More Than an Art Camp - The Bauen Story

November 2008


Terence is twenty. He lives with his aunt in Zuni, New Mexico. His first Bauen Camp experience was in 2005, as one of sixty U.S. campers, and one of six youth from the Zuni Pueblo. Selected and funded by the Zuni 21st Century Education Project, Terence was chosen for his artistic promise and the ability to be an outstanding carrier of traditional Zuni culture. With a big grin, including dimples that covered his seemingly timid nature, Terence soon exhibited his forte — making beautiful clay pots. His "hard work" ethic also became apparent. Just a few days into the camp, Terence was on the phone talking to an uncle, getting the "recipe" for a traditional Zuni kiln to be built near the camps' campfire site. The kiln was dug, and campers made pots and took turns sitting up all night to tend the fire, flying back home so proud that they carried the pots they had made in their bare hands.

By the spring of 2006, three of the six 2005 Zuni boys called to ask if they could come back. That year, Terence won the New Mexico State Fair Grand Prize for his pottery. He was invited to return to Bauen as a Counselor-in-Training; his brother, Daniel, and a tall Arapaho boy, Skylar, who lived on the Zuni reservation, also returned. All three were outstanding participants in our programming and generous in sharing their culture.

Based on his general good nature and work reaching out to boys who might be problematic during his first CIT year, we invited Terence to return in 2007 for another CIT year. It was the year of his blossoming — that spring he was the first in his family to graduate high school. He modeled good behavior, learned many new skills in the multi-disciplinary Bauen workshops, shared his writing at campfires, and by example taught campers how to "pitch in" and help "run the place." His creative spirit was strong and important, funny, and wise. He kept daily measurements of the water levels in our cisterns, helped with cooking, scrubbed dishes, taught pottery workshops, conducted overnight "cooking of the pots" in the kiln, and helped his fellow CITs to produce our colorful 2007 yearbook. Though staff helped him, reading did not come easily to Terence, through art — drawing, building pots, and welding sculptures — Terence found a means to express himself and develop in a non-traditional setting.

This year, Terence was invited to be a counselor, teaching nature workshops, fishing, and hiking. Befriending Latino, African-American, Caucasian, and other native teen artists from urban and rural locales across the U.S., Terence connected them in a Building Workshop utilizing individual and group skills. Through his efforts, Bauen now has a mystical shelter wedged between giant cottonwoods on the way to the vegetable garden. Named "the lookout", it is a fifteen foot square "open-faced" floor made of old aspen, facing directly west to catch the sunsets, set up off the ground on stilts with a railing on the sides to prevent falling, big enough for six to eight people to immerse themselves in all of nature present there.

And now, after three months at Bauen, Terence has once again returned to the Zuni Pueblo.

He wants to keep learning and be paid for work that he does well, so he can go back to Zuni one day and help lead the re-building of his community. His story is just one of the stories that Bauen has been privileged to experience since its inception in 2000.

The Big Questions

How do you ‘build" community leaders? What does "art" have to do with solving important community and global issues? What does a camp in Wyoming have to do with the lives and passions of young teens from across the United States?

The Bauen Camp is honored to have the opportunity to share our work and attempt to answer these questions. It is the camp's hope that the reader will discover new ideas for sowing the seeds of creativity in their own camp communities.

Who Are We?

The Bauen Camp, Inc. is an intentionally small independent nonprofit 501(c)3 residential summer camp whose mission is to use the arts to empower exceptional young artists thirteen to eighteen, nurturing them to develop their leadership potential and civic engagement in order to strengthen the social fabric of their communities. Thirty co-ed teens from across the U.S. and elsewhere come together at Bauen each summer session amidst seventy acres of rolling foothills in the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming. There, students grow their creativity and leadership skills, share their talents, and explore the building of a new community together.

How We Began

The birth of the Bauen Camp in 2000 was the unintentional outcome of my philosophy thesis. I was seeking the optimum methods for artists to employ in order to foster social change (Holt 2000). An art camp for kids that integrates art and life skills was the dream that became a reality. "Bau" means to build or nurture in German. Today, Bauen aims to nurture young artists, empowering them to develop their leadership potential and civic engagement in order to strengthen the social fabric of their communities.

