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Camp and the Information Age


The 1970s were a critical moment in the country’s history, as many influential laws were put into place including Title IX of 1972, Public Law 94-142, also known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (changed to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA in 1990), the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, the Refugee Act of 1980, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.  Not only did these powerful laws change American society, but they deeply changed education and the summer camp respectfully. With the placement of federal laws protecting and advocating for women, people with disabilities, indigenous Americans, and many others, these legislations served as solid steps in creating equality and equity in youth spaces.  


During the 1960s and 1970s, social changes such as the sexual revolution and the shift away from an industrial economy led to a more rebellious youth culture at summer camps. Camps had to adapt to increased safety regulations, consumer demands, and calls for greater inclusion by introducing coed and specialty camps. Eco-literacy was promoted by David Orr through summer camps in the mid-1960s, and camping advocates sought to recreate the rustic lifestyle in the 1980s and 1990s, as a response to these societal advances on children. Character education programs created by youth organizations (YMCA and Boy/Girl Scouts) at the time emphasized the positive experiences and relationships were necessary for children’s health, which led to renewed focus on youth development outcomes from camps.

During the 1970s to 1990s, art education saw the introduction and implementation of various teaching and learning techniques, such as Teaching for Artistic Behaviors (TAB) and Disciplined-based Art Education (DBAE), which were then significantly impacted by the implementation of Title I in 1994. Art educators were also faced with severe cuts in funding due to the standardized curriculums and assessments mandated by state and federal authorities. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, modern art and popular culture had a major influence on art education. From graffiti and glass-blowing to MTV, Bob Ross, and computer art programs, these various art forms and platforms helped to shape a new generation of artists and blur the lines between fine and commercial art. A Handbook of Arts and Crafts was first released in the early 1970s as a resource to help art teachers and elementary school educators foster creativity in their students. It was revised multiple times between 1970 and 1999, providing new activities and materials to engage students in meaningful arts and crafts activities with educational components. It is plausible that arts and crafts instructors at summer camps during this period had access to this resource, along with many other available options at the time. 

The lack of online archives of summer camp arts and crafts from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s makes it difficult to gain a full understanding of the activities of that era, but Boy Scout and Girl Scout Handbooks, Camping Magazine articles, and archived camp commercials provide some insight into the popular summer camp arts and crafts during this time. For example, Worlds to Explore: Handbook for Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts (1977) gives a deeper look into the Girl Scout programming of the time. The guide’s chapter "The World of the Arts" highlights ways of talking about, thinking about, and creating art, opening with the powerful statement: 

When you think of art, do you imagine a painting in a museum or a statue in the park? These things are part of what we mean by art, but there is much more to art than that. Art is seeing. Art is feeling. Art is learning about ourselves and other people. Art is also doing. A famous American painter, Robert Henri, said that every human being can be an artist. "It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well.” 

The handbook also references art educators as a resource for Girl Scout troops to learn more about teaching art. A few of the activities suggested include paint and string art, collage color wheels made from magazine clippings, matchstick mosaics, and Play-Doh sculptures. Compared to other Girl Scout guides published years prior, this version reads in a highly feminist voice. The guide challenges and empowers young girls to think beyond how their elders grew up and imagine a new, modern world where girls can do anything. 


In the Boy Scouts of America’s Webelos Scout Book (1983), a similar testament is written at the beginning of the “Artist” chapter stating, 


"You have worked with the tools of art all your life. You have used paints, crayons, pencils, and clay. At home and at school you have made pictures and shapes. In this activity area, you can learn more about how artists work. You will learn how they mix colors, make designs, and make mobiles and sculptures. You may not have a talent for art. But even if you don't, you will have fun learning how artists do it".


The chapter’s content is quite different from previous decades’ Boy Scout handbooks and guides, where “art” or any related terms were minimally included or entirely excluded. A few of the suggested activities included oil painting, creating designs and patterns with found objects, and sculptures from chicken wire. In the same year, a camp promotional video for the boys' camp, Camp Timberlane in Woodruff, Wisconsin shows young campers participating in ceramics in the “Pot Shop”. The narrator of the video and director at the time stated, “When I started the pottery program, I really had no idea how popular it would become…it allows some of these kids to show their creativity which is what we’re trying to do”. 

During the 1970s-1990s Camping Magazine shifted away from "how-to-do" articles and towards engaging conversations about diverse topics including what we would in 2023 as BIPOC (black, Indigenous, and people of color) and LGBTQIA+ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual people), “special populations”, health and safety, youth development, drug and alcohol use, sexual health and education, environmental education, and global/world education. Arts and crafts-related content and other program-specific articles were slowly phased out. A few examples of articles related to arts and crafts during this time included "Want a New Arts and Crafts Program? --Use Geometry" (June 1972), "A Pioneer Theme Enhances Arts and Crafts" (January 1974), "Making Art Together" (February 1987), and "Fostering Creativity in Camp" (November/December 1998).

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Camp production at Camp Yavneh, 1986.

(Courtesy Tablet, 2013)


New Challenges and Developments for the ACA and Summer Camp

Despite the long history of summer camps, there was still no clear consensus as to what "good" or "real" camping should look like. Camp leaders often used a common language to describe their goals and purposes, but there was still an ongoing debate about how much the camp should be separate from the world beyond. 


Summer Camp on the Big Screen

It reasonable to assume the average person’s impressions of summer camps in the era of Megaplexes, VHS, and Blockbuster were shaped by monumental hits like Friday the 13th and Meatballs. For better or worse, films and TV shows depicting summer camps in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s had major impact on the camping industry’s reputation and would continue to leave a lasting impression entering the new millennium. 

(Courtesy Original Film Art )

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(Courtesy IMDB)

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Trends in Art Education

Over the next three decades (1970-1999), a plethora of teaching and learning pedagogies and practices shaped the field of art education as we know it today. Teaching for Artistic Behaviors (TAB) and choice-based art education swept the nation during the 1980s, paralleling the introduction and implementation of Disciplined-based Art Education (DBAE) by The Getty Center for Education in 1980. Art education took a significant hit in 1994 through Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Act, requiring statewide mandated testing.

A Self Help Graphics & Art community art class, Los Angeles, CA, 1973.

(Courtesy Self Help Graphics & Art)


Popular Summer Camp Arts & Crafts 

In comparison to other decades in summer camp arts and crafts history, there is significantly less number of artifacts and ephemera archived online, making it difficult to get a complete understanding of the arts and crafts of this time. For example, the full magazine archives of Camping Magazine, on the Internet Archive stop at 1961, only containing each year’s index from that point on. The following information found about popular summer camp arts and crafts in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s comes from a range of materials including Boy/Girl Scout Handbooks, Camping Magazine, and camp commercials. 

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Camp Kern campers weaving rex-lace crafts, 1970s.

(Courtesy Camp Kern, Historical Photos)

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