Going strong: Sitka Fine Arts Camp celebrates 30 years

Posted: Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Sitka Fine Arts Camp celebrated its 30th year last month with 32 instructors from all over the country, more than 60 courses and its highest-ever enrollment of 230 seventh- through 12th-grade students from 30 Alaska communities.

For the second straight year, the camp at Sheldon Jackson College also operated with the help of a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts' Summer Schools in the Arts program. Ten summer arts programs in the country have been chosen for the honor, and Sitka is by far the smallest town. The others are: Indianapolis; Chicago; Boise; Lancaster, Pa.; New Orleans; Columbia, Md.; Asheville, N.C.; New York City; and Tucson, Ariz.

All of this is pretty good after the camp suffered through the 1990s, a tumultuous decade for arts funding in Alaska. Money dried up, and the camp was canceled two summers. At one point, enrollment dipped to 60 students.

"I think that the camp has had a profound impact on the community of Alaska, and I think it will continue to," said fifth-year Executive Director Roger Schmidt, a camper himself starting in 1982 and the 2004 winner of the Governor's Award for arts education.

"The camp connects people from all over the state," he said. "It puts them in situations where they're working together and want to create and pursue the questions of who we are and where we're going. That kind of communication and connection and competitive and collaborative process builds incredibly strong bonds that are the kind of thing that can really hold our state together."

More than two dozen camp alumni are professional artists.

"Many of the people that I met at camp are my closest friends today," Schmidt said.

The list also includes: the camp's Artistic Director W. Scott Davis; Roblin Davis; Dawn Pisel-Davis; Sara Lewis-Boily; and Jocelyn Clark.

Roblin Davis' first year as a student was 1982. At the end of the decade, he returned to help for the first time. Now, he's a regular instructor, teaching mask theater and clowning.

"The great thing about this camp is that you can explore any art, and art outside your main interest," he said. "This experience propels them into an appreciation of arts, if not a civic interest in it. For myself, coming here as a student was such an inspiration - to witness what's possible to do with art and also to meet professionals who were doing their art. Knowing that was an option helped me to pursue theater myself."

This year's courses included: pixelation and stop-motion animation; Inupiaq carving; hiphop and traditional B-boyin'; documentary production; a class that turned fidgeting and nervous tics into music; composition and sound design; mask performance and stage combat.

On the web

For a complete list of this year's camp courses, check out: http://www.fineartscamp.org/sfac_classes.html.

Of this year's campers, the majority, 89, were from Sitka. Thirty-nine Juneau students attended, and Wrangell, Ketchikan, Thorne Bay and Haines were also represented. The camp drew students from nine states outside Alaska, and from Canada. Its geographic range was part of what impressed the NEA.

"They were really interested in the world-class faculty, and some of the work samples that we sent," Schmidt said. "They looked at data of how we taught the national standards for the arts. This year we administered a series of pre- and post-tests, and we looked at the music component. We had a professional musician overseeing classes and tracking 40 students, and we did a series of interviews with the students to get the story from them - how they see themselves as developing artists."

Registration opened in January for this summer's camp, and the available dorm space was gone by the end of February. The early registration fee, for two weeks including room and board, is $850. That covers about two-thirds of the camp costs, with the rest coming through individual contributions and grants.

"We really work hard to keep the costs low, because we're committed to providing an art experience for all Alaska kids," Schmidt said. "We have students that come from rural areas in which transportation alone could cost $1,000."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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