By Joel Hall
With smiles on their faces and messy hands, Savannah Wood, 8, and her sister, Karina, 5, worked tirelessly, covering a large balloon with strips of papier-mâché.
While their sculpture was taking shape rather slowly, the two were convinced that it would, eventually, be a wonderful flying castle.
On Monday morning, the two were among the 150 children from Clayton, Henry, Fayette, and other surrounding counties who let loose their artistic imaginations at the kickoff of Arts Clayton's 2009 Summer Art Camps.
For two weeks, the Kaleidoscope Arts Camp (for grades 1-6), and the Young Teen Camp (for grades 7-9), will take place side-by-side at E.J. Swint Elementary School in Jonesboro.
According to Sara Cookson, program and event coordinator for Arts Clayton, the organization has hosted summer arts camps for 16 years. She said the program is successful because it focuses on getting kids to think outside of their comfort zones.
"We want them to discover their own loves, their own interests," Cookson said. "We're here to teach them that art isn't just about pen and paper. We want them to think outside of the box."
Cookson said for the next two weeks, the children in both camps will explore visual art, as well as performance art, from a choice of dance, photography, sculpture, drawing, acting, and instrumental music.
At the end of the two weeks, all of the students will perform in the musical, "Lights, Camera, Action," by John Jacobson and John Higgins, as well as showcase a piece of visual art, she said.
Felicia Warner, stage director for the camp, said there are often more opportunities for athletic children than artistic children. She said the camp demonstrates to students that their artistic vision can make them successful.
"These children need to be able to express themselves," Warner said. "This whole process is teaching them lifeskills. It's really nurturing the whole person. It is teaching them not only how to be productive, but positively productive."
More than a dozen local art performers and teachers, as well as 30 volunteers, will work with students over the course of the camp. Greg McMahan, a professional clown know as "Mr. Greggy," performed for students on the first day of the camp.
McMahan said learning how to make a balloon animal can give a child "a great sense of accomplishment." He believes the camps will help the children become more independent thinkers.
"I like that they are focusing on the arts, because a lot of the schools are cutting back," McMahan said. "I'm glad that summer camps are picking up the slack. It helps them to see things in a different perspective ... It helps them make their own decisions."