Reflections on the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp

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Lincoln Heights Arts Camp campers and teaching artists after their final showcase!

In July 2016, YPT held our first-ever multidisciplinary arts camp: the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp! Led by YPT staff and local artists, campers explored the faces and places of Northeast DC through photography, playwriting, audio design and visual art. The camp culminated in a final showcase, where campers read excerpts from their plays and showed off photos and art pieces that encapsulated their lives in Northeast!

After camp ended, camper Brittany Butler and photography week teaching artist Kenji Jasper wrote blog posts about their experience in camp. Read on for their thoughts and memories of the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp!


 Lincoln Heights Arts Camp Blog – Brittany Butler

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Brittany Butler (R) performs during the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp’s final showcase.

My name is Brittany Butler, I’m 17 years old and I was a camper at YPT’s Lincoln Heights Art Camp. I was placed here as a job assignment for the Summer Youth Employment Program so I didn’t really know too much about the camp. IMG_0691My first day there was not what I expected and I honestly had no interest in staying for the whole camp. There was a lot of young kids there and I was basically the only one there that was my age so I was pretty bored. The following week is when things began to get better! There were no more young kids and more teens around my age began to come. The activities we did the first week were very fun as well. We started off learning a bit about Photography with Mr. Jasper.  I liked working with him because he made us engage with each other by having us work in groups. Doing this helped us get to know each other a little better. We also took a few little trips while working on photography. We went to Benning Road Metro Station, Marvin Gaye Park and to the famous landmark, The Shrimp Boat to shoot some fun shots of each other. The first week’s activities were so fun that I was really looking forward to next week which was playwriting.

Week Two we worked with Ms. Harris and Ms. Laurie to write a short play for our final showcase. The idea of playwriting did not seem like something I’d enjoy at first but of course Ms. Harris made the week very enjoyable! We chose a photo out of the ones we shot during Week One to base our play off. Mine ended up being about a girl who had no friends at school but had a connection with trees. She also had super powers that her mom didn’t like which led to an unexpected turn of events in the play! I ended up really enjoying the playwriting week and didn’t want to move on to the next week because I had so many ideas I wanted to add to my play.

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Sound design with Kevin!

Week Three was music! We worked with Mr. Kevin who was a music engineer who worked with many people whose music I actually listen to. This week turned out being my favorite week out of the entire camp!! We created really cool sound effects and music that we added to our plays. It was really cool seeing how he could make a song sound like it was coming out of earphones or make footsteps sound far away to close up by just using one computer program. At the end of Week Three I was really excited to perform my play because of these sounds we created because it made everything more interesting!

The fourth and final week was visual arts. During this week we worked with Ms. Asha and made collages about our passions. I chose to do mine about Cheer because that’s one of my passions. I gathered a bunch of my favorite action shots of my cheer team and I, printed them out and created a beautiful collage that I am very proud of. So proud of that I took it home and hung it on my wall!! Next we made keychains out of wood. I wasn’t sure what to do so I ended up just writing my zodiac sign and birthday on it with puffy paint. When it was finished it actually looked really good. We also decorated old records. I kept this project simple and just painted my favorite saying on it, “Always Strive and Prosper”! I plan on hanging this in my locker when I go back to school as motivation to get through my SENIOR YEAR!

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Final showcase photos. “Always Strive and Prosper” on the left in green!

At the end the Lincoln Heights Art Camp ended up being a complete success and I am glad I got to spend my summer being involved with this camp. Not only was it fun but it taught me a lot as well and also brought out the creative side of me which I really enjoyed. The final showcase was very bittersweet because I was finally able to show everything I did throughout the camp but I also meant that the camp was over. I made some new friends that I look forward to building better friendships with and met some awesome teachers and mentors like, Ms. Harris and Ms. Duncan, which I plan on keeping in touch with for things in the future. 

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Thanks to Brittany Butler for this blog post!

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Kenji Jasper speaks at the Lincoln Heights Arts Camp’s final showcase.

