Alumni Notes


Former Camper Now Runs the Show
by Jara Kern ’01

As a sixth–grader, Roger Schmidt was one of the youngest campers at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp; in fact, he remembers his teeth becoming loose from playing his trombone so much. “Every year I found that camp more fun and inspiring,” he says. “I felt as if the nerds were at last inheriting the earth, and everything was going to be beautiful. Everyone around me knew that art was cool.”

Twenty years later, Schmidt ’92 is now directing the 26-year old arts camp located on an island in southeastern Alaska, where middle- and high-school-aged campers study visual arts, dance, music, theater, writing, and Alaskan native arts. Although the camp enjoyed a financial golden age in the 1980s, it limped along during the last ten years and was cancelled in 1998. Schmidt, hoping to overturn its reputation in the community as a second-rate program, set out to attract a high-quality student body and accomplished faculty. To this end, he has succeeded. This past season, he says, “the camp felt as if it were the camp I attended as a kid. We were able to get great faculty and kids and arrange wonderful collaborative activities and concerts.”

His goal is to elevate the program into one of the premier arts camps on the West Coast and bring to Alaskan students a first-class artistic experience they often lack due to their geographic isolation. “My aspiration is to create great art between faculty and students and to be part of an environment that students can emerge from to change the world.”

As a child, Schmidt was inspired by people who had made their art their lives. Growing up in Sitka, the camp was his sole exposure to professional artists. “One year, a trombonist from the Les Elgart band taught here. Here, in my hometown, was someone who’d had a professional music career. I began to feel as if something foreign—having a career as an artist—was becoming accessible to me.” Schmidt headed east to Oberlin to study under Per Breving and Raymond Premru, graduating with degrees in performance and philosophy.

Many of the music, art, and drama teachers in southeastern Alaska are alumni of the camp, Schmidt says. Among its faculty members are Oberlin alums Paul Cox ’92 and Kristen Docter ’92.

Jara Kern lives in New York and is employed at JB Weissman Music Company.


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