Jul 9, 2021

In the world of finance, an “upturn” describes a rising stock that gains momentum along the way. And it’s generally something to celebrate.

So what could that possibly have to do with an arts camp for kids?

“Children come here and they have an upturn,” said Dana Reed, the founding executive director of Upturn Arts — an organization that helps kids build their confidence as artists through year-round music, theater, dance and design programs. “They have a moment of ‘aha’ or confidence. They feel good about themselves.”

Reed is a skilled dancer, but while living and performing in New York City, she worked for an emerging markets hedge fund (hence her familiarity with finance).

“On a stock chart, you can look at the existing stock for years and years, and the upturns are always there and they are never going to go away,” she explained. “And I see that in children. No matter what happens in their life, their upturn will always be there.”

Families are never denied a spot because of financial restraints.

“Our mission is arts for all,” said Reed, noting that tuition is based on family size and income. Grants are offered to those who qualify.

After more than a year of offering art activities to-go and virtual lessons, the organization’s in-person summer camp is now in full swing, with a few spots still available. Plans for fall programming are in the works.

Adapting to the times

Although Upturn Arts still offers the same creativity-based programming that it’s known for, Reed has made a few modifications to keep campers and staff safe.

In the past, Reed would invite nearly 30 artists to teach children throughout the summer. Close to 60 guest artists would offer one-hour workshops. To minimize possible COVID exposure, however, Upturn Arts has hired a full-time teaching staff.

“They are here all day long, and all summer long,” Reed said. “At this time, we are unable to do our guest artists series because we don’t want to bring too many people into the building.”

Classes take place in the NOLA Spaces building on Toledano Street, near the intersection of St. Charles and Louisiana avenues. Everyone wears a mask.

The campers are divided into three age groups, identified by Mardi Gras-inspired monikers — Bacchus: 4- and 5-year-olds; Muses: 6- to 8-year-olds; and Zulu: children 9 and up. The groups rotate among music, theater, visual arts and dance classes.

The campers also eat breakfast and lunch together.

At the end of the week, each group stages a show and tell for fellow campers, since they can’t do performances for family members inside the building.

Rio Vidal, 9, says he has participated in the summer camp for four or five years.

“It’s really fun and we get to do all sorts of stuff,” she said. “I love dancing.”

Veteran camper Peter Worthy, 10, says, “I just like meeting new friends.” 

Camrin Allen, 5, is experiencing her first summer with Upturn Arts.

“I like dancing and doing art,” she said.

Worth the ups and downs

Some COVID-related changes are less obvious, said Reed.

More families than usual have requested financial aid. Reed says it’s because many of Upturn Arts’ members are small-business owners, or people who work in the hospitality industry. And both of those sectors suffered during the pandemic.

Also, young campers have experienced a bit of separation anxiety from their caregivers, said Reed.

“This summer, a lot of our younger students miss mom and want to be home … because they were home with mom, or dad or grandma,” Reed said. “And so that’s something that we as a staff have been working on.”

And they seem to have made progress.

“I had one student who wouldn’t get out of the car for about a week, and slowly but surely he eventually got through the first door, and then eventually got into class,” Reed recalled. “And then it was the opposite problem; he didn’t want to leave.”

Reed is just as happy to be back.

“I missed these kids like it was nobody’s business,” Reed said, explaining how she’s been able to watch them grow over the years. “The job is difficult. It has its ups and downs, but when you see the kids and their energy, and how excited they are, it really makes the work worth it.”

As a nod to her financial background, she added: “I do it because of all the upturns I get to see every day.”