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Camp and Circumstance

A new summer art program for queer youth hopes to teach empowerment through self-expression.

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For some kids, summer camp can be one of the most formative early experiences of their lives. To the kids about to start camp at Pushing Margins, that might be an understatement.

A summer art and writing camp catering to high-school-age queer youth, the program brings together local artists and writers to provide support for teenagers' blooming sense of self-identity — sexuality-based and otherwise.

"I was doing my student teaching and noticed a lot of homophobia in classrooms," said program founder and practicing artist Natasha Loewy. "I don't really put blame on the kids, but I do think there needs to be more education and space for queer kids to feel empowered."

Loewy grew up in Louisiana, the child of two artist parents. She was "surrounded by art all the time." But she never had a space to express herself or to explore her sexual identity. For queer kids who lack this kind of environment — which is most of them — or who face daily verbal abuse at school, empowerment can be hard to come by. "I know from my own experience that growing up just surrounded by that slang and stuff can be very traumatic," said Loewy.

And so, after discussing her idea with her friends — among them many artists and writers — Loewy decided to launch a small, week-long camp focused on providing high-schoolers the space to explore artistic projects.

"There's so much awesome art that's being made by queer artists, but I think there lacks some amount of connection to youth," Loewy said. "Art allows people to see different perspectives and express different perspectives, so it's naturally a great place for identity exploration for these kids."

Mills College, where Loewy received her art-teaching credential, donated studio space for the camp, and various artists, musicians, and writers have given their time to teaching the curriculum, which was developed specifically for the week-long program. In addition to having open-studio time to work on their individual projects, participants will take classes examining historical depictions of the LGBT community in photographs, television, and film, as well as some of the various ways that the community has attempted to portray itself through the use of still imagery. A second course will explore LGBT-influenced composers and musicians in the Western canon of music.

But Pushing Margins, which runs July 8-13, still needs funds to pay for food, art supplies, and financial aid for students unwilling or unable to ask their parents for support. So Loewy decided to throw a party.

On Thursday, June 13, Pushing Margins will host a celebration of queer performance at The Starry Plough (3101 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley). The fundraiser will start at 9 p.m. with a performance by folk-punk duo Rosanymous, whose two high-school-age bandmates, Rosa and Izzy, will be interning with Pushing Margins this summer. After 10 p.m., the event turns 21-and-over, and will feature the musical stylings of GAYmous, DADDIES PLASTIK, and Hussyclub. 9 p.m.-midnight, $5-$20 sliding scale (no one turned away for lack of funds). 337-654-3373 or PushingMargins.org

Update: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Loewy grew up in North Carolina; in fact, it was Louisiana.

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