Every summer, a Wilson County Civic League camp provides local school-aged children with a platform to explore their creativity through the arts.

This year, a former camper returned to share his story of taking a passion that he discovered at camp and turning it into a career.

Francisco Huerta, Jr. recently graduated from the Art Academy of Cincinnati with a degree in photography. With the camp in full swing, and this year’s theme being “Careers in the Arts,” the summer arts director, Dr. Gerald Patton, requested that Huerta come tell the campers a little bit about how he took his photography to the next level.

“This program is a nice platform to empower children to do something different with their lives,” Huerta said. “There are all these different occupations, but being a photographer is something unique to the arts world.”

The Lebanon native made several corporate connections at the Art Academy of Cincinnati that have opened the door to working opportunities in his field of photography. He was able to share some of those projects with the students, who all wanted to know about his fancy equipment.

Huerta told the students that he still has many memories from the camp.

“We did a play in the gym with Saturday Night Live-type sketches,” Huerta said. “It was very funny. We had an iPad and shot a video of us being on stage. It was kind of like being on TV.”

Huerta indicated that he never really thought theater was for him, but he does look back fondly on the exercise as a way for young students to become comfortable with who they are.

“It was nice to be able to interact with the classmates in a fun way,” Huerta said.

During his presentation, Huerta let one of the students try on his virtual-reality headset and showed them some of the equipment he uses when he is freelancing. His personal company is called Luna Space Studio.

A couple of students shared their takeaways from the camp and from Huerta’s presentation.

Jassibe Gonzalez mentioned that she is considering trying to become a photographer. She has traveled several places around the country with her mother on business trips, and she likes to take pictures.

Another student, Layla Fields, said that she learned that she doesn’t need expensive equipment to take photos and videos. She can just use her phone. She likes to watch TikTok and see from how other people shoot videos.

The students at the summer arts program are exposed to drama, art, dance and music. While assigned to groups that rotate between the different classrooms at the Wilson County Civic League, the students combine what they learn during the two-week camp into a final project.

The program’s dance instructor, Richard Browder, has been helping out for a few years now. Browder got a theater major and dance minor at Middle Tennessee State University.

Now, Browder teaches at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro. His work photographing and directing school plays at various high schools in Murfreesboro garnered the attention of Patton, who requested that he come and instruct at the summer program.

Having been there for a few years, he has watched the children develop their creative sides.

“It’s crazy because you see them mature,” Browder said. “They grow every year. You see some of the problems you had with them before disappear. They come in more focused the second time around because they know what to expect. I enjoy the whole process of working with the kids from the beginning to the end. They really attach a hold to something that carries them into the next year, developing skills like time management and being able to focus on tasks.”

Redirecting the energy that the students bring with them to the class is useful for the dance instructor, who indicated that it enables him to help them channel it into choreography.

The turnout for this year’s camp exceeded the director’s expectations and left him optimistic about the camp’s future.

“We have about 31 students ages 8-14 enrolled in our program,” Patton said. “We are teaching our participants about careers in the arts and exposing them to various possible arts careers. Arts careers have greatly evolved. No longer can individuals only choose from being a singer, dancer, painter, or actor. We want students to learn about these limitless arts careers, interact with one another and their teachers, and take away a positive experience that could shape the rest of their lives. The arts change us and make us better people.”

The two-week camp is capped off with a closing program on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Market Street Community Center, which is the headquarters of the Wilson County Civic League. During the closing program, students will showcase what they have learned the past two weeks.

Patton indicated that the program will feature an address from Margaret Campbelle-Holman, founder of the Nashville Met Singers and Choral Arts Link. The students also have a field trip on June 14, when they will visit the Cumberland County Playhouse in Crossville to see the musical “Cinderella” performed.

Although this year’s camp is coming to a close, Patton is already looking forward to next year’s class as he considers ways to expand the offerings for the students.

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