Sunday, September 21, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Neighbors join forces to create ‘Awesome Art!’ for kids

Sophie Russell, left, and Jenna Sheppard work with clay at an "Awesome Art!" summer workshop led by Jill Van Zanten, a Village Homes resident. Neighborhood residents have pooled their resources over the past few summers to offer camps in drawing, painting, music, ceramics, theater, cooking and printmaking. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

For some kids in Davis, summer camp means walking out into their back yard, or over to a neighbor’s house.

Over the past six years, a few close families in Village Homes have pooled resources and children to create a new model for the summer camp experience. These kids have enjoyed weeklong programs in a wide variety of arts and crafts — from printmaking to botanical drawing, cooking to book-making, theater to dance.

“Our summer programs have evolved different models over the years,” said Shulamit Glazerman, who has four children and initiated the idea with the goal of providing her kids dynamic summer activities without driving and for a reasonable price.

Initially, Glazerman hired Stephanie Thayer to run the camps. Thayer grew up in Village Homes and has many artistic talents and interests. Working out of Glazerman’s courtyard, Thayer brought materials and supervised kids as they worked in a variety of media. The kids often sang camp songs as they worked. They’d take breaks to run around in the nearby swale and swing on ropes tied to a walnut tree. Kids called the camp “Awesome Art!”

After a couple of summers, and with younger siblings vying to get in on the action, Glazerman sought to diversify the offerings. She divided kids into two age groups and drew individual artists to share their expertise in particular media. At its height, the program offered seven weeklong courses to two different age groups.

Glazerman found some artists in her neighborhood. Ceramicist Jill Van Zanten set up a clay camp in her own Village Homes courtyard. She has taught kids a variety of techniques in her classes — coil, slab and pinch-pot construction — and has let older kids try the wheel. Kids also have seen how their work is fired in a kiln at Van Zanten’s house.

Van Zanten’s classes have been so popular that she offers them every summer, and has drawn some kids from beyond the neighborhood.

Other neighbors and friends were tapped for classes. One year, Poppy Nichols taught a cooking class in her kitchen. Book-maker Courtney McNeil ran a workshop on storytelling and pop-up books. Stacy Goldenberg, a parent-friend and former Village Homes resident, taught a course on printmaking. Her stepdaughter, Davis school district librarian Amanda Sharpe, was tapped to teach dance. Botanical artist Stacey Vetter used local flowers and foliage as models for a class on drawing and painting techniques.

Glazerman also hired Laura Sandage, a local singer-songwriter and drama enthusiast, to run theater camp. For three years, Sandage and her daughter Vita have worked with neighborhood kids to create a one-of-a-kind musical theater production. The kids develop a story line, choose characters, write song lyrics, make scenery and props, and design programs. The week concludes with an open performance for families and neighbors.

Commenting on this year’s production, “Jumble in the Jungle,” which was presented in June for family members, neighbors and a class from Peregrine School, Sandage said, “Every year the kids take more initiative. This year, they talked about having a volcano in the show, and when I came the next morning, it was already built.”

Neighborhood art camp has a number of advantages over traditional programs. It’s convenient and efficient, with no travel time. It’s a good value because all the costs go into instruction and materials, not overhead or facility costs. (Awesome Art programs have ranged from $5 to $10 per child per hour, depending on number of kids per session and art medium.)

Teachers are hand-picked, so quality of instruction is high. Classes can be tailored to kids’ interests. Some activities, like theater camp, work naturally with a mix of ages. Other camps can target particular age or ability levels.

Most significantly, neighborhood camp can deepen connections within the community, especially among the children participating.

“The shared creative activity builds on existing relationships and can continue beyond the instructional time because the kids are all together so much,” Sandage said.

Neighbor Jill Stengel agrees. With three children who have participated since the program’s inception, Stengel said, “I especially like that the kids learn to look to their neighbors for inspiration; that art or even proficiency at anything is found nearby, with regular, approachable people.”

What does it take to get this type of program going? First, it takes a critical mass of interested kids and supportive families who share a vision for neighborhood camp. It also takes some organization and logistical support — to find teachers, a suitable space and a workable model. It takes strong relationships and trust among the kids, parents and teachers.

Glazerman acknowledges that Village Homes provides an unusually appropriate setting, and Davis talented people, to make this kind of project work.

“Our neighborhood camp has been an evolutionary process,” Glazerman added. “As my kids have gotten older, their interests have diversified. They are branching out and wanting to try new things.”

Some instructors continue to offer camps, like theater and clay. These programs require little effort to set up. Every once in a while, Glazerman tries something new. This summer, she organized a chamber music camp for a trio of young musicians, with her daughter’s flute teacher, Village Homes neighbor Virginia Thigpen, as coach.

Glazerman believes the results are well worth the effort it has taken.

“There’s something very satisfying about seeing neighborhood kids engaged together in a creative process,” she said, adding, “Can anyone recommend a trapeze artist who works well with kids?”

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