What’s New with U? – Week 6

Winding down Week Six. What a week it was!

Besides dreaming in the woods at our annual Gala, we met Oliver! and Frog and Toad, and went Into the Woods and over Finian’s Rainbow.

We welcomed some incredible guest teachers and performers. Senior and Discovery Chorus sang out. Orchestra, Chamber Music and other musicians played on.  Ballet, Jazz, Hip-Hop and Dance Ensemble students made their moves. Sewing & Fashion kids “werked;” Matinee Idol majors got their Chocolate Factory fix; and Usdan’s Quidditch teams hit the field once again.

All that, and we bid goodbye to our 2C students.

Here are some of the sights and sounds from around the campus this week.






My first year at Usdan was seven years ago; I was only eight years old. The older Juniors and Seniors appeared to me as young adults. I remember having a Counselor named Ian, but I later became Independent. In the course of walking to my classes, I was astonished by the size of Usdan and the diversity of its campers. I majored in Painting and Drawing, and took Sculpture as my minor that summer. While wandering around the art area, glimpsing the older kids’ great work through the open doors was common. Seeing their art motivated me to do better work. This memory contributes to why I love taking Architecture as my major today.

For the past two weeks, my role has been as a Supervisor in the Art Department. Standing at my post, I remembered that first year at Usdan. My passion for architecture brought me closer to the memory from years ago of the older kids’ paintings hanging in the studios.

I also really look forward to the “connect day” – a term I came up with to describe the day that the students first become a team. (After my first year at Usdan, I didn’t return until two years ago, when they added Architecture, so I didn’t have any friends at camp at that time.)  Brett, another Architecture student in his first year at Usdan, sat with me at lunch and during the assembly; it took us two weeks to talk. And last year, no one in the Architecture class knew each other. It took a while for us to build rapport. Then, the “connect day” comes, when it is no longer awkward to say something in the class. In a way, we start our own little community.       — Joshua Abramovich


TEACHING U: Meet the Nature Department

Usdan’s 140-acre woodland home is an essential element of the camp experience. The beautiful campus serves as canvas and container for the creativity and fun of the summer season. The Nature Department faculty help plant the seeds of possibility and harvest potential. We grabbed some time with a few teachers who shared their perspectives on reaping what you sow when it comes to art and the environment.

First up:  Susan Gefken Burton.  A graduate of SVA and LIU, Susan is a certified art teacher and has worked as a Teaching Artist for The Planting Fields Drawn to Science Program and The New York State of Mind Grant. She is a Park Steward for the Town of Huntington and a Merit Badge Counselor of Nature for The Boy Scouts of America. When Susan is not educating students about art and nature, she is practicing her own art. She has been painting and drawing naturalistic and abstract landscapes for over 20 years, in addition to being a photographer. She also creates murals and faux finishes for her Decorative Painting Company for public and private spaces and volunteers at the Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington, NY.


Q1: How has being an artist helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as an artist?

Being an artist allows me to have a different perspective of traditional educational norms and provide an opportunity to deepen understanding for students using my personal artistic insight. Being an educator allows me to organize my artistic goals for students and present them in a way that is accessible.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

Since it is my first year, I am excited about everything!

I am thrilled with the programs, staff, and students. Usdan is a wonderfully inspirational place. I am particularly excited about spending everyday immersed in learning and creating in the woods with students. Being a landscape artist and particularly fond of trees, Usdan is a dream come true.

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan U?

My favorite Usdan U is the one in “students.” Each student motivates me and inspires me to create an experience that will develop their U, or sense of self through the creative learning process. Everyday I am awed by the wonderful young minds I am surrounded by. They are inspiring. As an aside: I bought the Usdan t-shirt with the leaves.


Next, we have Dawn Cleary. Dawn has taught Nature at Usdan for four years; this is her first year teaching Organic Gardening and Simple Foods. A longtime gardener herself, she has recently helped develop an early childhood planting program at Manor Farm in Huntington, New York, where she also resides. During the school year, she teaches Outdoor and Environmental Education with Nassau BOCES, helping school communities make connections with NYS curriculum standards and Long Island’s diverse ecosystems. She is also working towards a Master’s Degree in Childhood and Special Education.

Q1: How has being an artist helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as an artist?

I haven’t always thought of myself as an artist in the traditional sense, yet I suppose my perspective of an empty garden bed as a blank canvas, and the forest as an unending source of inspiration, offers legitimacy to me calling myself an artist.  This perspective has helped me as an educator because I can then honestly share the passion that inspires me to create. My enthusiasm catches on and ignites new creative energy in my students; their ideas, in turn, inspire me.

As an educator, I have learned the importance of organization, self-discipline, resilience and trusting the process, especially when things don’t go as planned. This perspective creates opportunities for growth and has allowed me to learn alongside my students, and to continue to push my own artistic limits.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

This is my fifth summer at Usdan, and my first year teaching Organic Gardening and Simple Foods, so I have been excited about everything new that I get to teach and learn! But truly, seeing these young gardeners take ownership of their individual plots and bearing witness to their hard work and wonder at the growth of the seeds they’ve sown has been the most rewarding aspect of the summer thus far.

