SHAMc Summer Arts Camps

Empowering Kids through Art,
Connection and Self-Expression


Every summer for the past six years, the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center becomes a catalyst for kids to connect to their environment, their world, and their minds – in ways many likely never have before. They become writers, illustrators, sculptors, painters, creators and magic makers.

I’ve been fortunate to facilitate the Creative Writing Camp for the past five years, and every summer kids who claimed they were too shy, or didn’t know how to write, actually did know how to write and even shared their favorite projects at an open mic on the last day of camp.

I gave them word, picture and object writing prompts, they cut words from magazines and created found poetry, they covered plastic pens in polymer clay – and encouraged each other after hearing stories read aloud. They surprised themselves with what their imaginations let loose.

A new self-portrait

SHAMc’s director Heather Richardson organized and taught most of the previous art camps. In December of 2022, Autumn Pearson became the education director.

Autumn is an artist with a background in education, having taught general education and art in a New Mexico public charter school for over seven years and then for ten years, serving in administration. After that, she spent time in Morocco in an artist in residence program. She loved it there so much, she opened an English school and taught the language to many children.

. . .
SHAMc is 100% a safe space
for any kid to be
any way they want to be


Thanks to grants awarded to families by Creative Pinellas, several young artists were able to attend an art summer camp this year at SHAMc and at other Pinellas County Art Centers.

“We are really teaching true art and form. The kids are learning to connect with others,” says Autumn. “Kids were so kind to each other. Taking the time to build community and be creative makes for a special dynamic.

“One of the things I think sets our camps aside or makes them special,” says Autumn, “is we are 100% a safe space for any kid to be any way they want to be. If you’re a perfectionist, a wild-splatter Jackson Pollack, want to make new friends, be a they/them, punk rock or emo, you have a place.”

The goal of each camp was for kids to leave with a finished project. In the creative writing camp, several kids were writing a story and realized they wanted to continue — maybe turn it into a novel. But most of their writings were completed accomplishments.

A found poem by Rose Tanner

“I like to make sure each lesson results in a finished piece of artwork so they can remember what they learned by seeing it and remember what they learned because they practiced it,” says Autumn.

“In Fine Art Camp We looked at big pictures of artists’ work — like Matisse, Van Gogh – and showed them how all of these elements and principals of art were used, just like all authors use words,” she continues. “The elements are like the nouns, the principals are like verbs and adjectives, they help the elements come to life. It was super because several of the kids in Creative Writing Camp were able to make that comparison quickly.

“We used seven different mediums – pencil, pen and ink, pastel, colored pencils, paint, collage and markers, and they got to pick their favorite for their final project.”

Although my camp had finished the previous week, I wanted to see what Autumn’s Fine Art Camp was like and what the kids were doing. What I found when I walked into the nearly-silent classroom, were kids lying on their backs holding pizza boxes up and drawing.

“We studied Michelangelo and how he painted lying down,” explains Autumn. “I gave each kid a pizza box and it had a piece of paper taped to it. They had to lie on their back and draw the umbrellas on the top of the auditorium.

“Sometimes art is difficult and painful – sometimes masterpieces don’t come easy. It was very intellectual. Even though some of the kids were small, they really got it. Their stages of development are their stages but they were able to employ the principals equally.

“The kids put all of their learning into completing a final composition. They had to do a preliminary sketch and label how they used the principles of design. They got a canvas and were able to complete their composition. We had beautiful frames donated so each camper went home with a framed piece of art.”

. . .
The Center created with
repurposed materials offers
an annual Recycle Art Camp
. . .

So much of SHAMc’s purpose is rediscovering art by using found materials and reusing them. The building is covered in repurposed tile and mirror that were once bathroom mirrors, broken plates, extra shower or pool tiles, and more.

“Recycle Camp requires a lot of process,” Autumn says. “Our theme was patience and perseverance. What we have completed has been quality over quantity.”

The final camp of summer 2023 was the Mystery Camp. I admit, I had to see what Autumn had them creating. I wasn’t disappointed, either, because most of them were midway through making sock puppets.

There were googly eyes, pipe cleaners, pom-pom balls – and kids were pouring personality into socks using a variety of supplies.

“Kids got to experience with art and their self-awareness,” Autumn says. “I think what I’m blown away by is how eager these kids are to work. I had to remind them to take a snack break, get a drink of water. They came in and started in the art zone right away.

“Many of the parents are teachers and many said they couldn’t believe how these kids are focused. I haven’t had one behavior problem. They worked together and they made friends.

“I told them all I love them and I genuinely do.”

And I feel that way, too. My hope for next summer is that even more children have an opportunity to go to camp – and especially one that encourages creativity and self-expression.

With that, I will end my post with two stories by young writers from Creative Writing Camp. Enjoy!
. . .


By Lilly Tanner

. . .
I just got back from a party. I danced the night away!

All that dancing must’ve made me tired. I fall asleep on my bed. When I wake up, I am somewhere different. I feel heavier. Huh. I better go brush my teeth. I make my way into the bathroom.

I look in the mirror. Who is that?

Someone very old is in here too, but when I look around, nobody is there. I raise my hand. The person in the mirror does too. At the exact same time. Suddenly I realize that the person in the mirror is me! I try to scream, but my old voice sounds croaky. What has happened to me?

It is the year 2083! I see a timer. ONE HOUR LEFT. For what? Ohh. Probably until I turn 9 again. Well, I guess I better make the best of it.

I wonder who I marry. I search the house and find an old man on an old chair. Could it be? That’s my partner for my science project. Seriously?

