PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. — Middle school youth from all over the Pacific Northwest create art, form friendships, and discover new ways to express themselves at Centrum's Explorations, a week-long immersive arts camp that can be life-changing. And the buzz in the air during the March 2022 session of this camp was unmistakable. It was the first time since the pandemic began that students attended in person.
"It feels amazing, for a lot of these students, this is their first time being away from home in two years," said Becky Berryhill, Centrum’s Youth Programs Coordinator. "Getting to see the excitement that students are bringing — ‘I'm back in the world, I'm away from home, I'm with other students my own age, like actually living life in person in the moment!’ — It's very powerful.”
Professional artists work with these kids. Classes are hands-on. Experiential.
“I've come here the last four or five years to teach here at Explorations," said Joe Seamons, a Seattle musician teaching folk music classes. "The kids, the quality and the openness and the vulnerability and just the excitement they show is really powerful.”
This generation-to-generation learning builds community and preserves culture.
"I teach Caribbean steel pans,” said instructor and musician Angie Tabor. “This instrument was actually invented by the youth culture in Trinidad — so speaking about this instrument with these youth this week where they're trying new things and tapping into their own creativity, it ties in really nicely.”
Explorations is just that — a chance to try new things. Seattle’s Robert Eyerman teaches a breakdancing class that’s always a discovery.
“Nobody wants to take breakdance when they come here. Nobody. Ever," Eyerman said. "After they take it they're like, I wish that my core was breakdance, I messed up! Next year I'm coming back and I'm for sure gonna have breakdance as my core. It's happened every single year for the past few years."
12-year-old Sloane Melani-Hawkins from Olympia is deaf, and she's exploring everything from breakdancing to ukulele, and she's got a singular reason for being here.
“Because I wanted to improve my knowledge,” she said.
She added that she earned a scholarship to attend. Centrum provides the tools for any student who’s interested to come to this arts camp and thrive. In Sloane’s case, they provided a sign language interpreter to help her navigate classes.
“Yeah, I’m very grateful,” she said.
The kids aren't the only ones learning something here.
"I learn just as much from them, honestly, I learn just as much from them as they learn from me," said Daemond Arrindell, a Seattle poet and performer who teaches spoken word. "My job is to just give them permission to be themselves.”
"Every time I'm here, I get inspired," Tabor said. "By what the kids are doing and their bravery.”
For these middle-schoolers, this is more than an opportunity to explore. It's a launching pad into whatever future they choose.
To donate to a scholarship fund for Explorations and Centrum's other youth programs, go to centrum.org/donate.