Field of dreams

Savannah Weinstock has no problem admitting that at first, she didn’t totally get the concept behind Flourish, a camp tucked into the bluffs of southeastern Minnesota that combines the performing arts with agriculture. Flourish offers campers the chance to spend a full week exploring interests in music, theatre, dance, and puppetry in between tending and harvesting the farm’s vast vegetable gardens. So how do the two seemingly disparate elements overlap?

Now that Weinstock, 17, has attended the camp for three summers she can easily tackle that question. “It makes sense now that I’m older and can connect the idea that planting a seed makes a plant grow, which is the same as with your art piece: you formulate the idea, and then it grows from there,” she explains. “Once you get that you realize it’s a unique experience.”

Performance feeds the soul

As a theater artist who left Chicago in the mid-1990s to start a farm in Minnesota, Flourish founder Eva Barr saw the rolling landscape outside Wyckoff as the ideal place to integrate her interests in the performing arts and agriculture. “My background is in the theater, so it was always my goal to bring that work to the farm,” says Barr. The 60-acre Dream Acres farm runs solely on solar power, utilizes rainwater to flush the toilets, and relies on animals to work the land instead of farm machinery. According to Barr, this rural setting is the perfect place for campers to focus on the arts while getting a side of farming.

Barr began Flourish in 2002, inviting a small number of campers (the most Flourish can accommodate is 18) to stay at Dream Acres and spend a week working on an art project of their choosing. Funding for Flourish comes from a grant through the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council and the $475 fee campers pay (Barr says the camp offers underwriting for those that can’t pay the full fee). Barr hires a staff of mentors who specialize in different areas of the arts — dance, puppetry, and music being a few — to mentor the campers and help them bring the projects to fruition. At the end of the week campers reveal or perform their work for parents, visitors, and fellow attendees.

So where does the farming come in? Everyone at Flourish spends part of the day working in the vegetable garden to weed and harvest, and shifts are created for “meal teams” to assist in chopping and preparing the nightly feast. By working the land Barr hopes the campers will recognize the parallels between the life cycle of the farm and that of a work of art. “The farm is always evolving and changing,” says Barr. “They see that their art feeds the audience’s spirit, just like the farm feeds their bodies. They’re companionable impulses.”

The farming and subsequent all-vegetarian menus are often a new experience for the urban-dwelling campers, many of whom are leery of the ideas. “I was unsure if I would like it because everything is vegetarian, and I wondered how I would feel about not eating meat because I’m generally a picky eater,” says Weinstock’s 15-year-old sister Coral, who attended Flourish last summer. “But I actually enjoyed it, and I liked pulling weeds and planting stuff in the garden. It’s nice that if you want to hang out and talk about your piece and weed, you can do that.”

High expectations

Daniel Polnau, an instructor at Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Minneapolis, has been teaching puppetry at Flourish since its first summer and says the camp is unique in what it demands of — and gets from — its campers. “It often seems arts camps are dumbed down and the bar is low for kids, like there’s more of an element of daycare happening,” says Polnau. “But this isn’t your typical camp arts and crafts. The expectations for the product that the kids are going to create is really amazing, and the process to get there is really very innovative and visionary.”

Savannah Weinstock agrees. “You have free time, but you spend a lot of it working on your project,” she explains. “It’s not like homework, because you want to work on it; you want to make something you’re proud of, and the performance element is

It also helps that campers have unlimited access to their staff mentors for one-on assistance.

“The ratio of kids to counselors is wonderful because it gives you time to get to know your mentees,” says Polnau. “When I was young I don’t remember having an adult teacher really ask me what was inside of my heart and mind, what my visions were. In some ways the mentor is midwifing all these great things inside of each kid, which normal camps don’t have the luxury to do.”

Campers are encouraged to work anywhere on the 60-acre property they want, especially if being near the stream or in the large barn will aid in the quest for inspiration. As a result, many of the final pieces and performances — which often require the audience to travel around the farm to specific spots for the final staging — are heavily influenced by the rolling landscape. Last year Coral Weinstock created a movement piece that utilized faces made out of cardboard and music provided by her brother to convey “a concept of surreal dreaming, and how things can be different in different light” and performed it in a field.

“All the gardening made me want to do a piece outside, to appreciate the natural aspects of the place,” explains Coral. And that kind of creativity is always encouraged, she adds.

“If you have an idea, they are pretty open about letting you try it.”

Monica Wright is assistant editor of Minnesota Parent.

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