By Janee Law
When the late Andrew McKinley built the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in 1968, he wanted to provide children the opportunity to develop their artistic craft while connecting with nature.
He decided that most of the learning spaces should have the best of both worlds. Many buildings on the campgrounds have a roof overhead and floorboards, but their walls give way to the outdoors.
“Nature is such a big part of the camp day,” Lauren Brandt Schloss, executive director of the camp, said. “It’s part artist summer colony, part camp… It’s very unique.”
With more than 40 classes, the multidisciplinary camp offers programs for children ages 4-18 that include music, dance, visual arts, creative writing and theater arts. The nonprofit 140-acre campus is equipped with three stages, a 900-seat indoor/outdoor amphitheater and more than 70 studios.
Schloss, 44, said that students can study multiple programs at once during the summer, and can also experience other programs like nature, recreational arts, and chess.
“I’m very obsessed with the ideas and forms of expression of young people,” Schloss said. “That’s what motivates me in the work I’ve been doing is develop new and contemporary ways to help kids develop their own voice with incredible skill.”
She added, “For me this is like a dream.”
Schloss said she loves to work with the camp’s students, they’re “one of the most amazing things about Usdan,” she said. “They’re really cool kids.”
Schloss added that it’s “the world you want to see,” as students are diverse in personality, learning style, physical ability, race, mindset and economics.
“If you want your kid to embrace the opportunity to be creative, to develop their skills, and you want them to have a unique summer experience in nature, then Usdan is a great place to be,” Schloss said. “It’s giving your child the opportunity to really experience what it’s like to be an artist in an incomparable setting of nature. It’s a very happy place to be.”
The Wheatley Heights camp is located at 185 Colonial Springs Road. Students also learn to be creative thinkers, to problem solve in ambiguous situations and to collaborate.
This year’s season starting on June 27, Schloss said the anticipated enrollment is 1,550 students hailing from across Long Island, New York City and Westchester County.
“I expect to see a lot of experimentation. It’s something that I think is crucial for arts organizations and educational organizations is to never be static.” Schloss, who lives in Manhattan, said. “Artists are always supposed to be pushing the limits of what’s possible.”
The nonprofit day camp has several summer program sessions, including a seven-week session that runs June 27-August 12; a four-week session that runs June 27-July 22; and two three-week sessions, one of which starts June 27 and ends July 15, and a second that starts July 25 and runs to August 12.
Tuition starts at $2,950. Usdan also offers scholarships and tuition assistance for the seven-week program.
Usdan Summer Camp
for the Arts
185 Colonial Springs Road, Wheatley Heights