Teacher’s Log: Photography Week – Kenji Jasper

I came to YPT as a veteran of teaching creative workshops for inner-city youth.  I had started just barely out of high school as a co-instructor for The Institute for the Preservation and Study of African American Writing, which eventually led to my work with organizations like the Brooklyn Center for the Environment, The Bedford-Stuyvesant ‘I Have A Dream’ program, CentroNia and most recently Guerilla Arts and The College Success Foundation.  I knew how to work with teens, but I had only taught photography once before.  And as I would only have three days of class time, I decided that I would focus less on techniques and equipment and more on sparking competition between groups and allowing the students to have a good time in the rising summer heat.

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Having grown up partially in Benning Heights, I knew the area where Daybreak Ministries was holding the camp.  So I developed a curriculum based around students working in small groups outside of the classroom for the second half of each day, following an in-class first hour where they worked individually [ fortunately in air conditioning].  I knew that the more I kept them moving, the easier it would be to engage them in photography.  Using cellphones and two YPT iPads, students found the picture taking to be easy and enjoyable.  Those that didn’t like taking pictures served as models and muses for the others.

Once they began to see their work on the overhead projector at the start of each day the spirit of pride and competition encouraged them to take better pictures in hopes of cornering a little more spotlight for themselves among their peers.  They scaled high fences and repelled down hills to pose by a creek.  They framed shots on playgrounds and grassy hills behind orange brick buildings surrounding the camp headquarters.  And they now have the photos to prove it.

The best part of the experience for me was watching the students rise to each creative challenge.  Presented with a glass full of candy, each student had to take one photograph for each M&M they ate, resulting in a diverse array of photographs that captured not only the dwindling candy but the other students as they fired their best shots at the exercise.  They did the same with a game of chess and a team battle in playing cards.  With each outing, they learned that neither the job of photographer or model was an easy one.  But with effort and focus, everything is possible.

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M&Ms have never looked so beautiful!

My reward came with the sadness and regret students expressed on the last day, as they all seemed to wish that we had more time.  Working with YPT provided me with one of my best teaching experiences to date.  I hope that we get to work together again.

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Thank you to Kenji Jasper for a terrific week! The students – and we – love you!

Liza Harbison: It Matters

I grew up on the arts. I drew, sang, danced ballet (as much as one can at five years old), made a miniature world out of clay, played piano, and even attended theater camp. In my tween years, however, popularity was the most important art form of all. Everything my parents liked—and I grew up on—was uncool. I had to rebel. And by that, I mean I had to shun theater and devote my life to 98 Degrees. These were the years of trying in vain to fit in by only liking what my peers liked. (Obviously if I was destined to be one of the cool mainstream kids, I would have chosen NSYNC or Backstreet Boys, but part of me still wanted to go against the grain.)

At fifteen, I started questioning my conformist ways, and the arts helped me decide who I wanted to be independently of others. It was the students who were passionate about the arts who seemed to have a knack for this self-discovery stuff. They were not caught up in the social hierarchy and had no interest in anyone telling them they should be.

Soon, I discovered photography and understood why those artsy kids felt so comfortable with themselves: art changes how you see the world. I still compose photos in my field of vision all the time. Through my lens, I can take the most beautiful parts of the world and hold onto them. I can photograph something horrible or unjust and bring attention to it. Photography also created a confidence in this newly defined sense of self. I knew that I had this passion and that was all that mattered. What else might I have an undiscovered affinity for? There was no longer time to waste on what other people were telling me to want.

I started volunteering at a local theater, became the crazy liberal girl on campus, and generally continued to develop an unusual set of interests throughout my high school years. Of course it was important that I unearthed a passion for photography and graphic design because otherwise I would still be jumping from internship to internship trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. But it was what the arts did for me personally, not professionally, that mattered most.

Click here to learn more.

A Young Liza with Her Face Painted

Liza Harbison
YPT Communications and Graphic Design Assistant