Hearts to Art

Performing arts camp offers outlet to youths who lost parents

by LILY OBERMAN

This summer, young people between the ages of 7 and 14 will come together to sing, dance, act, create, play and perform.

Photo courtesy of the Auditorium Theatre

They’ll put on a talent show, highlighting skills from singing to balloon making to whistling. They’ll workshop with professional artists from organizations like Barrel of Monkeys, an improvisational comedy troupe, and Young Chicago Authors, a literary arts organization. This is a typical summer camp session at Hearts to Art, the Auditorium Theatre’s performing arts camp for young people who have experienced the death of a parent.

Through the exploration and creation of dance, theatre and music, Hearts to Art provides these young people with a space to communicate, collaborate, grow and connect with others who have had similar life experiences. Hundreds of campers have attended Hearts to Art over the years, and many campers go on to become junior counselors after they “graduate” from camp.

Originally known as Hands Together, Hearts to Art, the performing arts camp began in the summer of 2005. The Auditorium Theatre’s executive director at the time, Brett Batterson, had lost his father to a heart attack when he was 7 years old. “This is a story that can be told by countless children on a daily basis in America,” Batterson said. “Luckily, I had an outlet that allowed me to channel my grief into a positive, healing direction: my involvement in the performing arts … As I got older and found myself in a position to do so, I decided I wanted to give children who had lost a parent the same benefits I had.”

Each summer, two two-week sessions are open to young people between the ages of 7 to 10 (Session 1, July 8–July 19) and 11 to 14 (Session 2, July 22–August 2). The sessions conclude with a final performance, giving campers the opportunity to showcase some of what they worked on while at camp, and a special balloon launch, in which campers attach handwritten notes dedicated to their loved ones to balloons and release them at Buckingham Fountain.

Photo courtesy of the Auditorium Theatre

Golin Fellows Karina Herrera, Alondra Ibarra, Abisola Ajayi and Darryl Langston Jr.

Photo courtesy of the Auditorium Theatre

Photo courtesy of the Auditorium Theatre

Throughout the year, campers have the opportunity to reconnect with one another at camp reunions held at the Auditorium. At a recent reunion, campers and camp staff responded to the prompt, “To me, Hearts to Art means…” A selection of their answers: “Love.” “Community.” “Family, love and the best part of summer. Lots of laughs and lots of cries (in a good way).” “Connecting with people who experience the same things as me.”

Golin Fellows Karina Herrera, Alondra Ibarra, Abisola Ajayi and Darryl Langston Jr.

Photo courtesy of the Auditorium Theatre

Photo courtesy of the Auditorium Theatre

One former camper and current junior counselor responded, “Hearts to Art is a place where there is a deep understanding and acceptance between campers. Having all experienced the loss of a parent, we all have a connection that is hard to find elsewhere. Though I have friends that are sympathetic to my troubles, they can never truly understand what I’ve gone through. Here at camp, everyone understands. Not only is there understanding, but there is so much love between everyone.”

For more information about Hearts to Art, visit HeartstoArt.org.

More in this section

Skip to toolbar