear training sessions, square dancing, sing-alongs and jams.
“This camp gives kids the opportunity and confidence to try new things,” said Mo Wilkinson, camp manager. “I’ve seen it inspire a few to be more than they ever imagined.”
Wilkinson said she is always excited about the camps.
“Lots of the same kids come back every year,” she said. “They start as beginners and leave as musicians.”
Briea Gregory is 14 and this will be her fifth year at Bluegrass Camp.
“This camp is where I discovered, and then fell in love with, the mandolin,” she said.
Fine-tuning her skills with the instrument and her voice, Gregory recently sang an original song and played mandolin in Jubilee, HCOA’s annual youth talent performance.
Wilkinson’s sons have also attended the camps over the years. Ten-year-old Emmett started when he was five, and has learned to play the mandolin, guitar and fiddle.
“Camp helped me learn the wonders and beauty of music,” he said.
Emmett’s brother Zane is 16 years old and has been attending the camps for nine years. He especially enjoys the rock/pop part taught by Andrew Vait.
Vait is just one of the local instructors on staff this year, joining visiting instructors from Seattle and Anchorage.
“I teach because I feel — in part — that it’s my obligation. I was given opportunity after opportunity to learn, so I have an un-sworn duty to give back,” Vait said. “It can be really thrilling, when everything comes together and you get to see some of these kids working together, creating new friendships and having the time of their lives.”
Robert Hockema has attended the Sitka Fine Arts Camps for years, and knows firsthand the value of the camp experience. During Homer Arts Camp, he will teach a blues band/performance class with fellow musician Patrick Latimer.
“Progressing as a musician, as an artist, is a great feeling,” Hockema said. “I have helped and instructed friends and music peers before, and the greatest satisfaction is helping people move a step closer to achieving a goal.”
Marie Alexson has been involved with the arts camp for years, but this will be her first year teaching.
“My greatest sense of satisfaction in teaching is when I see students challenge themselves,” she said. “They break past self-limitations when trying something new or difficult, and trust that the experience will take them to a new level.”
For Alexson, the process is more important than the result.
“I am passionate about the process of expressive arts experiences as a means of positive self-transformation and well-being,” she said.
Homer Arts Camp is presented in cooperation with Blue Grass Camp for Kids and Andrew Vait, with support from Malone Insurance, Wells Fargo Banks, True North Kayak Adventure, Petro Marine and First National Bank.
Youth classes are for ages 6 to 18, and all classes are held at West Homer Elementary.
Class sizes are limited, and tuition is $275. Limited scholarships are available. Registration and online payment is available at homerart.org or in person at the HCOA office at 355 W Pioneer Avenue. Registration and payment deadline is Friday, June 13.
Private lessons are also available after the close of the camp day, by arrangement with individual faculty members.
A staff concert will be held at HCOA on June 18 at 7:30 p.m. and is free for camp students, $10 general admission. Enjoy an open mic with staff and students at K Bay Caffe on June 19 at 6:30 p.m. A final performance by students will take place at West Homer Elementary on June 20 at 3:30 p.m.
For more information, contact Gail Edgerly at HCOA at 235-4288 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Mo Wilkinson at 299-3753 or email@example.com.
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