Curtis Museum hosts open art MicroCamps for families on Tuesday evenings

The Curtis Museum has opened its arms to provide arts activities provided by NOMAD’s MicroCamps on Tuesdays from 5 -7 p.m., at 1101 Marshall St. in Clearwater. Photos courtesy of Bryan Voliton

By J.A. Jones, Staff Writer

CLEARWATER — Children in North Greenwood have a new location to enjoy free arts and literacy events this summer.

The Curtis Museum — formerly the Pinellas County African American History Museum – has opened its arms to provide arts activities provided by NOMAD’s (Neighborhood-Oriented Mobile Art + Design studio) MicroCamps, on Tuesdays from 5 -7 p.m., at 1101 Marshall St. in Clearwater.

NOMAD began offering on-location MicroCamps in 2020 as a response to the impact of COVID on Pinellas County schools, which were forced to shut down with little to no prep time or plans on how instruction would be carried out.

NOMAD founder Carrie Boucher and her team of artist-educators were inspired to try a neighborhood-based art practice after schools were shut down due to COVID.

Founder Carrie Boucher and her team of artist-educators were inspired to try a neighborhood-based art practice out of concern for children and families who were relegated to learning at home and who might desire a creative outlet to support home-learning.

MicroCamp art teachers started offering the program in front yards, neighborhood alleys, and empty parking areas in Childs Park, Westminster Heights, Kenneth City and North Greenwood.

Mason Gehring, artist-instructor for the North Greenwood MicroCamps project, noted, “We knew that they weren’t going to go to school and that they were getting computers and books, but probably art supplies might be very limited — and getting your art instruction over the Internet can be complicated.”

As well as providing art supplies, children would get to keep supplies they used in the camp, so, said Gehring, children who continued to come every week could “amass a giant kit of art supplies.” She noted that the sessions are not as much about giving the youth art lessons as giving them access to different materials and teaching them how to take care of the supplies themselves.

Jennifer Francis drives across the nation, distributing more than 75,000 books in dozens of states, touching over 50,000 children annually.

Gehring said that while they were excited to hold their initial North Greenwood programming in the empty parking lot of the North Greenwood Library, the space also had limitations – no accommodations for rainy summer days, and when the library closed at 6 p.m., no bathroom accommodations.

So, when Curtis Museum board member and long-time Pinellas County educator Lois Saylor-Bell offered the MicroCamp space in their building at 1101 Marshall St. in April, including access to the grounds, the team was thrilled.

“We are here because Lois is amazing,” noted Gehring, who said Saylor-Bell allows them to store supplies in classrooms and also donates supplies towards MicroCamp’s activities.

For her part, Saylor-Bell was adamant about the positive influence art has on children and adults. “You know, art is awesome. And it is a very easy way to educate our students.”

Clearwater native Ebony Williams, North Greenwood MicroCamp’s assistant instructor, said, “I’ve always loved self-expression; I like to create myself, so I love to see the kids being creative. I see art as therapy. You need to express, free whatever’s on your mind. So, we use crafts to do that. I love seeing the kids come out; they enjoy it.”

Gehring reiterated, “I want to show kids, and parents, that everyone’s creative. It doesn’t mean that you have to be an artist, and that’s your job — everyone’s creative, whether it’s visual arts, or singing, dancing, whatever. Expressing yourself is so essential to being human that we should never forget it. And we should always be putting time and money, funding and effort toward it.”

So far, funding for the MicroCamps has been an entirely grassroots, community-funded initiative. Each camp session costs about $300 to run and serves anywhere between twelve and thirty children per session.

The North Greenwood camp was visited by Bess the Book Bus on a recent Tuesday, a nonprofit mobile book giveaway.  A familiar sight in the Tampa Bay area, founder and Tampa Bay local Jennifer Francis drives across the nation, distributing more than 75,000 books in dozens of states, touching over 50,000 children annually.

Francis said she hopes to make monthly stops at the Curtis in the future. “We’ve had a really good turnout, a lot of families coming. What’s really nice to see is the parents are just as excited as the kids to come pick out books. It’s a really good combination – art and books always really go well together.”

Gehring relayed that the art camp is open to the entire family and enjoys seeing the parents join in.

“I’m so happy because when they can sit down and do it with their kids, I know that when they go home, they’re probably going to do it with them again.”

Saylor-Bell agreed with Gehring, stating that art is very therapeutic.

“In these stressful days, not only the children but everybody needs that art experience. So, parents, you can come on out too, and put your hands to some glue and some paint — and enjoy.”

For more information on how you can support the project, visit NOMAD MicroCamps.

To reach J.A. Jones, email jjones@theweeklychallenger.com

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