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Art for everyone: Arts center’s summer camps help overcome barriers to the arts

By KATE SNYDER

Community Arts Center

On the first day of Island Adventure Camp this summer, the 20 young campers met a very special volunteer. “Ms. Karen” explained she was there to provide sign language interpretation for art camp because one of the campers was deaf. Throughout the week, three volunteer interpreters took turns signing for Toby Mills, a kindergarten student at the Kentucky School for the Deaf.

Miracle Reardon received a scholarship to participate in Fairy Art Camp this summer. Here she pauses to smile while painting flowers.

Toby’s mom, Chelsea Mills, said this camp was the first time Toby had participated in any type of community-based camp.

“We feel so blessed that the Community Arts Center was able to find individuals willing to volunteer their time to provide language access throughout the week. Because of the access provided, he was able to be just as independent as his peers,” Mills said.

Karen Schulz, a retired educator with the Kentucky School for the Deaf, was one of the volunteer interpreters. She explains the importance of having interpretation at camp.

“Even though Toby can gain some information from the use of his amplification and lipreading skills, it is limited. An ASL interpreter helps him acquire the English vocabulary, the rich art content and concepts, and the detailed information he needs to comprehend what is being presented,” Schulz said. “Toby has the right to have full language access to what is offered during the arts camp, just as his hearing peers do. American Sign Language gives him that chance.”

Schulz also notes that engaging in programming with hearing students is also a benefit for deaf children.

“Toby has regular interaction with the deaf community and his deaf and hard-of-hearing peers while attending KSD. Although this is crucial in his academic, social and emotional well-being, interactions with his hearing peers are beneficial as well. By participating in community events and programs, Toby has opportunities to apply his communication skills and develop confidence in his abilities to interact in the hearing community. In the same way, hearing peers and staff can gain in their understanding of the deaf community and learn that they have common interests, skills, wants and needs.”

For Toby, Island Adventure Camp was the hit of the summer.

Tye Smithers and Brandon Long work together on a ceramic tile self-portrait in Cross-Training for Artists camp.

Mills said, “Toby talked for days about the different art projects that he made, music he played, and his new friends that he met. It was obvious that he gained a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability to express himself through art, which is a huge part of deaf culture. We have always taught Toby to be proud of being deaf and this camp showed him that he can be successful in any situation.” 

Executive Director Niki Kinkade said the Arts Center hopes to provide sign language interpretation in the future and that the organization has a grant request pending that would provide the needed funding.

“We are very grateful to the volunteers who helped with camp, but we recognize that if we are going to regularly offer sign language interpretation we’re going to need to find funding to hire interpreters,” she said.

Tye Smither of Danville was another first-time camp participant. Tye is a 13-year-old student at Bate Middle School who has Down Syndrome.

“Tye loves to create things,” said his mom, Joy Mason. “He’s always making art at school.”

Although this was his first time at camp, Tye is no stranger to the arts center, having visited with his classmates as part of a field trip program for students with disabilities. The arts center’s inclusive field trip program is offered through a contract with the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., as part of their VSA Museum Access for Kids program. The program fosters the engagement of students with disabilities, pre-kindergarten through grade 12, in the arts and culture of their community by providing opportunities to learn through, participate in, attend, and enjoy accessible arts-based events and activities.

Through the VSA contract, the arts center’s Creative Director Brandon Long has participated in two national conferences on arts programming for students with disabilities and has brought back new ideas and teaching approaches from those learning opportunities.

Volunteer Deb Cullen helps Colwyn Reardon paint his hand for a project at Super Hero Art Camp. Thirteen volunteers and ten teaching artists helped make the 2018 Arts Exploration Camps possible.

“Our inclusive field trip program laid the groundwork for welcoming Tye to camp this summer,” Long said. “We have learned a lot over the past two years about how to modify our projects and activities so that students of all abilities can be successful. Art can be a great equalizer when you’re willing to adapt and meet students where they are.”

In addition to physical limitations, Kinkade said that financial constraints also prevent some families from participating in art classes.

“Extracurricular activities can get expensive fast, especially when a family has multiple children,” she said. “Several years ago, we created a scholarship fund to help those families for whom cost was a barrier.”

This year, the arts center awarded 23 scholarships to Arts Exploration Camp, the most ever. “More than 10 percent of the children participating in art camp this summer received scholarships,” Kinkade said. “We were absolutely blown away by the generosity of our community. So many people and organizations stepped up to provide the funding we needed to make those awards.”

Miracle and Colwyn Reardon both received scholarships to art camp — Miracle to Fairy Camp and Colwyn to Superhero camp. The siblings live in Hustonville with their great-aunt, Dorcas Reardon, and attend Hogsett Elementary School. A family friend referred them to the arts center and Reardon says it was a great fit.

“Miracle loves expressing herself with art. And Colwyn, he loved the superhero cape that he made. He gave his paintings to his mom and he was so proud of them.”

Reardon also said that camp helped Colwyn with his focus — he is diagnosed with ADHD — and self-esteem.

“Interacting with all the other campers was so good for both of them,” she said. “They just love people but we aren’t always able to do a lot of extra things with them because of the cost. I wouldn’t have been able to send them to camp without the scholarship.”

Kinkade said she is proud of the arts center’s summer programming.

“Thirteen camps in nine weeks for 200 campers was a huge undertaking,” she said. “We were so fortunate to have an amazing team of instructors and volunteers who made camp possible.”  Kinkade said this year’s camps employed 10 teaching artists from throughout the community, who were joined by 13 community volunteers.

The arts center will announce its fall programming lineup in the next few months. Interested community members are invited to visit www.communityartscenter.net for details and to subscribe to the Arts Center’s email newsletter.