Victor Turner's concept of liminality — the idea that there are special times and spaces outside of the habitual rhythms of everyday life that are particularly fertile for changing people's assumptions and goals — was the key for me to building an understanding of a creative space for artists to develop new ideas. Turner describes a space that is empty enough from the realities of everyday structure in order to leave room for play to develop potential alternatives (Turner 1987). Play theorists Brian Sutton-Smith and Mihalyi Spariosu support Turner's approach, identifying ambiguity and incongruity as essential to developing the other ways of seeing that lead to innovative approaches (Sutton-Smith 1997 and Spariosu 1989). Wilhelm Dilthey describes other ways of seeing as "experience and self-understanding and the constant interaction between them (Dilthey 1976)." This interaction activates the liminal experience, offering the possibility of novelty.

The theoretical space described by these academics is the kind of space I wanted to provide to young artists from the outset. Today, it is the same space we continue to seek in our programming — fostering space, a space for campers to imagine in.

Like a good painting, once founded, the Bauen Camp took on a life of its own. Innovation and experimentation, dignity and respect for the work of artists, justice, and hope for the future of the young campers provided the framework for the new camp.

Within a few years, the campers' communities grew to include cities and towns all over the U.S. — teens from urban ghettos, reservations, isolated rural areas, and immigrant communities — with some youth nominated by schools and youth development organizations we had contacted because of their reputation for outstanding use of the arts in serving youth. We believed strongly that many of these teens had exceptional creative and leadership potential. They also needed scholarships. Our goal was to carefully select the teens exhibiting that potential and give them the time and the financial support, the fresh air, and the love to flourish (Socolow 2007).

Research confirmed that using the arts to build social creativity and responsibility among low-income teen artists would provide challenges but also meet a real need — that is, addressing a "poverty of imagination" — a lack of belief in oneself and in one's community that positive change can happen. The structural and cultural problems that keep economic poverty in place — lack of access, education, and resources — seem overwhelming to teens in these communities, and there are a lot of them. Thirty-five percent of children ages thirteen to seventeen — 7.4 million — live in low-income families where violent crime, gang presence, and homicide rates have shown growth in recent years (Cauthen 2008). J. B. Schramm has found that teens are the most influential group in low-income communities and that transforming these communities requires the leadership of community members, not outsiders like ourselves (Schramm 2004). We were thus inspired to challenge these young artists to become the leaders in their communities.

Acknowledging the pivotal role that teenagers play in low-income communities and the lack of belief or hope among so many became the primary incentives for Bauen to establish its National Youth Artist Outreach Project in 2005. The Project is comprised of a residential summer camp, mentoring to continue learning begun at camp, community projects, professional development, an outreach network, and evaluation project. With this project came Bauen's commitment to focus in five geographic areas, to focus its year-round services on thirteen- to eighteen-year-old disadvantaged young artists, and to build a network of "can-do" charismatic indigenous leaders with imagination, vision, skills, and the credibility to improve their communities.

Today, working with a network of more than ninety local youth organizations and schools in the five focus areas — Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis/ St. Paul, New York City, and the State of Wyoming — and across the U.S., we select a diverse group of sixty disadvantaged youth to attend the camp each summer, a dozen or so young artists who pay their own way, guest artist/session directors, counselors who are also teachers, counselors-in-training, interns, and, in 2008, Education Fellows. Since 2000, Bauen has served 339 young artists in residential camp programs. These participants represent 131 communities with 94 adults in staff and professional development programs.

What We Do

Bauen Camp programs evidence three areas of focus in a unique combination:

  1. Use of multi-disciplinary art forms (creative writing, visual art, and performance) as critical tools in positive youth development, in building social and cultural awareness, and in developing awareness of the role of aesthetic development in the cognitive growth of young people;
  2. The application of play theory to programming in order to integrate the concept of play as a way to discover the world, increasing the possibility of creative growth; and
  3. Use of the resident camp as a seminal site for generating creative, diverse, socially responsible, and democratic young artists and communities.

How We Do It

Transformation from extraordinary young artists to community leaders can happen where there is intensive cultivation with Bauen programs designed specifically for this purpose.