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan U?

I love all the Usdan U’s — seriously. And this inspired us to design living U’s throughout the garden with seeds, flowers, and plants, making any living U my new favorite.


Finally, there’s André Feliciano, who has been our liaison to Olafur Eliasson’s Little Sun team this summer. André holds a Master’s Degree in Poetics Arts from São Paulo University. André has published several books about the Floraissance Art, and exhibits his work in venues like Photoville in Brooklyn Bridge Park and São Paulo Modern Museum among others. He lives and works between New York and São Paulo.

Q1: How has being an artist helped you as an educator and how has being an educator helped you as an artist?

Just after my graduation, I decided not to become an “artist” but instead to develop a new job that I called “art-gardener.” The main difference: the artist creates art as an individual process and decides alone when the work is ready to become art. The art-gardener, on the other hand, cultivates art until it becomes alive via the collective. For example, if he or she creates a new “happy birthday” song, it would only become art when other people start to sing it in their own celebrations. It becomes art as a result of a collective decision. Education is the only way to cultivate art into the collective; my art and educational practices cannot be separated.

Q2: What are you most excited about this summer?

The Sustainable Art class is very exciting because this is the first time it’s ever happened in the camp’s nearly 50-year history. It’s a seed for something that has room for experimentation. For example, our class did the first ever sleepover at the camp with the opportunity to develop solar light-based artwork at night and experience the camp in a different situation. It’s very exciting to explore new territory.

Q3: What’s your favorite Usdan “U”?

The one with the music notes! It translates the camp’s music that always leaks between the trees.


VIEWS-DAN: Usdan’s Culture of Cross Department Collaboration and Inspiration

“Through music, I became interested in the other arts. Usdan gave me opportunities I never would have had anywhere else…I began taking acting and writing more seriously as a direct result of that.”

– Gene Swift, former creative writing teacher at Usdan and Usdan Alumnus

At Usdan, we’re endlessly intrigued by the relationship between the messiness of the creative process and the refined beauty of work we call “finished.” We’re experts in classical thinking, but devoted to innovation, experimentation and collaboration.  In fact, it’s that cross-department engagement each summer that sparks the most excitement for students and instructors alike.

Tour our 140-acre campus and you’ll stumble upon countless examples of this cross-pollination, spanning ages, experience, disciplines and departments. Some are simple, some organic; some unusual or unexpected, yet all are designed to drive experimentation, creativity, and to spark joy.

Walk over to Archery, and you’ll find evidence of this interdepartmental exchange throughout. The team thrives on collaborative work to decorate their surroundings, create working targets, and teach the artistry of Archery. They shoot at targets made in tandem with Sculpture; they don hats and arm guards crafted by Sewing and Metalsmithing, and more.

Step into Creative Writing, and you’ll likely find the students deep in collaboration mode. This summer, Creative Writing joined forces with Theater to kick off a two-year project, developing a play using the acting students’ improvisation ability and the writing students’ imagination and dialogue skills. The resulting scenes will be performed this season with an eye toward the creation of a fully-fledged piece of written theater by next season’s end. And, next week, several Creative Writing minors will collaborate with Dance students on text-inspired movement / movement-inspired text pieces.

This year also marks the second time that the Creative Writing group is partnering with Photography to create a show of “ekphrastic” poetry. Creative Writing students visited the Photography studios, picked student photographs and wrote poems and micro-fiction in response to those images.

Never far away from the action, Photography has also been tapped to document projects as diverse as Audition Bootcamp to behind the scenes at the Sewing & Fashion Design and Metalsmithing classes’ show.

Hook up with Nature and Organic Gardening, and you’ll find a path of stepping stones created by the Lego Design team and a wind-powered air conditioner designed and installed by Sustainable Art. And, all along the campus paths, rocks painted with inspirational quotes greet visitors and campers alike as music and song waft from studios in the woods.

In fact, Usdan’s Music program deliberately finds ways to play well (pun intended) with others. At an upcoming performance, for example, tap dancers will alternate solos with jazz drummer—and Shorin Fellowship recipient— Andrew Kupferman. Jazz minors will collaborate with some Filmmaking students, providing improvised music to accompany their silent film project.

Art is working with Yoga on chakra-inspired works; students listen to a guided meditation as an entry point for their pieces. A collaboration between Painting, Metalsmithing, and Art Adventure is creating mixed media sculpture of ceramic and metal installed in the Art Gallery. Metalsmithing has other things in the hopper, including work being created in partnership with Ceramics, Photography, and more.

Of course, the pool remains an inspiration destination for all, where classes including Yoga, Photo, Hip-Hop, Ballet, and Chorus find a unique place to practice, create and connect.

Finally, the Folk Guitar students will be collaborating with the Discovery art students next week, through an interactive technology platform developed by Charles Kirby. Using iPads to record music and projectors to display the art pieces, the groups will be exploring different ways of collaborating through the use of technology. And, other Folk Guitar students will be visiting the Piano group to play and improvise together using the song “Stand By Me” as a starting point.

Listen to the inspirational song here – and let us know what collaborations you find most intriguing: questions@usdan.org.


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