Summer is coming, and parents everywhere are wrestling with the annual problem of what to do with the kids. Why not enroll them in an art camp at the Peoria Park District? There are dozens of camps available for kids, catering to nearly every artistic expression imaginable.

The Fine Arts Camps, for kids seven to 12, meet at Kellar Primary Central School and offer a new theme each week. Themes include Camp Young At Art, Broadcast News, Camp Rah! Rah!, The Potter's Wheel, Camp Picture Perfect, The Master's Studio, E.Camp, Camp Puppetstuff, Camp Sweet Harmony, and Camp Hocus Pocus.

The Performing Arts Camp, for kids six to 13, takes place at Lakeview Park. The camp's talented staff and special "guest stars" instruct kids in drama, dance, and musical skills while campers write their own play to be performed at the Glen Oak Park Amphitheatre. Other camp activities include set and costume design, make-up skills, swimming, and games.

Dance Biz camp, for kids eight to 13, takes place at the Franciscan Recreation Complex. Kids can discover the world of dance in a variety of forms. They learn warm-up and conditioning, choreography, music selection, interpretation, costuming, and stage performance. Additional activities include outdoor games, arts and crafts, and one day of swimming. A demonstration/performance by the campers is presented on the last day of each session.

If music is what drives your kids, the Park District has several options at Rolling Acres-Edison School. Band Camp teaches how to play the blues, Dixieland, swing, and jazz, with classes including Jump Start (for students with no experience), Blue Notes (for students with one year of experience), Tempos (for students with two or more years), and Jam Session (for advanced students). All participants will perform in the Youth Music Festival on July 21.

Senior Summer Band is for high school students and includes a great schedule of performances over the summer. Chamber Ensemble is for high school students with advanced strings experience, who also will perform throughout the summer.

Orchestra Camp teaches the music of the great composers, as well as contemporary, folk, and patriotic works. Orchestra includes Suite Start (no experience necessary), Gold Notes (one year of experience), Allegros (for those with two or three years of orchestra), and Studio Session (for those with more than three years of orchestra experience).

The camp offerings have gotten bigger and better since Camp Onstage debuted in 1994, according to Fine Arts Coordinator Linda Elegant Huff. "The trend at that time for summer camps was specialization and themed camps. As an educator, I was especially interested in developing camps that had an educational aspect, and I particularly wanted to emphasize fine arts programs that might not be offered during the school year. Camp Onstage featured daily workshops in drama, dance, and music taught by our instructors and special guest artists from the community. In addition, we worked with children on an original script developed through improvisations. This script was used as the basis for a musical play the children performed for the public at the Glen Oak Amphitheatre at the end of the camp session."

Today, she said, the camp still follows that schedule fairly closely. "There are three, two-week sessions offered during the summer, each with a different play. Because Camp Onstage was so successful, we spun off a new camp in 1995 featuring just dance. Different styles of dance and choreography were offered in a one-week camp. This camp is now called Dance Biz, and two, one-week sessions are held at our dance studio at the Franciscan Recreation Complex in West Peoria."

With two successful theme camps, Huff said the Park District decided to venture into more areas of the arts. "In 1997, we developed the Fine Arts Camps. We originally started with nine themed weeks of camp, offering painting and drawing, sculpting, printmaking and mosaics, creative writing, photography, cartooning, choral music, pom pom dance, clowning, and computer graphics. The themes have changed over the years, retaining those most popular and replacing a few to try new ideas. We now have 10 weeks of camp and have added magic, broadcast journalism, puppetry, and, most recently, The Potter's Wheel."

The Park District also has offered a summer instrumental music program for more than 20 years, she said. "We have classes, workshops, and two bands-Senior Summer Band and Jazz Band; this summer's theme is 'We've Got The Beat.' The music program is for students seven to 18. Last year, the program was revamped to encourage students to continue playing their instruments, along with other kids, during the summer months and to give them opportunities for performance. We also now offer beginner level classes for students who've never had lessons and want to get a head start on the school year."

The Park District's newest offering, "The Potter's Wheel," was made possible through a grant from the Illinois Arts Council (IAC) and the Community Foundation of Central Illinois, Huff said. "IAC Artist in Residence Catina Briscoe will teach the three pottery techniques: throwing using the potter's wheel, pinch pots, and coil pots. The campers will learn to glaze and fire their pieces. We'll be working each day in our art room at Proctor Center, where the fine arts campers will get a chance to interact with the Proctor Center campers and share their experiences. We try to offer at least one new art-themed camp each year to the fine arts' 10-week line up, as well as bringing back our most popular themed weeks. This gives the kids a lot of variety of art to choose from and offers something different for the returning campers. We also have all new counselors this year who've planned exciting activities for each week of all the different camps."

Huff said the goal of the arts camps hasn't changed over the years: to supplement the school year fine and performing arts programs during the summer and to encourage children to continue their education during their vacation and have lots of fun while they do this. "In many cases, summer is the only time children can take advantage of an arts education since many school districts have severely cut back or eliminated arts from the school day. The Park District offers scholarships so all Peoria children can participate in the camps."

She said the most challenging aspect of putting on the camps is to keep them fresh and interesting. "This is why we offer at least one new fine arts theme each year and come up with new projects for the rest of the weeks of camp. We're continually bringing in new staff members to contribute to the program. We have two art instructors from Bradley University who'll work with Fine Arts Camp this summer, as well as our IAC Artist In Residence Catina Briscoe."
The best part, Huff said, is looking at the wonderful art produced by the children and getting to watch the terrific performances. She also enjoys watching the kids get hooked on art. "Many times, the parents sign kids up for just a few weeks of camp, and their children are continually begging to attend all the weeks offered. That's our best compliment."

Another endorsement for the program is when a student becomes a teacher. "One of our counselors at Fine Arts Camp was a camper at Camp OnStage, returned as a Counselor In Training when she was 14, and is now a photography student at Bradley University and will be a counselor at Fine Arts Camp this summer. She's come full circle."

The public can catch a glimpse of what campers learn at free performances of Camp OnStage at 7:30 p.m., June 20, July 11, and August 1, at the Glen Oak Amphitheatre. The Summer Band and Orchestra holds a Youth Music Festival at the Amphitheatre at 6:30 p.m., July 21. On that evening, there will also be a Fine Arts Fair featuring the art works of all the Fine Arts Camp participants. For more information, call 688-3776, ext. 266. AA!