  • We begin by working with the greatest diversity — geographic, ethnic, racial, and economic — of outstanding organizations, campers, and staff that we can find. Campers engage with unfamiliar people and locales to break out of normative assumptions.
  • We intentionally create a small focused community of no more than forty-five people, so that one-on-one relationships flourish and so that in-depth, cumulative exploration of a variety of art skills and processes can be nurtured over three-week sessions.
  • We teach young people how to exchange ideas about challenging social and cultural issues — and how to express that exchange through the arts, enhancing their understanding of the role they can play in creating the world they want to live in.
  • We teach interpersonal and group communication skills, such as Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process and Open Space Technology, because we know that without such skills no amount of technical skills in the arts matter (Lerman 1993 and Owen 1997).
  • Young artists at the Bauen Camp also have the opportunity to be deeply immersed in the natural world, sleeping out under the stars, catching the beat of the crickets' song, building a connection between themselves and nature.
  • We provide time for play, for "shifting mindsets," because we know that play teaches creativity, fostering other ways of seeing than the way things have always been. Games like ambush, river floats, hikes up the mountain, and swinging under the cottonwoods open up channels of receptivity to alternative ways of being.
  • We teach youth how they can use many different kinds of art as instruments of positive change, in their own lives and in the lives of their families and communities. Dance and poetry, painting and singing, puppetry, video and photography, and theater all become modes of expression used to build students' awareness of their role in social responsibility.
  • We are youth advocates. We believe in the spirit and energy of youth. We call our programming "youth-led" because we offer young people the opportunity to participate in the identification, design, development, and implementation of projects, ultimately sharing their work with the public.
  • Campers are mentored with role models, not just coaches. Young artists at the Bauen Camp have the opportunity to be immersed in the intimate setting of an artist's home and life and in the teaching and life examples of the exceptional "teaching artists" on staff, with a ratio of three campers to each adult.

At Bauen, campers are surrounded by the huge landscape, its sounds, smells, light, and space, and the traditions of this western country. We attend the Sheridan Rodeo, hike in the terrain, swim the river, study the night skies, dance the square dance, and listen to the stories of local lives and local history. We learn about ourselves in relationship to this new place. We learn about each other, too, and begin to build our own community.

What Results Do We Achieve? How Are These Measured?

Bauen initiated a collaborative Evaluation Project in 2005 with the University of Wyoming Department of Psychology, the Center for the Arts in New Jersey, and Rutgers University School of Social Work. The purpose of this project was to evaluate the Bauen National Youth Artist Outreach Project. The evaluation was focused on the summer program component of the National Project. The Evaluation Survey was created by UW Master of Counselor Education candidates using Standardized small s-instruments. The Project showed statistically significant growth in campers' self-efficacy (empowerment) and self-identity, 2005-2007, and an increase — though not statistically significant — n their "locus of control" (greater amount of internal forces of control) and "belief in a changeable world" (belief that our world/society is changeable) scores, 2006 and 2007, all key ingredients in the growth and ability of youth to be resilient and to provide leadership to their communities (Van Alst).

Bauen's National Youth Artist Outreach Project is a comprehensive program addressing the arts, culture, and the humanities; youth; community improvement and capacity building; and ethnic and cultural diversity. In its early stages, as the Project developed, we identified outcomes and their indicators that we sought with this programming. They include:

  • To increase self-expression and communication skills through the arts, indicated by critical, thoughtful, and in-depth content in individual and network art projects;
  • To increase leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills indicated by significant participation levels in youth network programs and projects;
  • To increase individual and community understanding of social issues and cross-cultural understanding indicated by chosen content of program, projects, and leadership decisions;
  • To increase organizational collaboration, indicated by local, regional, and national projects involving new partnerships;
  • To increase community health, indicated by increase in the number of community collaborations and accessible arts programs;
  • To document, refine, replicate, and distribute the Bauen Youth Outreach Project model in the United States and elsewhere, indicating that the arts are a critical vehicle in youth development when integrated with the building of life skills.

