bess cohen

Bess Cohen

StoryArts Summer Camp

Bess Cohen, AB’16, MSW’20, grew up spending summers at the New Hampshire arts camp her family founded, where the tagline is “Kids Making Things Happen.” As a UChicago undergrad, she was the schools reporter for the South Side Weekly and volunteered in public schools with the Neighborhood Schools Program (NSP).

When Cohen began researching a guide to summer camps for the Weekly and saw how few options existed for South Side kids — “there were a lot of UChicago efforts providing programming during the school year, and none in the summer,” she remembers — a brainstorming session with fellow student Amelia Dmowska, AB’16, led to an idea for bringing what she’d learned at her family’s camp to the South Side.

Cohen and Dmowska co-founded StoryArts Summer Camp, an affordable, summer program for middle school students that launched in 2015. To bring the camp to life, the two tapped experts all over UChicago for advice, support and funding, including NSP; the Institute of Politics; University Community Service Center; UChicago Careers in Journalism, Arts, and Media; Logan Center for the Arts; Chicago Studies; the Arts Incubator. “It was a grand experiment that kind of felt like we were building the plane as we flew it,” Cohen says, “and the really crazy thing that happened was that people signed their kids up.”

“One kid who lived in Washington Park, saw our flyer for the first StoryArts cohort and called me asking how to get in. He’s now a student at Chicago High School for the Arts and recently released his first professionally produced music track. That’s the story I want to be able to tell about every kid.”

StoryArts welcomes around 25 kids every summer — many of them repeat campers — to learn how to express themselves and tell stories about their communities through art forms like podcasting, spoken-word performance, comics, filmmaking, fashion design, and murals. StoryArts is directed and staffed by UChicago students; Chicago-based teaching artists design and lead each summer’s curriculum.

The 2020 camp will be virtual and will run from June 29 to July 24. To learn more and apply, click here

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