Camp ART’selle plants seeds for creativity

Charley Garines

Hartselle Enquirer


The old, creaky wooden floors of the Burleson Center are alive with the sounds of dancing feet, singing voices, theatrical performances and children hard at work on masterpieces during a camp that teaches more than just the arts.

This is the 10th year the Burleson Center is holding dozens of children for Camp ART’selle. The art camp focuses on dance, drama, music and art for children ranging in age from those going into the first grade to children going into fifth grade.

“Our real mission and drive is for every kid to realize there is a place for them in the arts and to make them comfortable with that,” camp coordinator Michael Ballew, or “Mr. Michael, as he’s known, said. “We want to push their imaginations and their skills and let them know they can succeed in any art.”

It takes loose planning with a team who knows what they’re doing inside and out to herd a group of about 65 kids into controlled chaos, but for the past 10 years, this program has kept kids coming back as they focus their attention on the four arts.

Three other adult leaders join “Mr. Michael” this year to bring confidence to these young, growing minds so they feel good about exploring their artistic creativity. Jenny Faulk teaches dance, Sonja McKelvy teaches drama and Wanda Thompson helps with music.

It’s more than just singing, dancing, acting and painting, though. The camp also teaches older, graduated campers leadership skills as they take on leading the younger kids.

Emma Ballew, 13, started Camp ART’selle the summer before she started first grade. Now she’s helping her father instill a sense of pride in kids at the camp in the art room.

“It’s good for them to know what they do here is art no matter what,” Emma said. “Even if it’s something abstract, it gives them the opportunity to see it one way and for another kid to interpret it differently. It’s still art no matter what.”

Beth Morrison is also helping “Mr. Michael” teach younger kids this week. Morrison goes to the Alabama School of Fine Arts with a concentration in visual arts.

“I like helping them learn to do things they didn’t know they could do,” she said. “I like seeing them grow and learn their strengths. I like seeing the kids that do some deep stuff with their art this week because you can really see them thinking about it and absorbing it.”

Three years ago, Camp ART’selle expanded and incorporated another program called Camp After Hours. “Mr. Michael” and his team of “arts specialist” keep the doors open and offer more focused master classes for older arts students ranging in age from kids going into the sixth grade next year to high school seniors.

This year, though, the camp reaches out to an even larger… Well, smaller… group as they start Wee Sing. Wee Sing brings children as young as infancy within the camp’s reach. Wee Sing includes babies up to kids going into kindergarten next year.

“We get them from the time they’re very young until they’re seniors in high school, and college kids who were in the camp before come back to help, too,” “Mr. Michael”  said proudly. “Getting them from such a young age motivates them to move on to Camp ART’selle and then to Camp After Hours.” Essentially, the goal is to lift these kids up through school so they feel good about themselves and their creativity. They start out learning rhythm and listening to music in Wee Sing and move onward and upward through the different phases of the camp.

“We don’t ever feel like a parent is just dropping their child off for babysitting,” Mr. Michael said. “These kids want to be here and their parents want them to be here as well.”

The camp runs Mon. through Thur. this week. It’s $85 for campers to enroll, and “Mr. Michael” said that money goes toward the Burleson Center and its outreach.

The camp takes one theme every year and centers everything they do in the classes throughout the week on that one theme. This year the campers’ theme is “TV Tunes.”

“My favorite class is drama, but I like the mix of everything,” said Katie Sloan, an upcoming fourth grader. “This is my third or fourth year coming to camp.” When asked if she looked forward to coming each year, she grinned and nodded her head enthusiastically, although she said she wants to be a software engineer when she gets older.

Piper Nicholson, also looking forward to fourth grade, had a similar reaction, but her long-term plans are more artistic.

“I want to be a music conductor when I grow up,” Piper said.

Betty Gottler volunteers at Hartselle Fine Arts Center year round, and she said calls start rolling in about Camp ART’selle as early as February.

“The word is spreading,” Gottler said. “New people coming into the community call asking for more information, and Camp ART’selle is out in the community for parents looking for something for their child.”

“Mr. Michael’ said there are even children who come all the way from Texas to see their grandparents in Hartselle during the summer. He said they call months before camp begins trying to plan when they should visit so the kids don’t miss out on Camp ART’selle.

“The most rewarding things for me is seeing the kids have fun and seeing how things come together for the program on Thursday night, then realizing how good they are at this,” Mr. Michael said.

The culmination of the campers hard work will be showcased Thursday night with two shows – one at 5 p.m. and one at 7 p.m. Until then, volunteers continue cultivating growth, creativity and support in Hartselle’s young, artistic minds.

Editor's picks

Heartbreaking finish: Hartselle comes up a run short in state baseball finals


Fallen Morgan County officers remembered, families honored  


Hartselle drops Game 1 to Hillcrest, needs two wins for state title


Despite title loss, Hartselle thankful for state experience 

Editor's picks

Hartselle baseball legend dies

Breaking News

Hartselle baseball legend William Booth dies at 79

At a Glance

ALDOT patching area of Thompson Road tomorrow, Thursday

At a Glance

Spring-time market day in Hartselle scheduled for May 18 


New Crestline Elementary School welcomes students


Hartselle industry closing, affecting more than 150 jobs  


Habitat for Humanity applications for homeownership available June 3 


State seeking death penalty for Fort Payne woman accused of pushing victim off cliff


Pilot of ultralight dies in Hartselle plane crash

Editor's picks

Northern lights visible from north Alabama


Hartselle students to attend Boys State


High scorers: 42 Hartselle students a part of ACT 30 plus club


Hartselle projects budget surplus based on midyear numbers 


Planned Hartselle library already piquing interest 


Students use practical life skills at Morgan County 4-H competition


After 13 years underground, the cicadas are coming 


Hartselle students collect pop tabs for Ronald McDonald House


Priceville students design art for SRO’s police car 


Hartselle Junior Thespians excel at state festival 


$15k raised for community task force at annual banquet