Camper Now Runs the Show
Jara Kern 01
a sixthgrader, 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 whod
had a professional music career. I began to feel as if something
foreignhaving a career as an artistwas 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.
Kern lives in New York and is employed at JB Weissman Music