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EXPOSITION PARK : The Art and Science of Exploration


Like a trained naturalist, 11-year-old Randi Bonner focused her gaze on the small ball of dust and tiny twigs until she uncovered the skeletal remains of a small mouse.

"Look, I found the head!" Randi yelled across to her partner as they dissected owl pellets--the regurgitated remains of small rodents eaten by owls. "It seems kind of disgusting at first 'cause you think an owl spit it up, but it's really cool 'cause of all the bones you find."

Randi is among 87 students attending Camp Expo, a six-week program sponsored by the California Arts Council at Exposition Park. The program is aimed at bringing art and science to inner-city youngsters.

"The inner cities and rural communities have traditionally been underserved in terms of arts," said Helen Singleton, a consultant to the California Arts Council, a state agency that supports the arts through grant programs to artists and organizations.

"Hopefully, Camp Expo will teach kids how to transfer art into their lives and help them look at life in a different way."

By performing dissections, meeting paleontologists and drawing likenesses of animals, children will learn that art is not limited to galleries, Singleton and others say. "The kids learn to relate their experience to jobs in museums, like the artist who paints the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History," said Greg Bryant, executive director of Camp Expo.

Singleton said the idea for Camp Expo arose out of the council's interest in helping fund programs in Southern California, which has traditionally received less money for the arts than Northern California.

The program cost about $117,000 and is funded through grants from private foundations.

Students 9 through 14 were selected from 10 area schools and attend art, theater, voice and science workshops daily at Exposition Park museums.

For many of the students, such as Randi and 13-year-old Marvin Garcia, the camp is the only alternative to remaining at home during the summer.

"It's like a vacation here because otherwise I'd stay at home and I get really bored," Marvin said. "It's not like school here, where they tell you to learn stuff. Here you learn through activities."

Organizers of Camp Expo stress the program is not meant to replace school programs, but to help students learn about art and science.

"We try and take abstract themes like the arts and the sciences and help them relate these things to their own experience," Bryant said. "Students aren't normally given the chance to talk, instead they are just told to listen."

For Marvin, that translates into learning about the African experience through poetry and theater.

"I'm really into black culture and learning about what Africans went through and how they suffered," Marvin, a native of El Salvador, said.

The program is scheduled to end Aug. 20, but Bryant and Singleton are hoping to obtain additional funding so Camp Expo can be offered year-round.

"We want the kids to become active players in this world who can change their environment," Bryant said.

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