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Musings | Feb 5, 2021

The Importance of Usdan

A young dancer in an orange dress running onto the Amphitheater stage.

“Caring for children is an absolutely fundamental, profoundly valuable part of the human project...being a parent is like making a garden. It’s about providing a rich, stable, safe environment that allows many different kinds of flowers to bloom. It’s about producing a robust and flexible ecosystem that lets children themselves create many varied, unpredictable kinds of adult futures.”
—Alison Gopnik, The Gardener and the Carpenter

This year, my family decided to start a book club. As a family of artists who care deeply about children, our first pick was one we were all excited to read: Alison Gopnik’s The Gardener and the Carpenter.

In the book, Gopnik shows that caring for children is not about shaping them to turn out in a particular way. Children are messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and designed to be very different from each other. As adults who care about children, we need to acknowledge this so that we can create an environment in which our children can grow and thrive as their unique selves.

When I read the above quote from the final chapter of the book, I was immediately transported to summertime at Usdan. Camp is a meaningful place for our children any summer, but especially this summer. Here are the core reasons why I believe opening in-person camp this summer is so important for our children:


This past year, many of our children have been separated from their friends and communities. At camp, students feel meaningfully connected to a community of children who share their passion for the arts. Camp offers children a sense of physical and emotional wellbeing, a strong sense of belonging, and a safe space to develop empathy, resilience, independence, and collaboration alongside their artistry.


Finding U

Many of our children have lost their footing — experiencing more loss, worry, and change this past year than perhaps ever before. With the closing or virtualization of their creative outlets, many of them have also lost a year of experiencing the arts the way they normally do. Usdan offers children a supportive environment where they can let go of these pressures and reconnect to themselves. On a journey of self-directed achievement, students have the opportunity to develop, explore, and challenge their individual creative voice — they get to rediscover who they truly are.



Students have spent many months isolated indoors and on their screens. What could be better than reconnecting with your true self in the comfort of the outdoors? Usdan offers children 4 to 8 weeks of screen-free time in a beautiful natural environment. At camp, students spend all of their time outdoors or in open air studios exposed to the natural world, experiencing and drawing inspiration from nature. With all that has changed this past year, the Usdan landscape has not. It is a sign of resilience and a comfort — one that our children will be enveloped in this summer.


A Better Future

The world is a messy place right now. It can be scary to think about how the next generation will be impacted by this pandemic, by racial injustice, by our growing divisions, and by our inaction to address climate change. At Usdan, we empower students to make Usdan the place they wish the whole world to be.


I can't wait for a summer of connection, rediscovery, experiencing nature, and building a better future.


Olivia Wise, Manager of Marketing & Communications

Olivia Wise has worked for arts and culture organizations in and around New York City for 9 years. Formerly Usdan's Admissions Counselor and then Enrollment Coordinator, she brings her knowledge of Usdan's program and enrollment process to her role of Manager of Marketing & Communications. She revels in being surrounded by young people experiencing the creative process in nature all summer.