Friday, May 21, 2010

The Art of Teaching Fine Arts

While May saw a wonderful commencement ceremony for the recent graduates, the truth is that the education process never stops at JU. On top of the summer session for students to take advantage of, the university also offers several summer camps for the youth of the northeastern Florida community.

One of these is the Dolphin Fine Arts Camp, a week-long endeavor for children ranging from 6-16 that allows them to learn and explore their abilities in art, theater and dancing, as well as make new friends. Held throughout June, this tradition brings together current and future performers and artists to share and learn new skills.

JU Associate Professor of Music Theory Thomas Harrison oversees the entire program. A music enthusiast to say the least, Professor Harrison has been an active participant in the industry from both the artistic side and the production side. In addition to teaching all aspects of music, he also runs Dolphinium Records, the student-run, campus based record label. His creativity and expertise should provide the campers with a tremendous learning experience.

Before the camp begins, the Dolphin Network interviewed Professor Harrison on the different aspects of the camp, as well as why a camp like this can be beneficial to younger students:

How involved is the student body (past and present) with the camp?

The camp, which has been running for over 15 years, has been quite successful because of the relationship the JU student body has with making the camp work. JU students act as camp counselors for the younger campers (age 6-13), while some older teenage children (14-16) will assist as a junior-type director as well as receive more advanced lessons.

Theater, music and dance are all based on teaching the skills and techniques that are necessary, and then rehearsing them. For that process to be the most beneficial, it takes those that have the knowledge to teach those that don’t. That is the only way the performance arts can continue to grow.

What will some of the day-to-day activities include for the students and what will they have accomplished by the end of the camp?

Unlike many camps, where there are a broad range of activities, but no real end goal, this camp is geared completely towards the production that is performed at the end of the week. The Arts instruction will be tailored towards the production; the Visual Arts will focus on items for display in the lobby and the scenes for the productions; and the theater, music and dance instruction will all be included in the performance. So, aside from learning and growing in specific disciplines, the campers also are part of something larger than just themselves, with each playing a key role in a final, finished product that they themselves had a hand in creating.

With school district budgets across the country being consistently cut, it is typically the theater, music and arts curricula that are reduced or eliminated. What are the reasons for keeping these classes in schools?

It is a well known fact among arts teachers that keeping arts curricula in schools helps for better retention and attendance rates. This is particularly important at the high school level, where, if kids have more freedom to make choices on what they want to learn, it not only gives them a stronger reason to attend, but also provides them with the opportunity to truly consider the type of career they want to pursue.
However, to take it a step further, if arts classes were maintained at the elementary level, there would be a more solid foundation for kids (especially those interested in those subjects) to keep going to and enjoying school.

What it unfortunately comes down to is that the people that are making the decisions are not always the people most equipped to do so. Teachers and administrators should be the ones developing the policies for school curriculum because they have the primary knowledge on what is important and what works, but too often, there are others that have their hand in the final decisions.

There are a number of specific skills that the students will learn (singing, dancing, acting, etc.) during the session, but what are some of the broader life skills that the students can take with them after attending the camp?

The study of the arts is important at a variety of levels, especially in the area of identifying a task and completing it for a panel that will assess you (i.e. putting a production on for an audience). Study in the arts involves self-centered commitment and study, problem solving, and setting goals, areas that are transferable to any discipline.

In addition, because everyone at camp is working on projects that will be used for the final production, there is a team-building component and a sense of responsibility that is taught. When everyone has a hand in the end goal, there is not only a greater incentive to do your best, but also a stronger camaraderie.

For more information, or to register your child for the camp, please email

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