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Summer arts camp finishing up Friday — Powerful recruiting tool for state’s School of the Arts closes on biggest year yet

Just like an old bluesman, he learned it from the trains.

When the Douglas family lived in downtown Brookhaven, Mikyle would watch the big steel boxcars roll by, awed by the paintings on their sides — words and shapes and images, sprayed onto the rusty steel while the cars sat parked in a marshalling yard, probably in Chicago or New Orleans, and probably at night. The law would call it graffiti, but he just saw the art.

“One day he just sat down and started painting his own,” said Mikyle’s father, Troy, a salesman at Gregg Office Machine Co. “And then he asked me, ‘Do you think people downtown would let me tag the back of their buildings?’ I’m pretty sure the answer to that is, ‘no.’”

Instead of practicing tasteful graffiti downtown, Mikyle — now 14 — Friday is wrapping up his last day at the Mississippi School of the Arts’ fifth annual Summer Arts Camp, a gathering of high school students in grades 8 through 10 from around the state who lean toward the arts. With 95 enrollees — nearly 20 of whom are from the local area — either commuting or living on-campus this week, MSA Executive Director Suzanne Hirsch said the 2018 camp has been the biggest to date.

“We’re excited about that,” she said. “It shows there’s a local interest in what we do.”

Students have come from all over to get a taste of arts education in any two of the school’s six disciplines — literary, dance, visual, choral, theatre and media — taught by a mix of MSA faculty and guest instructors. They get a chance to learn foundational skills and new techniques and create their own works.

Day-only campers paid $195 for the weeklong camp, and those staying on-campus paid $395. MSA was able to award 10 full and four partial scholarships to needy students utilizing a grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission, an annual supporter of the camp.

The summer camp serves as a major recruiting tool for MSA, which enrolls high school juniors and seniors in an advanced academic and arts curriculum.

“It opens it up for anyone to gain some arts experience and allows students who are interested in the school to see what we really do,” Hirsch said. “It allows us to identify any student who’s interested and has the talent in the arts we think we have the potential to grow.”

MSA is accomplishing its mission on a tight budget. The school just finished a budget year on $2.3 million, shortened by $125,000 after statewide budget cuts. Local lawmakers were able to get the school $1 million for repairs and renovations — the 15-year-old campus needs some basic maintenance — with the passage of the state bond bill, though they had originally asked for $1.5 million. A slew of other bills aiming to help MSA died in committee.

MSA is headed into its 15th year of operation, and its classes are running at capacity — Hirsch said the school would educate 145 juniors and seniors this fall.

“We’re going to be maintaining our numbers, even though our budget is still tight,” Hirsch said.