Monday, October 18, 2021

The best city in the world has its own secret camp for finding your best art

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Some months ago I visited one of Washington’s hippest places, The Bellows in the Penn Quarter, the outdoor art gallery first made famous by John Cheever.

The Bellows opened in 2009 and for years has been a weekly gathering spot for Washington’s creative class — John McLaughlin, Tom Sachs, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O’Brien, Dr. James Wechsler, among others. It’s where the new kids in town of arts and music industries flock for a week-long “summer camp.”

This year, the newest nonprofit of its kind was created: Psychedelics Summer Camp. With a buzzy name and a medium-sized mission, it’s one of Washington’s newest forms of tourism.

The goal of Psychedelics Summer Camp is to bring together talented people in music, theater, and other creative fields from DC and beyond to share life-changing experiences at Bellows. It aims to “enliven what you’re doing with drugs as well as do it for the art itself,” said Sara Evans-Belcher, artistic director.

Over five days of an all-ages camp, participants participate in lectures and other events, including film screenings and workshops on how to develop new pieces of art. These children, many of whom have attended high school in the past, get to look into new ways of seeing things through the help of a variety of speakers, and also practice their art. For a few days, they help each other grow, teach each other about painting, drawing, composing, and other artistic projects.

This is big news for Bellows, which aims to take the fun out of art. But the art community loves the effect that Psychedelics Summer Camp can have, said Evans-Belcher, who previously took part in the art camp herself.

She was exposed to many new things while at Psychedelics Camp, she said. “I didn’t have any idea I could get more creative when I got high, but I did,” she said. While she had never learned how to use blubber acid, others could, and that helped her learn new tools, such as drawing a penguin on paper with acrylic paint, she said.

The camp is sponsored by the poet Stevie L. Anderson, who also helped create a similar summer camp for adults called Fandom Life in the Bay.

Fandom Life, which started in San Francisco in 2007, runs six-day long camps that focus on hobbies of people who are inspired by other people, such as video games or manga, or who draw or read comic books.

“People like you and me aren’t going to see ourselves represented all that often in the mainstream,” said Scott Roseman, a co-founder of Fandom Life. Fandom Life’s camp seems to be working, in part, because everyone is drawn to what they like, and children, more than adults, tend to create more art with more freedom. The camp combines those ideas by putting the attendees in the creative positions, Roseman said.

All of the campers have been attending their own summer camps for years or long before this summer, but this was the first time the groups met for a weekend of art. They were initially strangers, “but there was a sense that we’re all just a bunch of people coming to do art and meet other people like us,” he said.

This school of art may one day run a similar camp for adults.

For now, though, the children are the focus. Next year, Evans-Belcher and her team will begin a trend — bringing a middle school music camp into Bellows in September.

There were already applicants for both of the camps the summer they were thinking of having, but “we just couldn’t get enough slots to begin with,” she said.

Eventually, the campers will graduate and be open to show and tell their stories at other summers.

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