Young people spent all of last week having their creative spirits fostered and expanded upon. Fifteen children ranging in age from five to 12 worked under the tutelage of Denver artist Connie Ballard Zmijewski during the weeklong Arts Council of Lincoln County Art Camp. While Zmijewski is now a much-admired watercolor painter who’s always quick to donate both her time and her work for local causes, she spent much of her professional career as a therapist.

“It’s been a diverse group of kids with different talents,” said Zmijewski as she helped a camper apply a stencil to the visor he was designing. “We’ve done a lot of mixed media, we did aquariums, paper mâché, jewelry, we put on skits, wrote poetry and put on a puppet show.”

Throughout the week, Zmijewski said that she tried to give them a wide-ranging exposure to different types of art. She wanted them to know that art wasn’t just painting and to introduce them to all forms of art. If, for example, a child doesn’t like using his or her hands, they can get into plays or write poems.

This is the first art camp that Zmijewski has taught for the arts council, but she’s always utilized art as a counselor. It wasn’t until she was almost ready to retire that she discovered painting for herself when she took a painting class with some friends.

One of the challenges that Zmijewski had this week, given she had the children for a full six hours each day, was keeping them on task and making sure that they were both enjoying and understood what they were working on.

“I wanted them to know why they were doing this type of art and the reason why artists do certain things, to have respect for the work and that they don’t have to be perfect,” Zmijewski said. “So many kids when they’re younger will say they’re artists. If they’re five years old, they’ll raise their hand if asked if they were artists. At 18, very few will raise their hand. Often they have a fear of failure so they don’t want to complete it because it isn’t perfect. That’s the beauty of art – it doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Of course working with 15 children with such a wide age range was a lesson in patience for Zmijewski. Throughout the week, she learned with their individual needs were.

“I’m trying to get them to realize that it’s the whole group we’re working with and teaching some manners and respect of each other when they’re presenting their plays,” she said. “They’ve all be great though. Most of these kids have really gelled.”

As a gift for each child on the last day of class, Zmijewski brought a piece of her own art that she sent them home with.

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