Art-O-Rama founder Ivory Wise works with students.(TALIA WIENER/STAFF)

Throughout July, the Nishuane School art room has been busy.

Each week, a group of about 20 campers, ages five through 12, come together to spend their summer days painting, drawing, sculpting and more. On the morning of Thursday, July 20, the task at hand was a self-portrait collage.

The kids pieced together their works, cutting out ovals for heads, football shapes for eyes and triangles for noses. Construction paper and magazine clippings littered the tables and floor and sticky hands held tight to glue sticks.

Earlier that week, campers created food collages, Model Magic self-portraits and Campbell’s Soup pieces, inspired by Andy Warhol.

The students — led by Hillside School art teacher Ivory Wise and Nishuane art teacher Jackie Daniels — were campers at Art-O-Rama, one of the Montclair school district’s summer enrichment programs. The program was started in 2010 by Wise, while she served as Nishuane’s art teacher. Last year, she was transferred to Hillside. Daniels has been co-teaching the camp with Wise for nine years.

Campers spend three and a half hours on art projects each day at Art-O-Rama.

Both teachers agree that the camp affords them and their students more flexibility than is allowed during the school year.

“We look forward to it by the end of the school year,” Daniels said. “We’re not teaching to the curriculum in summer camp. We’re just having fun.”

There is no pressure at camp, no time limits and no standards to be met, Wise said.

“I feel like I’m more of my true art teacher self in the summer,” Wise said.

The camp runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, with lunch, snack and recess included. The time to hunker down and create art far exceeds the school year allotment. During a typical school day, Daniels sees each art class for 40 minutes. Each day at Art-O-Rama, the campers spend three and a half hours on art projects.

“Because of the constraints of education, I feel like they don’t have as much time to truly express themselves as I would like them to,” Wise said, speaking of art class during the school year.

Art-O-Rama teacher Jackie Daniels shows campers how to piece together collage self-portraits.

More time means different kinds of projects, ones that Daniels said she would not dare approach during a school year, such as paint splatter art created outdoors and marble painting — covering a marble with paint and rolling it around a page to create a colorful piece.

And without the pressure to demonstrate certain skills and techniques, campers can adapt projects as they please.

“We’re not really looking for any particular outcome,” Daniels said. “We tell them at the beginning of the week, ‘We’re going to give you suggestions. We’re going to show you how we would do it. But this is camp, and it’s your artwork. You can change it however you want, as long as you’re using the materials correctly and you are not disrupting anybody around you.’”

The teachers encourage the campers to be creative, to explore without the pressure of the school year curriculum.

Lexington Kiarie, a camper at Art-O-Rama, made a self portrait by cutting out dozens of small magazine paper pieces.

“We try to be a camp for the kids,” Wise said. “We accept that everybody doesn’t have the same skills. Everybody doesn’t have the same access. We obviously just want them to enjoy making art and just see that it’s like a process. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

And when students express concern with their work, the teachers remind them they are there to learn, not to be experts.

“I explain to them that they’re not always going to like the art that they do, but the point of them doing it is not for them to like it necessarily, but for them to experience it,” Wise said. “Art is a way for you to create and communicate. You don’t have to be good at art. I’m an art teacher, and I’m not good at every form of art that I must teach.”

The age range in camp also means older campers can assist younger campers as needed, Wise and Daniels said. The older kids can often encourage the younger ones when the teachers are struggling to break through, Daniels said.

Michaela Nelson, a rising sixth grader at Glenfield Middle School, has attended Art-O-Rama for three years. (TALIA WIENER/STAFF)

Many campers return to Art-O-Rama each summer, building friendships with fellow campers and a bond with Wise and Daniels.

One such student, Michaela Nelson, returned for her third Art-O-Rama summer this year. Nelson, a rising sixth grader at Glenfield Middle School, said the camp is “really fun, and it gives me something to do during the summer.”

Art-O-Rama is special because the teachers and projects feel more relaxed than during the school year, she added.

“They give you more freedom, and it’s a little more loose,” Nelson said. “Instructors in normal art class are like, ‘You have to do this, this, this.’ But with art camp, it’s more spread out.”

The camp costs $300 per student for each full week, but scholarships through the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence were made available.

“We aren’t using super elaborate materials necessarily all the time, but I would like for people to appreciate that art is important whether you have a lot or whether you have a little,” Wise said. “Everyone can make art with what they have.”

— Talia Wiener/Montclair Local