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Press Release


Jean Oelrich
Director of Communications
(714) 876-2380

A Launchpad to Life-Long Love of the Arts, Arts-X-Press Encourages Kids to Fearlessly Explore Dance, Theater, Visual Art and Music During Arts Immersion Summer Camp

Orange County, Calif. — June 21, 2016

This summer’s sessions run July 9-13, July 16-20 and July 23-27

Pacific Symphony’s arts-X-press program gears up for its 16th exciting summer, providing 150 middle-school students with a safe and encouraging environment for exploring their love of the arts. Each year, Orange County students entering 7th and 8th grade are nominated by their teachers and apply for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This summer, beginning July 9-13 (session one), and continuing July 16-20 (session two) and July 23-27 (session three), 50 students participate in each session by diving into the arts to explore dance, theater, visual art, vocal and instrumental music during a five-day stay in the dorms at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. Filled with workshops led by arts educators that foster artistic discovery and creative expression, the program also treats arts-X-press students to experiences many have never had before—including excursions to live performances and opportunities to meet artists behind the scenes. To learn more about the program, visit

Founded by Music Director Carl St.Clair in remembrance of his and wife Susan’s son, Cole Carsan St.Clair, the innovative and multidisciplinary arts-X-press program allows students to test the boundaries of their creativity in an overnight summer camp, where no artistic risk is too intimidating to explore. Reflective of how many artistic disciplines influenced his own creative development (not just music), Maestro St.Clair’s philosophy is the driving force behind the program. Aligned with his vision for encouraging love of the arts, arts-X-press is designed for students to gain a lifelong connection to the arts and to foster respect for each student’s individuality, interests and diverse heritage.

Kelli Rust, the Symphony’s community arts participation manager, says: “Students are encouraged to leave their comfort zones behind as they explore new ways of expressing themselves and learning about one another. This is important because kids at the ages of 12-14 are at a critical point in life where they are figuring out who they are and what they’re about.”

During their arts-X-press week, as students actively engage in the arts through dancing, drawing, singing, acting and playing music in workshops led by experienced faculty, they are asked to leave their phones at home and disconnect from social media, to allow them to fully immerse themselves in the experience. Providing a nurturing and encouraging environment for taking artistic risks and embracing those different than themselves helps the students embrace who they are as unique and important individuals in society. For many, this camp is their first time away from home. As a result, students tend to develop close bonds with one another and camp personnel and make personal discoveries.

“I like how they took away our technology—we had real conversations rather than over text or on our phones,” says one of last summer’s arts-X-press students, Kole Kistler. “It just felt like we could all work together, and I made a lot of friends during the camp.”

James Suazo, who returns this year as a director, says, “As a camper, arts-X-press was an opportunity of a lifetime for me to learn about the arts and explore my own artistic talents. Arts-X-press took me to my first musical, first symphony concert and opened my eyes to an entire world that I only imagined. Arts-X-press changed my life because I felt comfortable exploring the arts by taking creative risks regardless of what anyone thought of me. These are values and experiences that I still cherish today.

“My favorite activity is ‘creative expression,’” Suazo continues, “because it allows all the campers to get their creative juices flowing in the morning as we explore music, creative writing and reflective activities on their camp experience. By the end, all of the campers find new ways to channel and improve their creativity; a skill that they can use for the rest of their lives!” 

During each session this summer, students participate in three excursions that may include: Laguna Beach’s Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts; Chance Theater for a presentation of “A Chorus Line”; the Strawberry Bowl Festival Amphitheatre for a Shakespearean play; and Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre for Beethoven’s Ninth, performed by Pacific Symphony. Many of these field trips allow students to meet the artists behind the productions and hear from the professionals who many consider to be role models, including Maestro St.Clair. On the last night, students put together a presentation for parents and show off all they have created over the last five days.

“Students usually love the talent show and parent presentation at the end of the five days, when they are able to showcase what they have been working on all week for friends, family and each other,” says Rust.

For many, arts-X-press can be a transformative experience. After attending a session last summer, Kistler says, “One thing that I took away is that you don’t have to focus on one type of art, you can do all of it,” he said. “The art possibilities are endless and you can just go after whatever you want to do.”

Kistler is now enrolled at Orange County School of the Arts for acting, with jazz as an elective class. He plays four different instruments, including the alto saxophone, and is participating in a production of “Bye, Bye Birdie” this summer. His mother, Stefani Kistler, credits arts-X-press as a jump-start for all the new experiences her son is having. And adding to his experiences—Kistler plans to return to arts-X-press as a counselor once he turns the required age of 16, as a way to give back to the program that helped him grow so much.

“Kole came back more mature and confident,” says Kistler’s mother. “It was really amazing. I didn’t think it was going to be as impactful as it was.”

More than 2,000 alumni have participated in arts-X-press since its inception in 2001, and while each student may participate in the program only once—a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—many return as program counselors, staff and volunteers for other Pacific Symphony programs.