Stroll along the Walk of Fame in the Delmar Loop, and you’ll spot the playwrights, actors, and artists who got their start in St. Louis, from Tennessee Williams and Katherine Dunham, to Tina Turner and John Goodman.
Just a few steps away and around the corner, a new generation of Gateway City superstars will discover their love for the visual and performing arts this summer. Starting in May, the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) once again sets the stage for fun and learning during its annual Summer Arts Camps. And this year, the excitement has expanded to a second location at the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy (USHP) in the Central West End to provide more kids and young adults with access to captivating programming.
Giving campers the chance to shine
With a long history of serving kids ages 3 to 18, COCA has created an inclusive and diverse camp experience featuring hundreds of opportunities for immersive learning. Whether they’re belting out Broadway classics, stepping into center ring to show off their circus acts, or creating their own comic books and cartoons, campers are able to build their skills and self-confidence.
“We have campers who find their passion and return every year to really dive into a specific activity,” said Alisa Cooper, COCA Program Manager. “They’re the ones who want to come back one day as teaching assistants and artists. Others just come for the fun and socialization. Either way, we want them to feel comfortable to explore new mediums, express their creativity, and make new friends with kids who share their interests.”
In addition to its weeklong camps, COCA offers two- and three-week intensives for those who want to refine their talents in ballet, theatre, songwriting, voice, and costume design. An exciting addition for this year is the “Create Your World VR” session with technology innovator Breach. This hands-on, virtual reality-themed camp teaches teens the fundamentals of developing immersive games and educational simulations, giving many their first glimpse at a potential career in this dynamic field.
Classes led by skilled professionals
Even with the wide range of programs available, what truly makes COCA stand out among other summer camps is that classes are taught by teaching artists who work professionally as exhibiting artists or performers.
“The teaching artists who make our camp run bring a wealth of passion and expertise to the creative process,” explained Janelle Velten, Director of Community Programming. “We draw in folks of all backgrounds, talents, and skill sets who help us create a truly communal experience for all of our campers.”
A diverse faculty also allows COCA to bring a multidisciplinary approach to many of its camps, allowing kids to explore a theme through different art forms.
Said Cooper, “Our most popular version of our multidisciplinary camps would be our theater camps. These typically have three instructors – one focused on music, one on dance, and one on acting – who lead classes in their different specialties. Together, they help campers build a show that they can perform for their families on Fridays.”
Three of these performances include youth versions of “The SpongeBob Musical” and “Willy Wonka” for tweens and young teens, and “A Murder of Crows” for high school students ages 14 to 18.
That same method carries throughout other camp sessions. New this year, for instance, is “The Great COCA Bakeoff,” in which teams of culinary artists whip up delicious and eye-catching desserts, and aspiring filmmakers produce, film, and edit an episode of the sweet competition. During Fairyland camp, kids ages 4 to 5 invent new fairy creatures, build them wings and wands, and bring them to life through a special fairy dance.
“We offer a full, wholly rounded experience for campers,” Velten remarked. “They really enter and engage in the creative process to envision new ways to see the world around them. Students are challenged to think and problem-solve creatively across disciplines, which is especially powerful and extends to all areas of their lives. There’s definitely something special that happens here at COCA during the summer.”
Expanding opportunities to every child
The team at COCA is dedicated to making its camp as accessible to as many children as possible. While they have long provided one-off camp sessions for various organizations, this year, they opened a second campus at USHP on the grounds of Washington University Medical Center to build new partnerships and provide more opportunities for campers. Whether their caregivers work in the area or they live in the Central West End or surrounding neighborhoods, kids can choose from many of the same camps hosted at COCA’s main campus in University City.
To make access even easier for families, COCA offers full- and half-day camps for and before- and after-care. In addition, a sliding-scale tuition program is available for students who qualify.
COCA Summer Arts Camp starts May 28 and runs through August 16, providing families with 12 full weeks of fun-filled activities. Registration is open now on the COCA website at www.cocastl.org/summer-arts-camps.
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Metro East mom Nicole Plegge has written for STL Parent for more than 12 years. Besides working as a freelance writer & public relations specialist, and raising two daughters and a husband, Nicole's greatest achievements are finding her misplaced car keys each day and managing to leave the house in a stain-free shirt. Her biggest regret is never being accepted to the Eastland School for Girls. Follow Nicole on Twitter @STLWriterinIL
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