By Kim Valentine, Free Arts intern and volunteer mentor

This past March, Free Arts kicked off its annual Camp Series with a new addition to our programming: The Art of Leadership Camp. This camp was designed for the teens to learn about what it takes to be a strong leader and how to utilize the four main components of leadership—trust, communication, modeling, and encouragement—by leading a group of younger children through engagement with the arts.

For the first three days of the week-long camp, attendance was limited to a group of 23 older teens who dedicated themselves to the mastery of a project within one of the four art forms: music, spoken word, visual arts, and movement. With the support of professional teaching artists, counselors, volunteer mentors, and Free Arts staff, the teens learned the project themselves and then spent the remainder of their time collaboratively strategizing how best to teach it to the younger children that would join them at camp later in the week. The groups self-selected roles for each member of their team: Head of Class, Assistant Head of Class, Crew Chief, Camper Coach, and Role Model, and they each learned how to work together while taking ownership of their unique role in the success of the project.

This camp differed from other Free Arts programs because the heart of camp shifted from artistic expression to the embodiment of leadership qualities while using the arts as a vehicle.  For the final two days of camp, 24 younger children joined the teens at cam.  The older teens led the way in creating a safe space for them to open up and taught them how to work through the art project they had mastered earlier in the week. The artists, counselors, and volunteer mentors took a step back and supported from afar as the teens grew into their new roles as leaders.

On the final day of camp, after presenting their final projects, Free Arts gathered a group of local community leaders including representatives from the Office of Arts and Culture for the Cities of Phoenix and Tempe, as well as Free Arts Board members, and offered an opportunity for the teens to sit with them over lunch to talk about what leadership looks like in those settings.

This camp presented an opportunity for the teens to feel empowered in their abilities to lead a group and to embody Free Arts values as well as values that they find important as unique, individual leaders. One teen commented at the end of camp: “It helped me understand what being a leader means. It helped me understand my options and the choices I can make as an individual.”

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