When Rhode Island schools closed in March, cutting students off from in-person arts education, FirstWorks, a nonprofit that works to ensure equitable access to the arts, stepped in to bring their educational opportunities virtual.
Kathleen Pletcher, artistic director of FirstWorks said, “We are always concerned about students’ access to the arts because the arts do a variety of things. We’re trying to train kids as artists and create new ways into learning. Learning to work collaboratively, empowering kids to express themselves and be civically engaged. The arts can really address some of the issues in the education system. They are a strong asset that can be not measured as precisely as math scores or literacy, but level the playing field in terms of income, and they give students a boost in succeeding.”
After the success of their virtual learning series, Pletcher and her team began thinking about how to conduct live workshops with students over the summer. “What do kids want to do this summer?” Pletcher asked herself. “Students like to be able to move and do things and build things.” So FirstWorks answered that student need by developing two virtual summer camps — one devoted to dance and the other devoted to theater.
These free summer camps run for one week in July, for 90 minutes a day. Pletcher says that the time commitment allows for a lot of variety of activity, spontaneity and social interaction in the programming, while also leaving kids plenty of free time in their day to play.
Pletcher says the camp instructors FirstWorks invited exemplify the organization’s commitment to diversity. “We invited artists we have relationships with — some of the leading artists in the world — but we did it with a consciousness of the diversity of students in RI schools.” They chose instructors with experiences and values that would mirror those of their students in order to provide kids with role models. But students’ needs aren’t FirstWorks’ only focus. “We, too, recognize that this is a really hard time for artists, and we are conscious of our role in sustaining and strengthening their work,” Pletcher says.
The Summer Moves Virtual Dance Camp is designed for students in grades 3 through 8 and will feature Shake It Up classes with Syncopated Ladies, an all women dance squad from LA. Pletcher says of the group, “They’re very cool and committed to history and empowerment.” Also? They worked with Beyonce. Students also will learn hip-hop and storytelling with Sokeo Ros, modern dance with performer and educator yonTande, and movement workouts with the principal dancer of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, America’s first fully multi-cultural ballet.
The Virtual Theater Arts Camp is for students in grades 5 through 7. Pletcher says, “Students will imagine creative worlds and characters, write those worlds and characters, and then manifest them from home.” They’ll do this under the guidance of theater educator Sophie Siegel-Warren, puppeteer Heather Henson, costume designer Machine Dazzle and spoken word artist Chachi Carvalho, who believes in empowering young people through self expression. Pletcher says of this team of artists, “These are artists, from both the world stage and the Rhode Island stage, who really care about paying it forward.”
What can students who join these camps expect? “I think students can expect to have a really fun time!” Pletcher says. “Anybody who’s curious and excited to learn will be learning from some of the best.”
To help the artistic young person you love learn from the best this summer, sign up by going to first-works.org/education/firstworks-virtual-summer-camps. Summer camps run from July 20 – 24. The dance camp takes place each day from 10 – 11:30am and the theater camp takes place each day from 1 – 2:30pm.