Contributed by the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council
Camp started out rough for one little boy.
He was recently adopted and feeling dejected that his biological mother had left him. He seemed bound and determined not to let his disposition be shifted by Camp Courage, a Hendrick Hospice Care camp for children who have experience loss of a loved one.
But over time, the boy started to open up about his feelings, said Manny De Los Santos, the Center for Contemporary Art’s ArtReach instructor. De Los Santos, along with Bird Thomas, attended Camp Courage to offer art as a part of healing and grief therapy. This particular youngster was recommended to attend a camp later in the summer through the CCA as well. He attended Trash Camp, and soon he was cheerful most days and working through rougher days.
“His determination is incredible, and he genuinely enjoyed participating in the activities, said De Los Santos.
Camps are one of several ways Abilene arts groups to reach out to children and other special populations in the community.
The Abilene Philharmonic recently instituted the Academy of Music to reach a wider part of the community that will include a new youth orchestra. The Philharmonic provides a Discover Music Series for more than 5,500 elementary students a year.
Chorus Abilene receives a grant from the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council each year to help pay for tickets for students from schools with no vocal music programs. Abilene Ballet Theatre offers a free “Nutcracker” performance for area elementary students. Many arts groups bring artists, authors and performers into schools to help expose children to the arts.
Young Audiences of Abilene brings high quality performers into area schools such as ventriloquist Nancy Burks Worcester and Key City Winds. YA’s after-school residencies are also making an impact in children’s lives through dance and theatre.
The Children’s Performing Arts Series brings in four touring professional theater shows a year to the Paramount Theatre and gives away a certain number of tickets to low-income families through a voucher program.
The Grace Museum partners with local and area schools to be a small part of encouraging collaboration, communication, creativity, organization, problem-solving, self-direction, building self-esteem, being responsible, and even being experimental, said Grace outreach teacher Jana Bailey.
The Grace Museum expands classes well beyond the walls of its 1909 building. Teachers from the museum see more than 4,000 students each year in their own classrooms. Students in 12 Abilene elementary schools, three Wylie elementary schools, Sweetwater East, and Haskell Elementary each receive four to seven art outreach classes every year. The Grace teaches art basics, art history, and most importantly, encourages creativity and self-expression.
“I love being there when students discover something new or know they just created something really great,” Bailey said. “You can see the excitement and pride on their faces.”
The education arm of the Center for Contemporary Arts offers a variety of programs to reach children and special populations.
From art camps to the ArtHEALs program, Thomas and De Los Santos spent their summer days teaching ArtHEALs classes to Camp Courage students and the refugee children population. Thomas has been heavily involved with the veteran community partnering with the Military Veteran Peer Network and teaching ArtHEALs classes for Veterans diagnosed with PTSD.
Many of the summer ArtCamps hosted students from Camp Courage, which is an organization for children who have lost loved ones through all sorts of circumstances, including death, divorce and incarceration. Bird and Manny met these students after traveling to Camp Courage’s summer camp site and conducting ArtHEALs exercises where the students were blindfolded and asked to draw using both hands at the same time while listening to soothing or calming music.
The Center’s ArtReach program has had instructors Ruth Jackson and Anne Fiske assist the Abilene Adaptive Recreation and Disability Resources Inc. with art projects to help Abilene welcome and honor Oliver Jeffers during our last CALF. The Adaptive Rec students made crayon art pieces and illustrated books for a display at Bogie’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Abilene. The students also were asked to walk in the Storybook parade dressed as crayons from Jeffers’ book “The Day the Crayons Quit.”
From interacting and welcoming refugees with ArtHEALs camp, to welcoming Abilene at large to the Center of Contemporary Arts for fun learning experiences, the Education Department at the Center is actively engaging the Abilene community.