The Garrett County Arts Council (GCAC) forged a new partnership with the Smithsonian Institution earlier this year, and the two collaborated to offer a pilot education program at the GCAC’s headquarters in the Oakland Arts & Entertainment District. The Smithsonian Summer Adventure Camp was hosted by the GCAC beginning in mid-July and continuing for six weeks. Each week children were invited to the new $MART ART: Shared Workspace adjacent to The Gallery Shop in Oakland, where they were connected via the internet to take part in various arts-integrated themed classes.
“It was a great success,” said Kathy Beachler, executive director of the GCAC. “We had classes of children throughout the six weeks taking part in hands-on, grade-appropriate two-hour sessions, taking deep dives into the Smithsonian’s collections. We were connected via the internet, and through a large screen in our $MART ART workspace, the kids were able to see and be seen by energetic, entertaining instructors. Garrett County artists and entrepreneurs assisted in additional activities throughout the sessions.”
“Garrett County, we see you!” the instructor would shout out, waving to the local students each day, who could see themselves on the Zoom screen. Children from across the state, in Washington, D.C., and in many other parts of the country joined in on the virtual class.
The adventure for the first week, July 12-16, was Space Station, inviting the students to “suit up and strap in to virtually experience a week as astronauts aboard the International Space Station.” The young adventurers encountered artifacts from historic missions during online visits to the Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The class members were able to speak with space experts including an actual astronaut, who spoke with the local children one-on-one.
The next week was Gadgets and Gizmos/Smithsonian Shark Tank. American innovations were the topic, and the adventurers were able to virtually visit the Air and Space Museum, the Q?rius Lab, and the American History Museum. There they explored the entrepreneurs and creations that changed America and the world. Students then worked on their own big-idea innovations and presented them to judges at the end of the week.
The next camp, July 26-30, was Animal Kingdom/Mammal Mania. Students spent the week observing, comparing, and categorizing living things like natural scientists at the Smithsonian. They explored the many classifications of Kingdom Animalia and the diversity of life forms that make up its branches, from sponges to giant squids, humans to earthworms.
The fun continued in the first week of August with Color: The Smithsonian Spectrum. Students became artists together to explore the science, art, history, and diversity of all colors on the visible — and invisible — spectrum. Inspired by camouflage and color-changing creatures of the animal world at the Natural History Museum and artworks featured at the Hirshhorn and Cooper Hewitt, adventurers conducted experiments, bent the wavelengths of light itself, and created optical masterpieces.
Next the young explorers traveled virtually to Underwater Worlds, held Aug. 9-13. They joined scientists, including some from the Smithsonian, to learn how to keep the world’s oceans healthy. They were introduced to ocean exploration and study, marine preservation, and sustainability efforts with virtual visits to the Natural History Museum; conducted research on the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal; and participated in ocean cleanup challenges.
Finally students were taken on a Rock This World/Digging for Dinosaurs adventure. The young geologists excavated the secrets of the Earth and beyond, from tectonic-plate movement to gem formation, volcanic eruptions to fossils and meteorites. The summer camp came to a close with this final session.
Brigitte Blachere, the program manager for The Smithsonian Associates, was happy with the success of Garrett County’s pilot effort.
“We are thrilled with this partnership and hope we can a find a way to work together again, soon,” Blachere said. She said witnessing the children having a great time is a joy to see. “I love seeing them dance and get so excited about their projects they made. I also love when they get so wrapped up in the talk from an expert in the field. They can ask the most intelligent and amazing questions.”
Blachere explained that the Smithsonian Virtual Adventures started as a solution to the pandemic and summer camps being closed in 2020.
“Taking the successful format of Adventures, we are working toward taking them into the classroom and after-school programs as a means to support in-school curriculum in the 21/22 school year,” she said. “We are already working with our partners across the Institution to come up with a dynamic virtual Adventure offering for the summer of 2022.”
In this pilot effort, the GCAC kept participation to an eight-student limit. The partnership between the GCAC and the Smithsonian allowed for a discounted camp fee for all local children who took part. Now that the program has been successfully operated, Beachler said the GCAC will continue to collaborate with the Smithsonian Institution to offer more learning adventures —virtually and in-person — for students of all ages.
In FY21, GCAC was awarded a grant from the Rural Maryland Council allowing for the creation of $MART ART: Shared Workspace, an ADA-accessible community workspace equipped with various digital, traditional tools, services assisting rural art entrepreneurs to flourish in a global digital-based economy. The space is located in The Gallery Shop building at 108 S. Second Street, Oakland. First used as an office area for the staff, the area has now been revamped to a multi-use classroom facility, able to accommodate up to 25 people. The space is already being utilized, with students attending workshops this summer through the Smithsonian Institution. Demonstrations and workshops are being scheduled, to be held regularly in the new space in the coming weeks.
The meeting concluded with the presentation of the Friend of the Arts Award to Frank Shap, outgoing GCAC board member who has dedicated much of his time and energy to the support of the arts in the county. Frank served as the GCAC treasurer for much of his time on the board, and although he has served a full six years — the term limit for all members — he will be continuing in other volunteer capacities. He is a member of the Oakland A&E District Advisory Board and also active with the Garrett Mentors Inc. The award presentation was done online, with Frank’s sons able to log in as a surprise to him.
“We so appreciate Frank’s dedication and hard work for the arts council,” Beachler said. “We will miss him on the board, but we’ll still be calling on him to help out!”
For more information about GCAC or any of its programs, feel free to contact the GCAC office at 301-334-6580 or through email at email@example.com. The website is located at garrettarts.org. The organization maintains a Facebook page and Instagram account. The A&E Districts of Grantsville and Oakland can also be found on Facebook and at oaklandaedistrict.com and grantsvilleaedistrict.com.
By Mary McEwen of The Garrett County Arts Council