PUBLISHED: 4:24 PM on Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Students explore talents at fine arts camp
SITKA - Buzzing with creative energy, students explore a myriad of artistic classes at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp this summer. In its 32nd year, faculty and students work together, sharing what the arts represent personally to universally.

"The mission of the camp to provide the highest quality of intense art experience for Alaska kids," said executive director Roger Schmidt.

Last year, 411 students from 30 communities in Alaska, 12 other states, and three countries, attended the camp. This year, about 60 students from Juneau are among those in attendance.

Courtesy photo
  Students learn dance at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, now in its 32nd year.
"At camp you can focus on your special interest subject for most of the day and still have time to explore other subjects that you want to learn about," according to the camp's Web site.

The campus is located on Japonski Island at the Mt. Edgecumbe High School boarding school. Students stay at the high school and eat in the cafeteria with food options including vegan and vegetarian.

Student Hope Aldrighette, 17, said, "she isn't rooming with anyone she knows, so she gets to meet new people."

To allow further opportunities and decrease the long waiting list, the camp split up sessions through grades last year.

"The camp has had a wait list for the last five years, and we've had to turn kids away; now we're able to accommodate kids this year," Schmidt said.

Students entering first through sixth grade attended a mini day camp from June 11-15; middle school session for students entering sixth through ninth grade attended June 17-June 30. The high school session for students entering 10th through 13th grade runs from July 1-July 15. Classes begin at 8 a.m. and run until mid afternoon.

"I like the friendliness of everyone here; everybody seems to get along real well. In high school, there are all these classes you have to take and not a lot of opportunity to focus on the arts. Here at the camp, I get to do it all day," said 16-year-old student Stephen Young.

What makes the camp different are the large selection of in-depth class subjects and the world-class faculty. The high school visual arts program includes oil painting, ceramics, print-making, photography, Alaska Native Arts carving and documentary production and more. Theatre classes range from stand-up comedy to partner acrobatics and live event production. Dance classes include hip hop and ballet. Music classes vary from jazz, rock and "sonic boom," where students build a giant rhythm machine together using bodies, trash cans, water jugs and any other sonic tools. Other classes include creative writing, digital media and music technology selections.

"I enjoy the wind ensemble, because we're all working together and the director is awesome," Young said.

Students with little or no experience can take any introduction classes; advanced classes are available in several subjects for learned students.

"I tried to branch out this year. I really enjoy the ballet class because it's so different, I have no experience," Aldrighette said.

The camp offers "some of the best teachers in the country," Schmidt said.

"A lot of the arts are about making connections and networking. For Alaska kids we need that extra connection that makes it more personable and community based."

Faculty also provide "art shares," where they get on stage and demonstrate their artistic talents, according to artistic director Jara Kern. It's "a way for faculty to share and give students a glimpse of what they do in their lives," she said.

She gives examples of faculty sharing improvisational comedy or Alaskan stories. Recently, instructor and author Jeff Rennicke, who writes for "National Geographic Traveler" and "Backpacker," enthralled students with traditional tales interjected with musical interludes.

The talented faculty arrive from across the nation, a few include Bob Athayde, music director at Stanley Intermediate School in Lafayette, Calif.; Joy Barrett, actor, producer and artist in New York City and Jonathon "J" Bradley, a top technical sound and lighting producer from Seattle.

In 2004-2007, the camp was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts for exemplary summer arts education.

Garnering additional awards, it was selected by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities as a 2007 Coming Up Taller semifinalist.

The camp also offers scholarship programs through Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

"It's always nice when you apply for college to have a well-rounded experience as possible," Kern said.

"It's a real treasure for Alaska that we have one of the very best fine arts camps in the state," Schmidt said.

"Another opportunity we're excited about is a mid-size auditorium that will be the finest in the state. We should have a state of the art facility that we think our kids deserve; it impacts kids from everywhere in Alaska," Schmidt said.