Usdan provides young artists the opportunity to joyfully express themselves through their creativity. Our inclusive community is guided by Jewish values upon which we were founded over half a century ago. Each summer we welcome a diverse group of children and teenagers to our stunning campus in the woods. In partnership with visiting artists and talented educators, students at all levels and from all backgrounds explore paths that lead to individual and artistic growth. Here we emphasize that developing skills and discovering the creative process is as fulfilling as showcasing artistic achievement. Usdan serves the youth of New York City and Long Island, though the impact of our alumni extends far beyond our region. Our goal is to instill in young people a desire and drive to contribute creatively to the world now and for the rest of their lives.
The following principles inspire us and shape our programs.
1. A camp of creators
Campers show up every day excited to create. They’re given true agency to harness their voice and genuine opportunity to develop their own artistic perspective and style. We bring exceptional teachers and visiting artists—actors, directors, playwrights, painters, sculptors, musicians, composers, dancers, poets, and novelists—to teach and collaborate with Usdan campers. Programs allow students to dive deeply into a single discipline while also exploring across multiple disciplines. Campers have the space to feel both safe and independent enough to push existing passions and to delve into new ones. Many of our alumni, like Natalie Portman and Mariah Carey, will go on to become professional actors, singers, dancers, conductors, and producers. Others will become professional arts educators. What nearly all of our 40,000 alumni tell us is that Usdan shaped them no matter what career they ultimately pursue. As we say at Usdan, "Lose yourself for a summer. Find yourself for a lifetime."
Exploration and challenge for young artists at all stages in their creative journeys is a Usdan hallmark. We welcome those who have been developing a focused artistic discipline for years as well as those who are just discovering their creative interests. Diverse from the start, Usdan’s dynamic and eclectic community encourages campers of different ages, abilities, artistic passions and interests, races, gender identities, religions, and economic and geographic backgrounds. We are an accessible and fun environment where any student who wants to attend can thrive.
3. Process and product
We embrace the messiness of the creative process and the effort it takes to produce finished work. We focus on technique and skill on the one hand and final product and performance on the other. Every day, students pursue their own creative expression and also experience the creativity of others. Usdan’s Festival Series showcases the talents of campers in all disciplines as well as distinguished guest performers such as The Knights, Dorrance Dance, Broadway stars, and Lakou Mizik among others. These daily performances set Usdan apart and contribute to our reputation as one of the best summer camps in Long Island and New York City.
4. Sustainable oasis
By design, Usdan combines welcome and wonder — an oasis that parents and campers describe as “magical,” “transforming,” “unforgettable,” and “home.” Situated in the woods, we believe nature opens a door to creativity and expression. We are a safe, secure place within which campers have the freedom to play, explore nature, and develop personal independence. As stewards of 140 acres of natural beauty, we teach campers the values and practices of sustainability as we strive to become a fully sustainable organization by 2030.
5. Joy above all else
We believe young people are happier, healthier humans when they’re creating. Usdan combines the freedom of summer, the beauty of nature, and the exuberance of children and teens exploring and pursuing their creative endeavors without fear of failure. Even as students learn at the highest levels, joy is our mission. We know we are true to this mission when our intentional design feels like play and campers describe their days as “awesome” and “amazing.” For over fifty years, we have been a one-of-a-kind summer camp experience where young artists find each other, sharing their love of creating as they form deep and lasting friendships.