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Ross School Joins With Fillmore Arts Center to Offer Summer Program

By Megan Miller*

[Note: Photographs accompanying this new story in the print edition can be viewed in the full PDF copy in the Current & Back Issues Archive.]

A person who happened through the doors of Dupont East’s Ross Elementary School in the 1700 block of R Street, NW this summer might have run into an unexpected scene: Perhaps a grinning, unraveling mummy lurching stiff-legged down a hall, or a troupe of square dancers in matching costumes whirling past. Colorful drawings of mythical fruit-animal creatures like the “elepeach” or the “deadly shasberry” decorated the walls. Strains of Creedence Clearwater Revival songs filled the air, strummed in unison on a half-dozen acoustic guitars.

For the summer, the Ross School welcomed the Fillmore Arts Camp, a program offered by the Fillmore Arts Center. The camp needed a temporary home while the Fillmore’s permanent Georgetown facility is being be renovated.

Ross Elementary is part of a group of schools that coordinate art programs with the Fillmore Arts Center throughout the year, taking advantage of the opportunity to bus students to Fillmore’s facilities for classes. This past May first-grade Ross students even displayed their artwork in a neighborhood show at the Adams National Bank branch on 17th Street between Corcoran and Q Streets. Hosting the Fillmore Arts Camp through the summer brought the creative energy of all the young artists into the heart of the Dupont neighborhood.

“We try to maintain as much of a sense of community involvement as we can,” said Camp Director Jason Mangan. While at Ross, campers took trips to The Phillips Collection to see major works of modern art and also used the Dupont scenery in their own work. Children learning about urban landscape drawing sketched neighborhood architecture. A drama class creating a mummy movie filmed on location at landmarks like the Temple of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry on 16th Street.

The Dupont area already boasts some impressive youth art programs, including the Children’s Studio School, which was praised by the City Council in June for “its pioneering work in inspiring, educating, and stimulating young children through the arts and architecture.” The Fillmore program’s move to Ross managed to bring in even more children from the surrounding community.

In its 27th year, the Fillmore Arts Camp, which once enrolled about 30 children each summer, now holds two, three-week sessions of over 90 students each. The children range in age from kindergarteners to eighth graders and are separated into junior and senior classes.

Juniors are encouraged to try many different kinds of classes, while seniors choose classes in their areas of interest. The campers’ options spread across a wide range of art, dance, drama, and music, from painting to graphic design, interpretive dance to yoga. “They come up with really creative ideas and classes,” said Amalia, 12, a four-year Fillmore Arts Camp veteran. “It’s nice to try new things over the summer, other than what I normally do.”

Many children return year after year, some staying on after eighth grade to work as camp counselors. Longstanding loyalties to the Fillmore program don’t stop at the students. Mangan lives and works in California, but returns to the District every summer specifically for the camp.

Director of Fillmore Arts Workshops Sara Friendly, who acts as camp administrator, attributes much of the program’s success to the instructors. Many are working artists, and bring their love of the arts into their classrooms.

The instructors’ creativity and dedication has carried the Fillmore program above and beyond a standard summer camp. Children don’t just draw or paint — in Glenna Johnson’s junior class, elementary-school-age children wrote and illustrated hardcover books. Other campers wrote, edited, and published the Fillmore Camp Newspaper, complete with movie reviews and op-eds.

According to Friendly, the instructors often collaborate across classes to put together larger projects. In the mummy film, a young actress playing an Egyptian princess wore a necklace she’d made in a beading workshop and a paper mâché gold armband made in another art class. The mummy’s sarcophagus was a cardboard refrigerator box decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics, which campers studied in an art history discussion.

Still, Mangan gives the real creative credit to the campers. “The teachers are good at focusing the children’ ideas, but they make the children come up with them on their own,” he said.

One of the most striking things about the atmosphere of the Fillmore Arts Camp is the energy level of the campers. The place is hectic, loud, sometimes downright chaotic – but the instructors manage to channel that youthful energy into amazing artistic accomplishments. All the while, the campers still get to have fun, be silly, and generally act like children.

“We like it because it’s really laid back,” said Wendy Cresswell, a parent from Adams Morgan. “It gives kids the confidence to do things. You’ll see four kids get up and sing Motown.”

For more information on the Fillmore Arts Center and its programs, visit www.fillmoreartscenter.org.

Innovative Arts-Focused

Charter School Honored

Children’s Studio School, located in the former Harrison School building at 13th and V Streets, NW in the heart of the Cardozo-Shaw neighborhood, received special recognition from the DC City Council in June for providing outstanding arts educations to the city’s children for 30 years and counting.

The Council declared May 1 to be “Children’s Studio School Recognition Day” throughout the city. Among the school’s other distinctions is that it is fully accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

Children’s Studio School conducts a full, day public charter school, as well as evening and seasonal programs. Founded in 1977, the school provides young children, ages 3 to 13, with the opportunity to learn from dedicated local multi-media artists and architects in a studio environment.

In addition to regular classes, the school holds performances of poetry, music, and the performing arts throughout the year, as well as workshops and other community events. Through the summer months, the City As Studio© program provides children with an opportunity to work with artists, writers, and architects for six weeks on a variety of projects centered on the history of Washington, DC.

For more information about the school and its programs, call the school’s founder Marcia McDonell at (202) 387-6148 or visit www.studioschool.org.

*Megan Miller is currently working toward her Masters in Journalism degree at the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism. A graduate from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, she was enrolled in its College of Humanities and Social Sciences with majors in Social and Cultural History and English.