A Guide to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp: What it is and how to apply (2024)

We’re just going to say it… Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp is cool. You get to spend the summer playing music, dancing, performing in theater productions, writing your masterpiece, or creating visual art … and it’s in the woods! In a national forest!

Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp was founded in 1966 and is a summer fine arts camp tucked away in Michigan’s Manistee National Forest. Every year it welcomes upwards of 5,400 elementary, middle school, and high school students to its two-week programs, and its unique location is no accident: The founders of the camp believe being in nature lets students focus intently on their art, and something we really love about this program is that students aren’t expected to come in having already mastered their creative discipline. Blue Lake is interested in progress… it’s all about learning and growing.

There are a lot of options at Blue Lake, so keep reading to learn about their programs!

Summer Camp is for students in grades 5-12 and lets students choose a “major” and a “minor.”

Your Major is where you’ll devote most of your time and energy, and there are majors in Orchestra, Band, Art, Choir, Creative Writing, Dance, Harp, Jazz Ensemble, Piano, and Theater. There are also Advanced Programs in Orchestra, which are for (you guessed it) advanced musicians who want to experience a more rigorous two weeks (Here's some more detailed information about each Summer Camp major).

The Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp believes there is value in students expanding their creative horizons, so they encourage participants to choose a Minor—something that you aren’t already excellent at but that you’re really interested in. Trying something new can help you learn things about yourself as an artist, but also as a person living in a complex world.

And you might find that your minor has a direct impact on how you approach the discipline you’re already committed to! Minors are separated into 5 disciplines (Music, Visual Arts, Theater, Movement, and Exploratory) and offer sessions in things like Campfire Guitar, Ceramics, Stage Combat, Yoga, and Nature Studies (Check this out for a description of each Blue Lake minor!)

Suzuki Family Camp believes that the family that plays together, stays together. If your family has turned into its own little orchestra, this program could be an amazing chance for you all to spend some time in the woods together playing music, relaxing, and bonding over the beautiful notes coming from your Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, or Piano.Here's some more information on Suzuku Family Camp!

Blue Lake’s International Exchange lets you explore the world outside the U.S. by participating and performing in ensembles across Europe (to date, Blue Lake’s students have visited 19 countries). Students travel to European cities for 3-4 weeks (depending on your destination) and get to learn about that community’s music, culture, and language.

There are performance opportunities, amazing venues, and the chance to be independent and adventurous as you travel with other students your age. Oh, and you get to eat new and delicious food, go sight-seeing (while you eat new and delicious food) and explore (for new and delicious food).

And because this is an “exchange,” that means students reading this who don’t live in the U.S. get a chance to visit Michigan and participate in Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp themselves. The European communities that host Blue Lake’s students receive several scholarships that allow them to send their own budding artists to the U.S. to nurture their creativity in the tranquility and beauty of Manistee National Forest.

Camp Bernstein is Blue Lake’s Junior Camp, geared more specifically to students in elementary and middle school. Younger musicians get a little more individualized and personalized instruction, and while their days are still full with rehearsals and lessons, there is also a lot of unscheduled downtime. Plus, there’s typical “camp” fun stuff like campfires, skits, talent shows, and cooking outside. It’s the perfect summer!

In addition to helping students grow by leaps and bounds in their musical abilities, Camp Bernstein also focuses on things like building self-confidence (and let’s face it, we could probably all use a little more of this in our lives) and making friends in positive and healthy ways.

The campers at Camp Bernstein also get to choose a Major and a Minor, and the Minors include Art, Theater, Choir, Intro to Jazz, World Music, or Sasquatch Club (Unfortunately, you don’t get to learn to live like Bigfoot… it’s actually an awesome Nature Studies program).

The answer to this actually depends on the major you choose, but the basic tuition rates run anywhere from just over $1700 to $1875 for each two-week session. This does include all meals, rooming, and instruction from Blue Lake’s master faculty, but it doesn’t include uniforms (yep, there’s a uniform) which run around another $100, nor does it include money for incidentals such as snacks at the camp store. The Minor sessions are an additional cost at $99. All told, you’re looking at around $2,000.

