Lansing Art Gallery’s summer camp goes online

Virtual visual arts

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Following suit with countless other institutions making the digital pivot, Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center’s summer camp programs for children are now tending to its budding artists virtually.

Digital campers are given access to five days of pre-recorded, step-by-step lessons to follow along with on a computer or tablet. The camps also supply students with a wide range of supplemental materials and connect students with teachers, so they can reach out for direct instructions and assistance, in case they find themselves stuck or frustrated. To keep with tradition, a virtual gallery with the students’ best work will be hosted online once all of the camps are completed.

Subjects and courses include “Tantalizing Textiles,” a course that teaches students the basics of block printing and how to use surface design to turn household objects such as pillowcases into works of art, and “Animal Antics,” which uses animals as subjects to inform artists on sketching techniques and painting composition.

While at first hopeful that the status of the pandemic in Michigan would improve enough to allow for in-person sessions, Lansing Art Gallery leadership quickly realized that its traditional camp would not be feasible. Since the pandemic hit, the gallery has made several detours, and its space on Washington Square is still not open to the public.

“We already had our teachers contracted to do in-person classes, so we had conversations like, ‘If we can’t be in-person for whatever reason, what would that look like?’” Lansing Art Gallery education director Michelle Carlson said. “Then, we made the decision that the gallery wouldn’t be open to the public. That’s when we worked hard to get things online.”

Lansing Art Gallery began collaborating with its teachers to come up with the best possible plan of action for a summer camp that was still fun, informative and, most importantly, worth the effort. They concluded the lessons needed to meet two criteria: simple lesson plans and accessible supplies.

“We tried to keep the lessons fairly simple, or not as involved as they would be in-person because we can’t have that immediate one-on-one connection with a student if they need help,” Carlson said. “We also needed to keep the supplies simple and available to everyone.”

Art supplies are being handled through a partnership with Odd Nodd Art Supply, a locally owned art shop in the REO Town Marketplace that opened last year. Camp attendees can choose to either use their own supplies or visit Odd Nodd to pick up one of the prepackaged art kits put together by the gallery.

Carlson and the teachers decided the best route was to put together a simple lesson for each day of camp, using pre-recorded video instead of live chats, to help circumvent technical errors and to avoid the chaos of a dozen people talking over each other. Pre-recorded classes also give students more control in accessing the lessons, but if all else fails, they can schedule a private video conference with a teacher.

“Students can access the lesson whenever they choose during the day. We thought, ‘Are kids going to want to sit in front of a screen after doing online school all spring?’” Carlson said. “We also questioned if kids could do live Zoom class meetings at 9 a.m. without assistance from their parents.”

The virtual camp is Lansing Art Gallery’s staff and camp teachers first foray into online education. The process has been very challenging, Carlson said. The education director has spent the past few months learning video production and mastering communication platforms such as Google Classroom.

“My forte is not video production or editing. I’m the only staff person working on the camp and providing this content, so I had to learn a lot. Thankfully there’s a lot of resources available,” she said.

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