AME fine arts camp to host free concert

Published 9:43 am Friday, June 26, 2015

With many of its campers hailing from the metropolis on the east side of the state, the first thing that most visitors to the wooded confines of Cassopolis’ Camp Barber notice after stepping off the bus is the quiet serenity the 57-acre grounds has to offer.

It was at this scenic location that over 80 students from around the U.S. and Canada honed their artistic sensibilities this week as participants in the Beverly Thomas Fine Arts Institute. Overlooking Stone Lake, Camp Barber, owned and operated by African Methodist Episcopal Church, served as the temporary home for these students as they built upon their musical, dance, writing and other fine arts knowledge, without the distractions of the usual classroom environment.

“This is an opportunity for them [students] to be in an environment that’s peaceful,” said Beverly Thomas, the founder and namesake of the fine arts camp. “It provides them with a wonderful inspirational atmosphere.”

On Saturday, the public is invited to get a chance to watch and listen to the product of that inspiration, as the program hosts their annual closing concert at 3 p.m. on Saturday, at the Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center. The concert, which will feature singing, dancing, drama, and band and orchestra performances, will be offered free of charge for visitors.

“We are inviting the whole community to come out,” Thomas said. “The kids have been preparing for the show all week long, so we want as many people as possible to come see it.”

Thomas, a retired teacher and principal in the Detroit Public Schools system, started the institute back in 1997 as a way to provide additional musical education to students, especially those in school districts that have limited opportunities for studying the fine arts. Expanding to other artistic disciplines over the past 18 years, the institute provides students, ages 12 through 19, with professional instruction, paying a $350 tuition fee that includes room and board at the one of the camp’s four dormitories, Thomas said.

Two instructional sessions take place every morning and afternoon for each student’s particular choice of study, with instruction taking place both at the camp and inside classrooms at Ross Beatty Junior/Senior High School. During the evening, the kids receive the opportunity to study an elective course, Thomas said.

“These kids are so gifted that they can do many different things well,” she said.

Besides the concert that afternoon, the campers will be hosting a sneak preview concert at 11 a.m. at the Beckwith Park Gazebo in downtown Dowagiac.