Sitting amidst stacks of multi-colored paper on a paint-stained tablecloth, Ellie’s feet dangle inches from the floor as she carefully cuts green paper in the shape of mountains. Flipping her long, red hair out of her face she comments on her design, “I just love drawing and painting, but I think my favorite is making masks. Do you know we made them out of clay?”
Ellie, along with 60 other local children, spent two weeks molding clay, cutting paper, singing songs and building drums at Southern Utah University’s fifth annual artsFUSION Art, Music and Me Kids Summer Camp. And though it sounds like a whole lot of fun and games, camp administrators had an alternative motive much longer lasting than the activities these kids enjoyed for two weeks of their summer break.
“There is an intrinsic joy that fills the room when children are painting or singing,” said artsFUSION Director Carrie Trenholm, endowed arts education chair. “As these kids work through how to go about creating the subject matter we've asked of them, whether it's painting a tree or building a drum, they learn to creatively find solutions and gain confidence in their own ideas. That is why we do this camp.”
All the projects within this year's Art, Music and Me camp focused on the central theme of Earth and sustainability, and students did everything from creating musical instruments with recyclable trash to staining cloth with wild berries and leaves, all while learning how to better take care of the world around them.
Trenholm says that while the camp's ultimate goal is to engage schoolchildren in fun art projects that provide important creative outlet, she and her staff do try to work in broader experiences that are applicable far beyond the arts.
“I learned that you have to love the Earth by not cutting down trees and being nice to animals," said second grader Lelia. As she spread blue watercolor for a painting of the earth she had been working on, she added, "Trees and animals are so pretty that you don’t want to take them away.”
The elementary-aged children in attendance weren’t the only ones learning vital life lessons, however, as the camp was under the immediate direction of two of SUU's own students—Master's of Arts Administration students Kari Heaps and Nathan McDonald.
Of his own learning experience leading up to and running through the two-week summer camp, McDonald said, “I have known for a while that I want to lead a community arts program once I graduate, but before artsFUSION I didn’t know how to do that; I had no experience. Directing this camp is absolutely advantageous to my future career.”
Local elementary and junior high teachers, as well as SUU professors, worked alongside Heaps and McDonald to ensure the camp remained a quality educational and edifying recreational experience for this year's campers. The Art, Music and Me camp has established a standout reputation in its short five years, and spots fill quickly amidst an eager community of local parents looking to engage their young children in unique learning opportunities over their summer break.
The camp is the latest in SUU’s ongoing artsFUSION professional development program for local educators, SUU students and area children, funded by the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Legacy Foundation, Art Works for Kids and The Utah Division of Arts and Museums.
These 60 children that attended this year’s camp join an ever-growing group of people touched by the ongoing efforts of Trenholm through the supporting groups. In the last six years since beginning artsFUSION workshops and camps, Trenholm has worked with more than 30,000 school children and 2,100 current and future educators. These numbers continue to increase, as Trenholm adds programming based upon increasing community demand year after year throughout the region.
"Our goal is to flood our schools with the arts," Trenholm explained of artsFUSION's ever-broadening impact. “I want these programs to last long beyond my time as southern Utah's artsFUSION director. They should be permanent fixtures within our communities and schools, bringing art into the lives of every child in southern Utah."
She adds, "Now that is something that will better the Earth.”