It’s a steamy June morning in the middle of Kansas. Cosmosphere campers from Space 501 are hunched over rectangles of cold, pressed clay at the ClayWorks building in downtown McPherson. They are working on space-inspired artwork with Disability Supports of the Great Plains (DSGP) artists who are adults with developmental disabilities.
“Try to focus,” says Mary, a DSGP client and artist instructor. “This takes time….it doesn’t always go right,” she adds.
Sierra Green, a camper from Haven, KS, is carving a shuttle into her clay. “I’m not very artistically inclined,” she says. “This is definitely a learning experience for me!”
In fact, many of the campers are unsure of their artistic ability. “I came up with my idea on the spot,” says Andrew Swift, a camper from Overland Park, KS. “May have too much detail…” his thought trails off.
But the encouragement keeps coming.
“Do the best you can,” instructs Kayla, another DSGP client to the campers she’s working with. “Take ideas from things you see or hear and create your artwork from that.”
The art project is new this summer for the Space 501 camp, but as Cosmosphere Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Tracey Tomme explains, it helps fulfill the mission of making all programming at the Cosmosphere more inclusive.
“We feel it’s valuable for our students to understand the skill sets and creativity these artists bring to the table,” says Tomme. “Sometimes these students are so bogged down learning the concepts of math and science they forget about the importance of artistic expression. We think blending our future engineers and scientists with more creative thinkers who see the world differently makes everyone’s lives brighter.”
Camp counselor, Blake Lee, agrees. “I think this is a really cool collaboration,” he says. “I’ve seen more smiles in the last hour than sometimes I see all camp!”
Lee adds that more than just artistic ability is being stretched by this project. “This is 180 degrees from the ‘normal’ socialization at camp, too. Generally, (the campers) are socializing with people who are very similar to them. This is a completely different situation and really pushing these kids out of their comfort zone.”
“We’re all nerds here—meeting new people is very hard,” notes Swift. “So, this is a good experience and is challenging me socially.”
Soon, the carvings are completed and campers begin to lightly coat the clay in red, blue and grey paint. One-by-one, the art pieces are handed over to the DSGP artists for the final stage of kiln firing and the science-minded campers are able to step back and admire their work.
“I had low expectations for myself,” says Swift. “This turned out better than I imagined,” he says happily.
Then the campers load up on busses to begin their next Cosmosphere Camp adventure: a trip to California for tours of the California Science Center, the Griffith Observatory, the space shuttle Endeavor, Edwards Air Force Base and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Armstrong Flight Research Center.
On the last day of the camp session, the students will return to Hutchinson and the two groups of new friends will once again meet up. This time for bowling and fun at the Alley, where the practiced DSGP artists will present the finished pieces to their understudies, and the project and camp will be complete…at least until next year.