If this amount of money is prohibitive for you and your family, there ARE scholarships students can apply for that help offset the cost of the camp. Depending on the type of scholarship (here's the list of Blue Lake scholarships), you will be required to complete a portfolio or audition, submit teacher recommendations, and complete an application.

While scholarships are limited, there’s no reason not to go for it! You might sacrifice some time in gathering the necessary materials, but the end result could be your chance to attend Blue Lake.

Admission to Blue Lake is on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you think you’re interested in heading to Michigan, we encourage you to submit your application as early as possible. The Blue Lake application is electronic, so make sure you have internet access before you get started.

When you apply, you’ll be asked to list your preferred Major and Minor, in addition to paying a $295 deposit. If there isn’t space in your first-choice program, the admission team will get in touch with you to discuss other options (or offer to put you on a waiting list if you’re really hoping for your first-choice Major). Once they confirm your registration, your $295 deposit will be processed and you’ll be on your way to the next step, which is your placement.

For Music and Theater students, y0u will submit a performance video that will help the faculty find the right ensemble for you. This happens after you’ve already registered for camp, so this isn’t an audition. It’s just to make sure they find the right spot for you.

There is a separate application process for the International Exchange program, so if you’re hoping to head to Europe (you know, for all the new and delicious food), be prepared to submit a completed application AND a video audition if you did not attend Blue Lake the prior summer. There are different audition requirements for different instruments.

What’s a typical camp day at Blue Lake like?

We’re glad you asked! You have to be kind of an early riser while at camp, since you’ll get up around 6:45 each morning to start your day. After breakfast, you’ll head to class and rehearsal until lunch, and then after lunch you get a little down time to rest and relax.

Once you’ve recharged, you’ll head to your minor course and then to more classes and rehearsals, which wrap up at 4:30. You get some more downtime before dinner and then there are evening activities and lights out at 9:30 (which you’ll be ready for after those long days).

What do we do during free time?

You have so many choices! Swimming, basketball, volleyball, ping pong, soccer, and kickball (to name just a few)! You can also chill in your cabin, practice your instrument, go shopping in the Camp Store, or join Run Club (for those of you who are runners and want to keep it up during camp). But wait, there’s more!

You can visit the Musical Instrument Museum or check out live broadcasts at the Blue Lake Public Radio station (if you’re a Radio Broadcast minor, you will even get the chance to help with a broadcast). You can pack your days with activities or enjoy some well-deserved down time.

Do we get to perform?

Why yes, you do! Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp hosts a Summer Festival each year with as many as 175 student performances, some of which are broadcast on the Blue Lake-run radio stations. All students also give a Final Presentation that lets them proudly showcase all they’ve learned while at Blue Lake. And there are opportunities for less formal presentations during Evening Activities.

Is Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp worth it?

Honestly, only you know the answer to this, but we can definitely give you some things to consider as you make the decision to apply or not.

If you are serious about your art, music, dance, or theater studies, Blue Lake is an amazing chance for an intensive and supportive two weeks during which you will learn A LOT. If you are a student considering majoring in one of these disciplines in college or going to a conservatory, Blue Lake is an excellent way to spend some of your summer hours. And if you are someone who just really loves being creative and wants to be around other people who also love being creative, you’ll find your people at Blue Lake.

But there are, of course, other ways to spend your summer (I'm sure you're not surprised we have some advice about this). You might want to get a summer job or complete a summer internship. Maybe you plan to travel, visit family, or volunteer for your favorite cause. Or perhaps you need to just take a break during the summer and do a whole lot of nothing. You know yourself better than anyone!

Blue Lakes Fine Arts Camp offers a great opportunity to nurture your creativity surrounded by the beauty of the natural world. Your days will be packed, you’ll learn from faculty who are masters of their craft, and you will very likely meet your new best friend. But the days are structured and scheduled for you, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, maybe finding another cup somewhere else is the answer!

Special thaks to Jessica B for writing this blog post

Jessica has a Ph.D in English from the University of Southern California and teaches English at a Los Angeles-area independent school, where she has also been English department chair and a class dean. Sandra Cisneros is her hero, and she loves books, her awesomely-sarcastic family, the beach, cozy sweaters, and more books. Oh, and her sweet pitbull/lab mix named Ruby.

Top values: Curiosity, equity, wonder

A Guide to Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp: What it is and how to apply (2024)
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