ArtVenture Summer Camp

April 26, 2016 Features

The Visual Arts Center of Richmond’s summer camp program, ArtVenture, launched nine years ago. In less than a decade, ArtVenture has established itself as one of the most popular day camps in the region, winning honors from publications like Richmond Magazine and Style Weekly and garnering rave reviews from both kids and parents who keep coming back for more.

“At least half the kids in ArtVenture take more than one weeklong class each summer, and even those who don’t, come back year after year,” says Dean Whitbeck, director of youth education at VisArts. “I’ve worked here four summers and it’s really neat to see how the kids develop artistically over time.”

VisArts, which offers more than 600 adult and youth art classes throughout the year, provides campers with professional-grade studios in which to work and access to some of Richmond’s most prominent professional artists. Local artists such as Tommy Van Auken, Julie Elkins, David Tanner, Aijung Kim, Susann Whittier, Brooke Inman and Claire Parrish are all leading summer camp workshops this year.

ArtVenture is run by Whitbeck and Blythe King. Both are equally devoted to creating enriching art experiences for children of all ages. Whitbeck is a photographer with more than 20 years’ experience as an inner city arts educator. King is a collage artist who began volunteering with the summer camp program three years ago. Now she coordinates it, which is a big job.

Each winter, King hires about 45 instructors who submit course proposals with titles like Masked Music Parade, Pet Portraits, Piñata Party and Digital Dreamscapes. The crazier the title, the better in King’s book. From there, she builds an 11-week schedule that includes more than 170 weeklong workshops.

“We look for instructors who are great artists but who also have experience working with children,” says King. “We love instructors who are willing to offer experimental classes and who are open to students with a wide range of abilities and interests.”

The most popular art classes tend to be those in the industrial arts. Stained glass, metalsmithing and ceramics fill quickly. Kids like being in studios that are specific to the medium and using tools that are also specific to the medium. “Kids get excited if they’re using a potter’s wheel or acetylene torch,” says King.

Summer workshops in the digital lab are also popular, with classes in filmmaking, graphic design, digital drawing and video game design and animation filling fast. Neither Whitbeck nor King were surprised when a new class called Minecraft Stop-Motion Animation, taught by Ian Levesque, closed to new registrants almost as soon as it opened.

“That’s one of the reasons it pays to be a member of the Visual Arts Center,” says Whitbeck. “Members get to register for summer camp workshops a week before they open up to the public.”

ArtVenture summer camp workshops run from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 1 to 4 p.m. Classes are $125 for VisArts members and $135 for the general public. Materials fees vary, depending on the class. Parents can pay $50 for an extended day program that allows kids to stay at VisArts during the lunch hour and from 4 to 5 p.m.

Questions about ArtVenture? Call Dean Whitbeck at (804) 353-0094, ext. 223 or e-mail