Through the National Youth Artist Outreach Project, Bauen seeks to transform exceptional young artists into "can-do" indigenous leaders and collaborators who will work to change the social fabric of their impoverished communities. Bauen teaches youth that their voices are important, that they can make a difference, and that standing up and fighting for change is right.

The exposure to career options, mentors, outreach activities, and peer support may not turn all of the campers into professional artists, but it will make them more likely to graduate from high school, pursue higher education, and become leaders in their communities — all the things they need to do to break the cycle of poverty that they may have grown up in.

Youth become aware, were they not before, that lack of education is a critical impediment to their personal growth in many areas. Their creative and leadership potential becomes the pathway to this awareness. This awareness, along with the opportunity for scholarships, and the requirement to raise a portion of their own camp fee, renews faith in many young campers that they can, indeed, be "can-do" leaders in their own communities.

And Terence?

What will he do next? The U.S. Navy has been calling him on the phone, aware of his welding skills and work ethic. Clara Waloff, an NYU trained NYC art teacher and five-year Bauen staffer, has encouraged him to apply to a nature art school in New Mexico. And the welding teacher at Sheridan College in Wyoming wishes he would return to the Welding Rodeo this summer and then enroll at SC this fall. Knowing that Terence has found his voice through the arts and believes in himself and his ability to make a positive difference in the world, we will watch with much interest as he considers the choices before him. This summer Terence mentored a thirteen-year-old Cheyenne Nation camper, Cameron by name, who asked the same questions that Terence asked during his first year as a camper. And, so, the cycle continues.

I am deeply grateful to have been a part of the lives of the youth and staff and volunteers and donors who have come our way, and to know that the arts are at work here at Bauen among the young people, helping to build a better world. I am also very grateful for the time, support, and thoughtfulness given by my children — Douglas Holt, Melissa Moore, Nancy Wright, and Cynthia Holt — in the development of this project.

Holt, Jessica. (2000). The Ritualization of Political Art: Using the Structure of Ritual Practice in Society to Redirect the Element of Play in Political Art; MA Thesis, Philosophy. Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO. 267 pages.

Socolow, Daniel J. (2007). Harvard Business Review: Genius Awards, June; in May 17, 2007 Chronicle of Philanthropy, 36.

Turner, Victor. (1987). From Ritual to Theater: The Human Seriousness of Play; New York: PAJ Publications, 28, 44.

Sutton-Smith, Brian. (1997). The Ambiguity of Play. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Spariosu, Mihalyi. (1989). Dionysus Reborn: Play and the Aesthetic Dimension in Modern Philosophical and Scientific Discourse. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Dilthey, Wilhelm.(1976). Dilthey: Selected Writings. Ed. H.P. Rickman. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cauthen, Nancy K., Ph.D., and Sarah Fass. (2008). The Nature of Poverty; National Center for Children in Poverty, Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health.

Schramm, J.B. In How To Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, David Bornstein. Oxford University Press. 176.

Andreason, Nancy C., M.D., Ph.D. (2005). The Creating Brain; New York, NY, The Dana Foundation, Book Cover.

Lerman, Liz. (1993). Critical Response Process: A Tool for Action in the Arts and Beyond; see Web site of Dance Exchange,

Owen, Harrison. Open Space Technology: A User's Guide; (1997). San Francisco, Berett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Evans, Richard. (2003). Powerful Voices: Developing High-Impact Arts Programs for Teens; Surdna Foundation.

Van Alst, Donna, Associate Director, Institute for Families, Rutgers University School of Social Work; Saperstein, Lois, Executive Director, Center for the Arts; Tonak, Beckie and Plant, Megan, M.S. in Counseling candidates, University of Wyoming Counselor Education Dept. Bauen Camp Evaluation Report 2007 Season, and Comparison of Years 2005-2007.

Jessica A. Holt is the founder and has served as executive director and camp director of the Bauen Camp since 2000. Holt holds an M.A. in philosophy, an M.F.A. in painting, and a B.S. in business. She moved from the midwest to Wyoming in 1989 and now lives forty-five miles northwest of Sheridan, Wyoming, in the foothills of the Big Horns, the site of the camp. For more information, visit or contact the author at

Originally published in the 2008 November/December issue of Camping Magazine.