Sweet Briar College is taking applications for the third annual Blue Ridge Summer Institute for Young Artists, known as BLUR, which will be held June 16 through July 7 on its campus. For the first time, the camp will offer music and technical theater, in addition to theater, creative writing and visual arts.
Launched in 2011, BLUR is a collaborative, three-week residential camp for high school students interested in the arts. It’s built on the founding principle of blurring the boundaries between art forms to imagine new ways of seeing, thinking and creating. While participants concentrate in one area, spending two-thirds of their day deeply immersed in their disciplines, the rest of the time they work collaboratively on projects in other mediums.
The program’s founders came up with the idea for BLUR as an answer to what Newsweek described as “The Creativity Crisis” in a 2010 article. It suggested that children are less inventive than they used to be and consequently less prepared to be problem solvers in an increasingly complicated world, says BLUR director Dave Griffith, an assistant professor of creative writing at Sweet Briar.
“We agreed that arts education should do more than just encourage self-expression,” Griffith said. “The arts can and should train students to think creatively and work collaboratively to solve problems in any area.”
Adding music to the mix was always part of the plan, Griffith said. “Offering all of the arts helps students to see the ways in which the[y] … are all interrelated. They all have the same purpose: to express that which is otherwise unsayable, they just do it through different media.”
Sweet Briar College voice instructor Marcia Thom will run the new program, which, for now, focuses on vocal training and music theory. However, instrumentalists are also encouraged to participate and may bring their own instruments.
Unlike music, technical theater “just kind of happened organically,” Griffith said. “We had a student last year in the theater program who had a lot of experience in technical theater. She didn’t have a lot of acting experience, and frankly was a little uneasy about even attempting the exercises the actors were being asked to do.”
Help came from Krista Franco, the set designer for Endstation Theatre Company, which is in residence at the College and partners with BLUR. Franco took the student under her wing.
The partnership offers all participants behind-the-scenes experience in staging a professional theater production through Endstation’s Blue Ridge Summer Theatre Festival, which runs through June and July. For that particular student, however, working with Endstation became the focus of her BLUR residency.
“They put her to work backstage, helping to paint and build props and scenery for Endstation’s ‘Macbeth,’ ” Griffith said. “This student had such an awesome time that when the program was over, I asked Krista and Geoff Kershner, Endstation’s creative director, if we might create a technical theater program.”
The answer was “yes.” Starting this summer, technical theater students will work with professionals on scenery painting, prop management, lighting and sound design. They’ll also collaborate with BLUR’s theater program to design the student production that will be performed at the end of the three weeks.
“To my knowledge, this is one of the only programs of its kind in the entire country for high school students,” Griffith said.
Another small but impactful change for 2013 is the addition of ceramics to the visual arts program. BLUR assistant director Kate Plows, a ceramicist and art instructor, has been dying to add the medium, Griffith said, noting it’s consistent with the mission to allow students to explore the ways in which all of the arts are connected.
BLUR also partners with its next-door neighbor, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. One of the largest artist communities in the country, the VCCA offers participants the opportunity to interact with professional artists of all disciplines during their three-week residency.
As in previous years, the use of technology remains an essential component of BLUR. Students will use iPads to both create and record their work in drawings, writing, audio, video and photography, which they can share through social media. The tablets are included in the full tuition, but participants have the option of bringing their own or borrowing one provided by the program for a refundable deposit.
BLUR’s other big selling point — the College’s expansive campus — continues to be central to the experience, as well. Students are encouraged to explore the 3,250 acres, drawing inspiration from, and working in, Sweet Briar’s natural and built landscape.
Participants receive two hours of college credit for successfully completing the program. Women attendees who later enroll at Sweet Briar will receive a $2,000 tuition credit. Scholarships and day-student rates are available.