A Theater Camp participant hones some break dancing skills.

Free Arts CAMP Series 2023 kicked off June 5th, beginning with Theater Camp, and was concluded with two Multicultural Arts Camps: MAC 1 and MAC 2.

Theater Camp came to fruition in 2001, when Free Arts partnered with the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix to create a program that would provide the opportunity for the teens in our programs to practice theater skills, creating an outlet to explore the stories from their lives that can often be difficult to share.

In its early years, Theater Camp served 20 teens and utilized just two teaching artists, however, the program has now doubled in size and has reached nearly 500 teens who have been supported by a growing number of teaching artists, as well as more than 5,000 audience members who’ve attended the final performances throughout the years.

Currently, Theater Camp incorporates a team that includes a camp director, along with a group of professional teaching artists who present multiple performance art forms such as music, movement, spoken word poetry, and theater. These professional teaching artists, along with the Theater Camp team, lead workshops that empowered teens to artistically express their personal stories.

The participants were introduced to and practiced these art forms in the first week of Theater Camp, and then in the second week, utilized their new skills to collaborate with their peers in staging personal stories from their lives. The final performance featured a tapestry of stories that included feelings of pain, solitude, anger, and love and were woven together in a beautifully-staged production called “Rise to Resilience!” at the Herberger Theater Center on June 19th.  Seventeen teens from across the Valley were able to experience their first week of camp at the newly renovated Phoenix Center for the Arts, along with keeping to a final performance tradition at the Herberger Theater Center. The “Rise to Resilience!” theme reflects community connection and the participants’ journey of resilience.

Following Theater Camp, our MAC (Multicultural Arts Camp) series started June 26 with a partner site, Sunshine Residential. The first MAC, affectionally deemed “MAC-Sunshine,” spanned five days and served 37 teens living in foster care group homes, and utilized teaching artists, camp counselors, and Free Arts staff and volunteers. At the end of the camp, teens were able to showcase all that they learned and created to staff and loved ones at a share-out and showcase, followed by a celebration.

The second MAC took place at Free Arts’ offices, located at the Bob & Renee Parsons Place for Art and Transformation. From July 11-14, Free Arts served 38 teens utilizing the beautiful offices as Camp classrooms for the very first time. Teens of both Multicultural Arts Camps experienced various art forms including movement, beat-making, buckets of fun drumming, and visual arts. More than 100 guests joined our participants for the culminating share-out and showcase celebrations where teens shared their colorful hot air balloon visual art projects, creative beat-making, bucket drumming, and expressive Bollywood-style movements.

This was a monumental year in our Camp Series with hosting the second MAC at our beautiful Parsons Place building, as well as being able to offer both Theater and MAC camps for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of these programs was immense: Participants experienced a sense of empowerment by using the stories that may have once hindered them to express themselves artistically. The intentional structure and a focus on collaboration fostered a safe environment and a sense of community for participants.

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