Students tap into creative side at annual art camp

From pop art portraits, altered Mona Lisas to Japanese paper cutting, students at “The Exceptional Artist” camp are taking their creativity to new heights.

When Winchester native Allison Swanner was in elementary school, the arts weren’t a focus in the curriculum, she said. As an art teacher, Swanner is trying to bring that focus back into schools, advocating the arts are equally as important as other subjects.

“We didn’t have art when I was little,” Swanner said. “I feel like if maybe I had started art when I was young, that it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get into art.”

The annual camp, sponsored by Clark County Children’s Council, is this week at Justice Elementary School for children in kindergarten to sixth grade. This year is the camp’s seventh year. Swanner said the Clark County Public Schools is also supporting the camp.

Each year also has a theme; the theme for this year is “retro art.”

“Our focus is art from the past, or altering art from the past or looking at movements that also did the same thing,” Swanner said.

Every day the students have different rotations where they learn about different types of art. Students learned about Marcel Duchamp’s mustached Mona Lisa and how he questioned: “What is art?” They learned about the pop art movement and Andy Warhol, examining how art and culture are related, looked at retro poster designs and so on.

“The mission is to bring together students that have a love of art, and to introduce them and allow them to be with other students that have that same passion,” Swanner said. “It also introduces them to some art lessons that they maybe wouldn’t be able to get at school because of the cost of material or the time limitations that they have.”

Swanner also offers her camp in Knoxville where she lives now as well as in Winchester.

When Swanner first started the camp in Winchester, about 60 students attended. Now, the camp has nearly doubled, totaling around 120 students this year. Swanner said the camp gets mostly Clark County students, but a few students from surrounding counties also join. The cost for the week is $140, and there were scholarships available.

Local middle school and high school students volunteer at the camp. Swanner also hired district teachers to work the camp.

Swanner said she hopes students not only learn more about art but also learn a few other lessons along the way.

“The first thing that we’ve been noticing at camp is that kindergarten and first grade (students) are so comfortable with doing things,” Swanner said. “They’re not afraid of making mistakes. And then, as they get older, you can start seeing that they don’t want to challenge themselves. They’re afraid to try new things because they’re worried about failure. And I think art, in general, really helps them with that…

“It’s learning from your mistakes and realizing that’s how we grow, and I think art is the perfect opportunity for that.”

At the camp, students also strengthen their fine motor skills, are pushed to generate ideas and develop a problem-solving mindset, Swanner said.

At the end of the week, students will present their best work in an art show for their parents.

“We allow those students that have talent, natural talent, or just start to show that they have the ability for art or the creativity, that we recognize them and allow them to see that they stand out,” Swanner said.

Students will also receive a critique Friday and will participate in an assembly where the camp staff will hand out awards.

Swanner said she hopes her students go on to value creativity in their lives, and people learn to see its equal importance to other subjects.

“We have such a strong focus on math and science, all of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) areas that we’re losing a little bit of creativity,” Swanner said. “Art camp allows for that, and it pushes being creative. So, when you combine STEM and the arts, then great things happen.”