VAE embraces 20th year of summer camps

NORTH BENNINGTON — On sweltering summer days, keeping the kids entertained and engaged can prove difficult. The Vermont Arts Exchange hopes to change this by offering a bevy of creative camps focused on active learning and outdoor fun.

The VAE will soon be ushering in its 20th year of summer camps for kids, with the first camp "Earth, Wind and Fire," beginning on July 17th.

At the VAE, the team of artists and educators work to provide experiences that kids may not get in school or at home, emphasizing reasonable risk taking alongside creative problem solving.

"There's no electronics involved aside from tools," said Rachel Payne, office and program manager for the VAE. "We really try to get back to that old school play, and taking healthy risks."

"What we try to do with a lot of our programming is build upon what a lot of the art teachers are doing in the schools," said Matthew Perry, co-founder and executive director of the VAE. "We try to compliment what students are getting in the schools and build upon that."

Over the last two decades, the VAE has refined a formula that allows them to provide high quality summer programs each year.

"We've cut our camps in half almost," said Perry. "We're trying to focus on filling each one up and making it the best it can be."

The VAE offers one pre-school camp for ages three to five, alongside five full day art camps for kids throughout the summer.

While the camps take place at the Arts Exchange in North Bennington, most days are punctuated by a midday trip to nearby Lake Paran.

"We've had the partnership with the lake for years and the kids just get to go there, forget about what they're working on and swim or play on the beach," said Perry.

Trips to the lake are just one aspect of the loosely structured atmosphere that the VAE has perfected.

"VAE is this sort of guided but freeform experience with art, and we take it to that next level by using insulation foam for a project or getting supplies mostly from Home Depot," said Payne. "I don't think people often think about art in that way, and that's where we really thrive."

"We're always trying to think outside of the box," said Perry. "We're artists and we're an arts organization, so we're expected to be creative to the highest level that we can."

For the VAE, Payne also brings some much needed balance to the organization.

"I am not an artist, but I'm a parent and I have children who have gone through art in school," said Payne. "What Matthew brings is this whole element of taking art seriously but also just having fun and taking risks."

"Its really good to create this as a team coming from different backgrounds," said Perry. "As an artist I can tend to think way outside the box, and sometimes you need to be pulled back in."

The summer camps offered by the VAE vary in focus from "Artology" which blends science with creativity, the popular "Camp Danger" that allows kids to step outside of their comfort zones, and "Old-School Woodworking" in which students get learn the math and physics of woodworking while crafting stilts, rubber band guns, and catapults.

"The woodworking camp was modeled after the summer I spent with my grandfather," said instructor Gabi Rynes.

"Open studio has always been a really popular camp," said Payne. "They just come in and we provide them with all sorts of weird materials, with some direction if they need it, and just kind of see what they create."

Overall, the VAE hopes to provide kids with enriching and challenging experiences that encourage creative problem solving.

"There's definitely that fun element with a little bit of danger but we're also just bringing it back to those basics of art education and making that connection with a kid who may not be typically engaged in the classroom," said Payne.

For more information on summer camp offerings, dates, and prices contact the Vermont Arts Exchange at 802-442-5549 or

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.


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