Kids have artistic fun at camp

Portland’s Urban Art Camp, the brainchild of Portland State student Susanna Morse, began in 2001 as a summer art activity for children between ages six and 11.

“We wanted to have an alternative kind of activity for the low-income demographic in Northwest Portland,” said Morse, UAC director and post-baccalaureate in the graphic design department. “There’s lots of subsidized housing there and some really interesting dynamics, with some tenants who are really wealthy and some who are not so. Art Camp gives all of the kids something really cool to do together.”

Art Camp runs over three days and includes nine separate art stations. After being organized into small groups, campers work through three stations each day.

In addition to art activities, campers also sing, play games and receive a free sack lunch and snacks. At the end of each camp day, a special guest presents a program. Presenters vary from magicians and musicians to police safety officers.

On the weekend following camp, Morse and her volunteers throw a congratulatory barbecue and gallery showing for campers and their families.

“We set up all the art projects,” she said. “It gives the kids a sense of pride, something they can show their families.”

This year’s camp takes place from July 12 ?” 14 under a covered shelter next to Chapman Elementary School in Northwest Portland. Although the camp targets children from low-income families, all children ages six to 11 are welcome to attend.

“It was one of those things I just thought about all the time,” Morse said. “I always had this drive to do it, always loved the idea. It felt like the right thing every time I thought about it.”

Morse said she had loved art as a child. “It was fun – you could be silly, be yourself, do anything.”

She said it was a logical step for her to parley her own love of art into her first Urban Art Camp experience in 2001. With the exception of a staffing-related lapse in 2005, Art Camp has been held every summer since. Close to 70 children participated at the program’s peak.

In order to set itself up as a tax-deductible organization with built-in volunteers, Urban Art Camp was first affiliated with the Quaker church in Portland. Morse said that there was never a religious agenda in this relationship, only the desire to provide a community camp for kids.

“Lots of our initial volunteers were Quakers,” Morse said. “We’ve branched out since. Now most of our volunteers are from the community or schools rather than from churches.”

Morse plans to make the Urban Art Camp its own entity by 2007, complete with stand-alone nonprofit status. Within the next two years she said she hopes to see the annual camp expand to a four to five-day experience.

If the camp is to grow and expand, an infusion of cash is the next hurdle. Up until this year, UAC has relied on private and in-kind donations. Now, Morse said, the group is going public.

On June 1, the Pearl District’s monthly First Thursday will feature a silent auction, with 100 percent of proceeds benefiting UAC.

“This is the first year we’ve done any public fundraisers, and the first time we’ve brought in the greater art community,” Morse said. “We have donations from local artists and PSU art students. I’m really excited about it.”

The silent auction will be set up within the Urban Art Street Gallery area, on Northwest 13th Street, between Hoyt and Kearney.

“Mischa Ashton is the connector,” Morse said. “She’s organizing the auction – she even got the booth donated for free.”

Ashton, a PSU student, will join the staff of Art Camp volunteers this summer, as will several other PSU students. [Ed. note: Ashton is a photographer for the Vanguard.]

The UAC-PSU relationship is one Morse plans to cultivate over the coming years. She said Urban Art Camp’s success depends on the hard work of its volunteers, who support the process in a variety of positions.

Group leaders serve as mentors to groups of five to eight children throughout the camp day. “Go-to-Gals & Guys” provide varying types of support during camp and help coordinate volunteers. Artists plan activities and run each of the nine stations. Game and activity leaders provide intermissions of fun and physical activity, while guest performers entertain children at the end of the day.

“We always need volunteers,” Morse said. “We want to put out a call for people who are interested in helping at Art Camp. And they don’t have to be artists – we need all kinds of help.”

Art Camp also is dependent on community donations. Area art stores contribute art supplies, while grocery stores provide food for lunches. Volunteers assemble sack lunches in local community center kitchens, such as Friendly House in Northwest Portland, and deliver them to camp in time for lunch.

Anyone interested in learning more about Urban Art Camp as a parent, volunteer or donor should contact Susanna Morse at 503-780-1012 or e-mail [email protected]