Kids encouraged to integrate ideas

By Alison Rooney

Like an arts octopus, the Poughkeepsie-based Mill Street Loft (MSL), whose programming merges creativity and social services, has extended its reach well beyond that city, offering classes, camps, workshops and initiatives all over Dutchess County.

A group of young artists observing and creating at Mill Street Loft's Beacon Dutchess Art Camp at Long Dock Park.
A group of young artists observing and creating at Mill Street Loft’s Beacon Dutchess Art Camp at Long Dock Park.

One of their many summer offerings is the Dutchess Arts Camp, which unspools at four locations, including one at Scenic Hudson’s River Center on the banks of the Hudson at Long Dock Park in Beacon. There, in two separate weekly sessions later in July, children, ages 4 to 12, can partake, according to camp director Nina Tantillo Elton, “of the magic of that place on the river. The camp is basically an exploration,” she says. “We present kids with concepts and ideas then let the kids’ imagination fly.”

Operating from a philosophy of “arts transform lives” MSL, which was founded in 1981, serves many populations. Four outreach programs are geared toward different teenage groups. “Project ABLE” trains “at-risk” teens in summer job skills in an “earn while you learn” program; “Habilidad” (abilities) is an after-school program aimed at Hispanic/Latino young people — bi-lingual artist-educators work with them on job training and life skills activities; “PASWORD” and “Project ABLE” address gender-specific issues for “at-risk” girls ages 11-15, using the arts to foster self-esteem and personal empowerment.

Healing through arts

Traditional arts enrichment classes and workshops for children, teens and adults take place at the MSL main space in Poughkeepsie, and the Art Institute there helps talented visual arts high school students build skills and develop portfolios to compete for college scholarships.

In the last 12 years, their students, some supported with full scholarships to the program, have been awarded over $28 million in scholarships to top colleges, universities and art schools. The Art Institute classes take place after school, on weekends, and in the summer. Then there’s “Arts For Healing,” which encompasses both pediatric and elder care work.

Children who are patients on the pediatric floor of Vassar Brothers Medical Center are engaged with creative arts activities in hopes of alleviating some stress and facilitating the healing process. The elderly are served with different activities designed to stimulate the minds of those with memory loss issues and Alzheimer’s disease.

“This program has expanded into numerous collaborations over the past year, including an Intergenerational Arts Program partnering senior adults from Vassar Warner Home (a senior living home in Poughkeepsie) with students from our ‘Habilidad’ program,” according to notes on the MSL site. “Over a six-week period, the young people and seniors worked with artist-educators to create handmade journals, share their experiences and life stories, and create multimedia art based on the stories they have told each other. The program ended with an exhibit at Mill Street Loft.”

Imagination: design a costume … beat a drum

While the Dutchess Arts Camps (which also take place in Poughkeepsie, Millbrook and Red Hook) wear a different stripe, they are made from the same overall fabric. In the Beacon program (three years old, it is the newest, and started when Scenic Hudson reached out to MSL) based in the large red barn by the river, counselors, all trained as art teachers, lead different age groups in activities loosely arranged around a theme, all focused on play, imagination, and getting involved, with some relaxation thrown in, too.

The activities include art, music, storytelling, costume design and cool-off water play (courtesy of a hose, not the river) and it all culminates with a sharing — outdoors when possible — of all the creativity on the last day.

Children at work and play at Mill Street Loft's art camp.
Children at work and play at Mill Street Loft’s art camp.

The first session, July 21-25, is called “Past, Present & Future River Tales.” Tantillo Elton describes it as “the stories which unfold while you’re traveling down the river. We’ll be recreating the river, ‘stopping’ along the way, and who knows what we’ll discover?” In this and the second, called “Open The Door and Take A Journey,” Tantillo Elton says, “We’ll come in with our professional ideas, but then we’ll allow the kids to have their ideas, integrating them into the theme, maybe even turning the theme.”

Guest educators have included storytellers Jonathan Kruk and Joan Henry, as well as members of the Arm of the Sea and Vanaver Caravan troupes and other professionals in the arts. They, along with naturalists from Scenic Hudson, help conduct activities which tie in to each other, indoors and out, things like searching for butterflies and then drawing them. Students from SUNY-New Paltz, where Tantillo Elton teaches, often lend their talents as well.

Dutchess Arts Camp at Beacon is located at 8 Long Dock Road, Beacon. There are both full- and half-day options (half-day is for four- and five-year-olds only). The full day, which costs $340 per week, runs from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with early drop-off (7:30 a.m.) and late pick-up (6 p.m.) options available at an extra cost. The half day, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. costs $190 per week. Children bring their own lunches except for Friday, when pizza is served; snacks are provided every day. To register or for more information on the camp and all of Mill Street Loft’s programs, visit or phone 845-471-7477.

Images courtesy Mill Street Lofts

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Rooney has been writing for The Current since its founding in 2010. A playwright, she has lived in Cold Spring since 1999. She is a graduate of Binghamton University, where she majored in history. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Area of Expertise: Arts