BENNINGTON—Vermont Arts Exchange co-founder Matthew Perry remembers playing in his father’s basement, experimenting with tools and objects all day until his parents flickered the lights, signaling that it was time for dinner.
“When I was a kid, at times I got in trouble doing things I was really curious about,” he said.
Now, with Camp Danger, held in conjunction with the Vermont Arts Exchange, he hopes to give kids a safe place to experiment and explore just as he did years ago. He firmly believes his fond memories of tinkering as a kid is one of the reasons he is so passionate about the camp, which finished its third year this Friday.
“I think the name definitely attracts people,” he laughed.
Not your typical day camp
Camp Danger may be every curious kid’s- or big kid’s- dream. With supervision by Perry and some older camp counselors, kids are welcome to deconstruct appliances, learn how to properly start a campfire, whittle a wooden knife, spray paint graffiti, make a sparkler sculpture, and so much more.
Sometimes, like on Friday, the campers stay at the Vermont Arts Exchange studio and are set (mostly) free to be a little destructive. On a rainy Friday morning, safety goggle-wearing campers worked with one another to break apart an old printer, a coffee pot, a keyboard, and more.
“We’re taking apart appliances for the fun of it, but also to learn how they’re pieced together,” Perry said.
After a Monday whittling demo, nonprofit youth music and arts group Zumix came and talked to the kids about the fear of performing in front of people. Afterwards, the kids had a chance to get up and and perform with microphones and keyboards.
Later in the week, the group went tubing, had a visit from the local K-9 Unit and rescue squad, and learned how to use fire extinguishers thanks to the fire department.
“A lot of it is experimenting, but doing it in a safe environment,” Perry said.
Kids ages 8 and up are welcome to join the weeklong camp, held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. It costs $225 to attend.
Perry says one reason the camp is important is because there is a need for kids to get out and explore, especially in the day and age of constant technology.
“Kids aren’t experimenting as much,” he said. “[Camp Danger] gives them an opportunity to explore, to be creative. Part of it is to get kids doing things they don’t normally do.”
He says a lot of the parents who bring their kids to Camp Danger encourage their kids to be curious and experiment. Some even bring materials, like wood scraps, for campers to tinker with.
“They’re just having fun and being creative,” Perry said.
Nine year-old Charlie McRae took a break from enthusiastically smashing an old printer to explain his week at Camp Danger.
“We got to go swimming every day,” he said excitedly. “We get to tear apart stuff and we get to use dangerous tools.”
McRae grinned and proudly showed off a blister he got from a whittling activity earlier in the week before returning to further dissect the printer.
Another camper approached Perry to show him what she discovered when she took apart a keyboard, revealing a silicone sheet underneath the keys.
“Taking it apart shows you how it’s made,” Perry said.
Danger Camp wasn’t the first camp that 9 year-old Lena Dolmetsch went to, but it was quite a change from her previous ballet camps.
“It’s way more dangerous than dance camp,” she beamed.”I was surprised that [Perry] let us explode things!”
Abeh Woods, 10, has attended Camp Danger for each of the three years of its existence.
“It’s really exciting,” he said. “You get to destroy things.”
In fact, Woods had just been destroying an old flip phone he brought in.
At the beginning of camp, Perry asks the kids what are the most dangerous things they’ve done. He also lets the kids discuss what is dangerous, and not all answers relate to knives or fire. Some kids even said that money and greed are most dangerous.
During these talks, Perry says the kids get to know each other well. Most participants worked together to deconstruct appliances and do other collaborative activities.
Perry says Camp Danger isn’t just about danger, it’s a little bit of “Camp Risk-Taking” too. It’s also about art and community.
“We’re finding that pushing the envelope a little bit is something we want to do more of,” he said.
Christie Wisniewski can be reached at email@example.com and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.