CAMP, The Word
with Heather René Dunaway

Heather Dunaway teaching watercolor to a class of students ranging from 11- 16 years old
Heather Dunaway teaching Watercolor at Jessye Norman's Summer Camp 2021

Summer camp was a rare occurrence for me as a kid. I mostly spent summers in my backyard or at my Grandma’s swimming pool doing that “George Washington” thing with my hair (if you know you know). The first time I went to summer camp though, I was struck with an arts core memory. It wasn’t an arts camp, but It did incorporate some arts activities. Nothing special, just your run-of-the-mill construction paper and crayons deal. Our counselor, who’s name I have long since forgot, was this incredibly talented illustrator and portraitist. He would pull out his sketchbook at our crafts tables and draw us. I just remember being so amazed he was doing this all from life.


It changed the way I looked at and created art from then on. I don’t know if I had ever seriously considered being an artist as a profession at that point, being 10-years-old I was more concerned with when the next NSYNC album was coming out, but I remember thinking “I want to do that”. So I grew up and did that.

Last year I was invited to teach a watercolor class to the students of the Jessye Norman Summer Camp. I had taught a couple of classes before but never to kids, at least not this young. I thought back to me at that age and being interested in the arts offered at the rare camps I went to. Now I had the chance to be on the other side of that experience. I could be the counselor who makes art feel like something new.


I was able to teach at both parts of the camps that Jessye Norman offers every summer. It’s a STEAM camp, which means they offer science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. Thanks to the grants they received, one of which was through the Greater Augusta Arts Council, it was and stays completely free for students to attend. All that is required is an application and audition. Which meant that a lot of the students in my class were, right off the bat, super talented.

I tried incorporating some basic knowledge of watercolor, its history and its use, but also with some interesting, non-typical things you could do. I wanted the students to think outside the box more with this medium. I personally always see my art tools as instruments of experimentation. Maybe even some non-art tools as art tools. Table salt can be table salt, but it can also be added to watercolor to make new and interesting designs. In watercolor the brush is a brush, but can also be the eraser. I wanted my students to look at watercolor through a different lens.


As a result, I got some really weird and interesting work, but also some beautiful pieces. For their final project I had the students pick from 6 different images. A couple of Iconic buildings, A couple of nature Scenes, a land scape of the Savannah River and a portrait of Jessye Norman. The portraits wound up being some of my favorite pieces produced from these talented kiddos. Their attention to detail and understanding of the medium towards the end really made me feel like they were starting to get it. Which was incredibly rewarding on my part.

Portrait of Jessye Norman by a 12 Year Old Student
Watercolor Portait created by a student at the JNSA Summer Camp 2021

Yes, there were some kids who were just silly and wanted to paint “pee-pee-poo-poo island.” Honestly, that just made it more interesting. “Tell me more about this island. Who lives there? What’s their major export? What language do they speak?” And they would say “Doodie heads, poop, and pfft” followed by rolling laughter. Kids are weird.


So, if you are looking around for a camp for your little goofball, and they are interested in creating, thinking outside the box and just being themselves. The word, as told by me, would be to send them to STEAM camp at Jessye Norman School of the Arts. The instructors there are qualified and talented. They’ll learn from the best and be surrounded by like minded, fellow youths.

Flyer for the STEAM Jessye Norman School of Arts Summer Camp

Camp this year is almost full but they are still accepting applications! You may still have time to get your kiddo into this amazing summer arts program, or get a jump on next year. 


They also offer afterschool programs, community classes and homeschool arts courses. They can dance, they can sing, act, make a podcast, learn photography, make a movie, or make beautiful works of art you will cherish forever. Maybe this summer might be the spark for their budding arts career.


For more information on their summer arts programs, click here. If you are interested in learning more about the school and what they offer, click here.


Don’t forget all the other, amazing summer camps the Augusta River Region is host to. There are several other great arts camps to consider. I love seeing such a growth in camps like these. It’s obviously a supply-and-demand effort from this upcoming generation as they become more and more interested in the arts. As an artist, its great to see the talent that is following behind you. For a list of all the camps the Arts Council has on their calendar, click here.


Put that in your shoulder pads,