by Barbara Malinsky

“To be able to wake up and do art all day with no real-world distractions made me see the best artist I could be. The Center for Creative Youth showed me what all my potential could add up to if I fully immersed myself.”  Patrick Donohue-O’Sullivan, Theater (West Hartford)

Sometimes being called to the principal’s office is a good thing.  You might be informed that you have been accepted into the four-week residency of the Center for Creative Youth program to revel in your art form as well as explore other artistic pursuits.

The Center for Creative Youth (CCY) is a program offered by the Capitol Region Education Council and is hosted by Wesleyan University, one of the country’s most distinguished liberal arts colleges.  CCY enrolls approximately 150 young artists from Connecticut, across the United States, and outside the country forming a student body that reflects a diverse ethnic, economic, and cultural society.  This provides an ideal environment for students to develop a better understanding of each other as they work as an ensemble toward a greater appreciation of the arts.

Lisa Foss is the current Program Coordinator for CCY.  Foss earned her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in Musical Theater and has worn many hats during her artistic career including Education Director of the Hartford Children’s Theatre; designing programs, teaching, and directing shows for both the Education Department and the Main Stage. At Hartford Stage, she was the Implementation Manager.  She has also designed and taught programs for Three Rivers Community College, The Garde Arts Center, University of Connecticut, Community School of the Arts, Spirit of Broadway Theatre and others.  In addition to teaching, designing, and directing shows, she continues to perform as well as teach private voice and acting throughout Connecticut as a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association since 1995.

“I am extremely honored to be a part of the Center for Creative Youth.  Having led programming for a number of arts institutions, I believe CCY is outstanding for many reasons – the rigorous artistic training, the interdisciplinary opportunities, the beautiful setting at Wesleyan University, the talented teaching staff, the dedicated team of Residential Advisors – but most especially the students themselves. A diverse group of strangers gather for a few weeks and become part of a true community of artists that form lasting bonds, I have met so many enthusiastic alumni who cherish the time they spent at CCY, and identify it as a positive turning point in their artistic life.  I am honored to be able to serve the program, to build on the tremendous legacy of my predecessors and to continue to find new and innovative ways to help young artists thrive.  I am very excited about the future of CCY.”

In each of the art disciplines, students gain experience in critical thinking, interdisciplinary and multicultural learning, leadership skills, and historical context.  A staff of professional instructors and residential advisors mentor students in their studies as well as the social aspects of the program.  Students leave CCY with a more informed perspective on their career and higher education choices.

The program is structured so that students attend daily classes in their selected majors in the mornings and then two different two-week long interdisciplinary electives in the afternoon.  There are also visiting artists, field trips, and attendance at performances and exhibits that enhance their experiences.  Two “Open Class Share Days” allow students to exhibit and perform their work.

To be accepted into the program, students must first supply the necessary requirements that include two teacher recommendations, a personal statement, a questionnaire about their art form, and an audition in March and April for the attending year.  Auditions include either performance or portfolio reviews as well as personal interviews.  Out-of-state students may have prearranged phone or video interviews. The tuition for the program is sometimes covered by local school districts either in whole or part.   Students should check with their local school districts about financial assistance.

The range of offerings for major classes is impressive. Students can concentrate on Creative Writing, Dance, Filmmaking, Music, Musical Theater, Photography, Theater, and Visual Arts.   Creative writing majors experience guidance in fiction and non-fiction prose and poetry.  Artists-in-residence, visiting poets, playwrights, and novelists work with them to hone writing skills.  A juried literary magazine is produced at the end of the program and becomes part of the student portfolio.

The dance program offers classes in ballet and modern techniques to develop versatile dancers.  There is a strong emphasis on composition, choreographic study, and the opportunity to create original work.  Dancers work with artists-in-residence from national and internationally known dance companies.

Filmmaking students work with digital video cameras and Final Cut editing software to learn film style production techniques.  They produce several short films and collaborate with crew and each other in small teams.  They learn storyboarding, screenwriting, scoring, producing, and editing to create their films utilizing Wesleyan’s professional labs.

If you are music major, CCY offers four weeks of training that music students are unlikely to find elsewhere.  Wesleyan has one of the oldest ethnomusicology departments in the country and is home to a wide range of both world music traditions and compositional practices.  Students are encouraged to bring their own instruments and participate in ensembles and workshops that engage them in jazz, rock, as well as music from Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Students majoring in Musical Theater integrate actor training along with voice work and dance.  They also focus on Musical Theater history and enjoy multiple performance opportunities.

For photography students, the focus is on the aesthetic, technical, and historical aspects of black and white print developing.  The object is to master photographic equipment, materials, and processes.   Light and shadow, sense of motion, and relationship of subject to frame are emphasized while shooting both on and off campus.  All is in preparation for a juried exhibit at Wesleyan’s Zilkha Art Gallery.

Theater majors begin with a five-day intensive program in movement for actors.  They begin each day with Suzuki method exercises in building physical core strength, focus, voice and diction, and improvisation.  They also focus on monologues, scene work, and audition preparation.

Concentrations in the Visual Arts include drawing, painting, sculpture, and mixed media.  These are the basis for foundation building, problem solving, and conceptual exploration.  Students have two exhibits during the program.  Discussions about historical and contemporary issues in arts through research projects, field trips, and faculty presentations are also an important part of their regime.  Students develop portfolios and also receive coaching in the college application process.

Interdisciplinary classes that take place in the afternoon include Ballroom Dance, Caribbean Steel Pan Orchestra, Japanese Painting (Sumi-e), Javanese Gamelan, Musical Theater for Non-Majors, Play Writing, Slam Poetry, Songwriting, Stage Combat, and West African Drumming, Dance and Song.

What Foss values most about the program is its “life-changing” aspect on students’ lives.  “It is so impactful!  Everywhere I go, I run into an alumnus or parent who sent their child to CCY and comments on the affect that it has had on them or their child.”

She is also in concert with the CCY values of “process over product” which is the teaching approach in all art forms.  The philosophy of CCY ties in with the core values of the program:  trust, leadership, diversity, quality, and collaboration.  Trust: Students enjoy rigorous classes but also experience campus life with all of its freedoms and demands.  They learn to trust themselves and their peers.  Leadership: It is a core part of CCY that each student completes a unique leadership project of one’s design that serves his or her community.  Diversity:  CCY celebrates a diverse community, both in terms of ethnicity and socio-economic standards.  Quality:  Classes are taught by working professional artists, with Guest Artists and Master Classes, another range of perspective that students otherwise might not experience.  Collaboration:  Collaborations occur regularly at CCY between artistic departments between staff (for the Faculty Concert and Art Show and the workshop series offered by teaching assistants) and by students who work together to create performances for several Open Mic Night events throughout the program.

This unique program has an impact on the individual artist but also the arts community by nurturing and encouraging young artists to hone their skills and techniques but to share their talents with their own community.  They return to their schools more driven and focused.  They become keenly aware of the demands of a professional artist.  By executing a leadership assignment of their own design, they provide the rewarding experience of observing their artistic vision brought to fruition and witnessing the impact their ideas have on the people they serve.

According to Foss, “Seeing that the artistic community is larger than their small sphere is an inspiring part of the program.”

For further information about this summer arts program, contact Lisa Foss at [email protected] or 860.757.6391.