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Inspiration and imaginations soar! Pacific Symphony's arts-X-press encourages 150 kids to delve into their artistic talents through workshops, fieldtrips and performances
June 21, 2013
Pacific Symphony heads into its 13th summer hosting 150 middle-school students for arts-X-press, an overnight camp (three one-week sessions) that offers a nurturing environment for students to explore their interests in the visual and performing arts. Beginning Saturday, July 13, students take part in workshops, excursions and activities designed to foster creativity, individual growth and help young people discover how the arts can enrich their lives. The program allows students to experience not only instrumental music, but also theater, visual art, dance and vocal music. This format was inspired by Music Director Carl St.Clair, who, when he talks with arts-X-press students, recalls how many artistic disciplines—not just music—influenced his creative development. Created to honor the memory of Cole Carsan St.Clair, this innovative, interdisciplinary program was formed in 2001 and has advanced more than 1,800 artistically active alumni.
This summer, the first session of arts-X-press takes place from July 13-17; session two from July 20-24; and session three from July 27-31. Fifty students participate in each session. To learn more about the program and to view first-hand accounts of the life-changing experiences arts-X-press makes on its students, visit PacificSymphony.org/arts-X-press.
“This program is so unique because it focuses on process rather than results,” says Molly Pontin, Pacific Symphony’s director of community arts participation. “Kids are encouraged to try new things and take creative risks even if they don’t know what the outcome might be. There is no mandate to ‘get it right’ for a performance, which is freeing. Alumni often tell us that they discovered a talent they never knew they had at arts-X-press because they were free to try it out without fear of failure.”
The goal of arts-X-press is to help students gain a life-long connection to the arts, while raising respect for the individuality of their peers, including their diverse interests and backgrounds. Teachers nominate promising 7th and 8th grade students for the program, and financial aid is offered to ensure that students from all over Orange County can attend regardless of their financial situation. Since tuition only covers about 40 percent of the program’s cost, the rest is made up by the generosity of individual donors.
During the week of their arts-X-press experience, participants live and sleep overnight in the dorms provided at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. Themes this year include “exploration (week one); “uniquely you” (week two); and “individuality” (week three).
Each day, faculty members—made up of high-caliber local artists and arts educators—lead a variety of workshops that encourage students to dig deeper into their own creative minds. Twenty-four outstanding high school and college arts students act as counselors, all of whom are arts-X-press alumni; 15 of them are returning veterans who have already been counselors for at least one past summer.
“Arts-X-press has been the catalyst to the many passions and career opportunities I have pursued,” says arts-X-press alumnus Mohammad Jaffrey. “I would not be the confident and outgoing adult I am today if it were not for attending arts-X-press in middle school. It solidified that the arts would always remain a part of my life.” Jaffrey participated as a camper in 2002, a counselor from 2007-10, served as summer staff from 2011-12, and is returning as a student teacher this summer.
This year’s excursions include trips to see Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach, the Symphony’s concert “The Planets” at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Target Symphony in the Cities, “Shrek” at 3D Theatricals and “Sunset Blvd.” at Musical Theater West. These field trips give students the opportunity to meet and interact with the singers, actors, dancers, artists and musicians from the performances. Arts partners from these productions help out immensely to support these young artists, offering ticket discounts, backstage tours, talk-backs and occasionally even extra performances to accommodate the busy arts-X-press schedule.
When the question arises each year, what is the most memorable part of the program, “they almost always say two things,” says Pontin, “going backstage at Pageant of the Masters and meeting Carl St.Clair (but the children don’t know about this yet, it is a surprise for them!)” says Pontin.
For many of the students, it’s the supportive environment of arts-X-press that paves the way for their first venture into exploring their creativity and trying new things. Each student may attend arts-X-press only once, but many alumni return as program counselors and as volunteers for other Symphony programs; a few have even gone on to become members of the Symphony staff. In addition to Jaffrey, James Suazo, who joins the faculty as a student teacher this summer, boasts longevity with the program—having been a camper in 2002, a counselor from 2006-11 and summer staff in 2012. Eddie Oliver has taught instrumental music since the very first year of arts-X-press—13 years ago.
Numerous students keep in touch, letting the Symphony know they are still active in the arts and have great lifetime memories of this unique opportunity to discover the meaning of art in their lives.
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