For two weeks this July, 65 children from across Los Angeles were introduced to a vibrant world of artistic self-expression during Summer Encounter. An immersive experience for young students generally in Title I public schools, the performing arts camp encompasses a wide range of musical and artistic styles, practices, and performance experiences. For campers and counselors, Summer Encounter is transformative, changing their lives from the first day of camp to years later.
Campers, many of whom have never picked up an instrument, take music, drama, spoken word, and dance classes throughout the two weeks. In another class, collaboration and improvisation, they work with Summer Encounter’s Artistic Director and Colburn drama chair Debbie Devine to write the script for the multimedia play they will perform at the end of the program. This year, the play was centered around the theme of love. Repeating the word helped the kids internalize and express it, which is more important now than ever.
It’s this magic of experiencing art and self-expression individually, and as a community, that resonates so heavily with campers and the counselors who guide and inspire them. Most of the counselors started off as campers themselves and have been moved to give back to the community that helped shape them into the people they are today.
One such counselor, Esmeralda Rangel, admitted to being a very energetic, troubled kid when she first experienced Summer Encounter. She shared that the camp gave her a strong sense of discipline, while creating an opportunity for her to connect with different art forms that held personal meaning. Esmeralda is an example of how performing arts opens a world of opportunity, as she is currently pursuing a career in music. Through Summer Encounter, she learned that “no matter the income, success comes from doing what you love and being able to sustain yourself with it.”
Esmeralda and her fellow counselors come back to help kids going through similar experiences that they went through growing up. For all who participate, from campers to counselors to faculty, Summer Encounter is a safe space where everyone is free to be themselves, even when they may not be able to at home. Colburn is a home away from home.
The camp is a learning experience, demonstrating the value of arts education in helping students become confident and grow. Debbie Devine insists that for those involved, “it’s like a time lapse, watching the counselors mature and the kids literally find their voices and identify themselves as artists. They’re just different after two weeks.”
Fortunately, for many, Summer Encounter lights the spark for furthering performing arts education. Campers have the opportunity to apply to Colburn and continue studying on a full scholarship as a part of the Jumpstart program during the regular school year.
Faculty, campers, and counselors agree that Summer Encounter is life changing. Over two weeks in July, newcomers and old timers are welcomed into the school to join a blooming community of artists that just want to spread a bit more love in this world.