Art Camp: Connecting Children with Creativity

(This article was written for the Peninsula Pulse's Peninsula Arts & Humanities Alliance Column, August 2010)

It is estimated that between one and three million migrant farm workers leave their homes each year to plant, havest and pack fruits, vegetables and nuts throughout the United States. This transience is invisible to most people, but the presence of migrant farm workers in many rural communities is still a constant, even in the age where machines often replace human hands.

Even though many of us are aware of Door County's agricultural bounty, it still might surprise some to learn that there is a large group of migrant farm workers that arrive each July to help harvest the peninsula's massive cherry crop. Because many of these migrant workers have young families, the Gibraltar School District has hosted a Migrant Education Program since the 1960s, when thousands of migrant workers were needed to pick the cherry crops by hand. Since then, cherry picking machines have replaced the need for that many workers -- but the peninsula still sees its share of migrant workers, and Gibraltar's program is indeed still going strong. The program takes place over three weeks, and it ensures that migrant children benefit from the same free public education provided to other children of their age group.

The Hardy's involvement with the Migrant Education Program dates back to the early 2000s. One of the components of the Hardy's mission has always been to enhance the creative enrichement of local youth, and saw an opportunity to collaborate with Gibraltar Schools on a series of arts-focused activities that would blend into their existing program. The migrant children that are served in the program have fewer opportunities to engage in the arts than many of their peers, and the art lessons they do have (if they have any; for many, this is their first introduction to formal art classes) often lack one-on-one instruction.

Planning for Art Camp (and the Migrant Education Program in general) can be challenging -- the program hinges on when the cherry crop is ready to pick, and because of weather and other factors, there's no magic date to schedule around. For instance, the 2010 Art Camp curriculum was literally planned on a week's notice after learning that the students would be starting school in early July -- a full two weeks earlier than the 2009 program!

The 2010 Art Camp consisted of fourteen total children -- and out of that number, 6 are returning students. One student has been attending the camp for 6 years. The students range in age from 7 to thirteen-years-old. To that end, that poses a fun challenge for our staff -- finding a variety of activities that not only appeal to all ages, but also making sure not to repeat things from year's past.

At the end of the program, the students have a presentation of what they have learned at the Hardy Gallery on Anderson Dock. The group of students involved in the final presentation are much different than the shy, unsure kids who gingerly sat down at the art tables on their first day. They have a new-found excitement for creativity and the arts -- an excitement that will hopefull stick with them as they travel home, and throughout the rest of their lives.

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