I probably have grandchildren. I’ll call my daughter and ask her if I could see my grandchildren. “Of course!” she says. I go to the park with them. They seem nice.

Suddenly, I see something in the air. It doesn’t look like an airplane.

Then I discover it’s a flying car! Wow! Then an asteroid comes down. It’s going straight for me! It will hit in 10….9….8….7….6….5….4….3….2…

Poof! I’m back in my bed. “Just in time!” I thought.

I go back to the mirror. I look back to normal. Then I realise I could prevent the asteroid from hitting Earth!

I head to school. I have a great day. Then I go back to sleep. In the morning I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth.

But then I realize I cannot reach the sink!

. . .
The Mango Mystery
By J. Benjamin Gonzalez

. . .
So, once I was in my house eating a big juicy Mango. Suddenly, my mango fell off the table and rolled under the table.

“My mango!” I demanded. I called 911 and the police came. “What’s the case?” said the police officer. “My mango fell off the table and rolled under the table,” I said.

“Interesting case. Seems like something that needs to be solved,” said the police officer.

I was about to go to the bathroom but then I fainted because of the mango. I then rolled into my dark and dingy basement. I rolled down the stairs in pain.

*Two hours later*

I woke up and to my surprise I was in a park with some kids. I got up and ran away. I felt anxious about my mango. “I need that mango,” I said in my head.

I was running home as fast as my legs could carry me. When I got home my house was covered in caution tape. There were professional, real detectives. My house had turned into a crime scene. The police barely recognized me and let me in.

“Where is my MANGO!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. “Under the table. We’ve not been able to remove it yet,” the police officer said.

I was relieved. “Thank goodness.” I said. “We also haven’t been able to remove the 1,000,000 pound table,” said the police officer. “It’s pure gold. Of course it’s heavy, but still my mango is worth more than that gold table.”

*And then came the news*

“Sir, we have news,” said the police officer. “What?!” I said. “The mango … has a speck of dust on it,” said the police officer.

“WHAT!!!! How dare you let a singular speck of dust fall on my precious mango?! I said.

“It was an accident. We could not stop it. Sorry,” said the police officer.

“Okay” I said. “Let’s focus on how to extract the mango before one fly lands on it,” the police officer said. “But we also have more news. Someone in your house is a thief. We have been paying so much attention to just one mango, that we haven’t noticed that all the other mangoes have been stolen,” said the police officer.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” I said. “How is this possible?” I called my parents. Then everyone who lived with me came rushing into the kitchen.

“Who here has a thief license?” I asked. Of course, nobody answered. So at night I crawled out of my bed and safely landed on the floor. First, I studied my dad’s room. I couldn’t find anything!

One fateful night I was looking in my cousin’s top secret drawers when I found a mango seed. “Okay, clue #1 found,” I said in a relieved voice.

The next day when the police came I told them my discovery. “Got it. I think we have found our thief,” said the police officer. “I’ll study his drawer again tonight,” I said. That night I crawled over to my cuz’s room. Then there was a problem.

The door was… LOCKED. “C’mon,” I whispered to myself. So I went outside and I tried to climb my house but somehow the bricks were smooth? I tried my best to climb my house, and after a few hours I did!

I slid inside through the  window and into my cousin’s room. Then I saw something… cuz was not there. Suddenly, I turned around and pointing a banana boomerang was cuz, who was standing right front of me. I was in grave danger.

He threw the boomerang but missed. I got the mango seed and arranged it in my hand to look like a boomerang itself. Cuz dropped his banana boomerang and said “Drop that mango seed this instant. You don’t know its power.”

“Oh really?” I called out and then got even closer to cuz with my mango seed. “First, you are going to help me free the mango out from under the table and then you will give back those mangoes that you stole,” I said.

Next thing you know he snatched the mango seed from my hands and pointed it at me like a banana boomerang. “You are going to pay,” I said.

Then my family came in with the police, “Hands up thief,” said the police officer.

“Make me,” said cuz. “Okay,” said the police officer, rapidly pulling out a real banana boomerang from his belt. “Okay now, drop that mango seed,” said the police officer.

“Of course…not!” cuz said in a stern voice. “This mango seed holds more power than an average banana.”

“What?” said the police officer. “How?” said the police officer.

“It’s a key. The mangoes are fruits that are given from God,” said cuz. “I have a book that explains everything. Did you ever wonder why they’re so good?” asked cuz.

“Well then, there is more reason for you to give them back,” I said.  “You’ll have too much power.”

“Nooo, of course not!” shouted cuz. “I want all the power for myself. I’ll be soooo powerful,” shouted cuz. “I will rule the world,” shouted cuz.

“Oh no, you won’t, and besides isn’t that what every bad guy wants to do?” I said.

Suddenly, Alex the police officer shot at the mango seed and with his lethal accuracy, knocked the mango seed right out of cuz’s hand. I quickly picked it up and threw it at Alex.

“Catch,” I said. Alex caught it and pointed it at cuz like a boomerang. “Take that, you nasty criminal,” Alex said.

“C’mon!” said cuz.

“Nice job Alex.” I said.

“Nice throw,” Alex said to me.

“Nice catch,” I said.

“Thanks,” we said at the same time.

This time it was cuz who was say’n “You will pay.”

“Try,” I said back.

Cuz was accused of 7 months of jail for robbing a sacred book and stealing, plus accusing someone for getting hit by a banana boomerang, of course after giving the mangoes back.

*In the jail*

“How dare they send me to jail? They will pay once I get out of here, good thing I still have this mango seed with me, the other one was a fake! Guess how I’ll get out outta here” said cuz.

To find out what happens to cuz next, read the next book – The Mango Mystery II. . .


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