For Art’s Sake

Interlochen Arts Camp
Lake Wahbekaness (aka Duck Lake) on the boys’ side of the camp. Swimming lessons are also offered on the lake. Photo by Matthew Moore

In the early 1960s, Barbara Heller was among the fresh-faced summer campers at Interlochen, a teenage girl wearing the camp’s regulation blue corduroy knickers as she played piano and tried ceramics.

“It was the most amazing place,” says Heller, who is now chief conservator at the Detroit Institute of Arts. “We heard concerts and watched ballets. I saw Van Cliburn before he ever went on concert tour.”

Heller and her three sisters all attended Interlochen. Today, one is concertmaster for the Long Island Sound Symphony, another writes children’s books, and another received a degree in fine arts at the University of Michigan before becoming a Harvard-educated doctor (who still makes ceramics part time).

“I think visual arts help people in all matters of life,” Heller says. “There’s a high affinity between math and science and the arts.”

Heller says Interlochen’s effect on her was profound and lasting. I’ll always remember my whole life PMA — positive mental attitude — that Dr. [Joe] Maddy taught us.” Maddy, who originally organized the music camp, told his young charges that, no matter what happens in life, if you think in a positive way, you can work it out.

That early cultural camp has emerged today as an internationally acclaimed powerhouse with a roster of illustrious alumni. The nonprofit, founded in 1928, annually welcomes 2,000 campers from 50 states and 41 countries, 500 academy students, and hundreds of lifelong learners. Interlochen alumni account for about 10 percent of the personnel of major U.S. orchestras.

As the following photographs of the Interlochen experience illustrate, summer days spent at special-interest camps can instill a lifetime of inspiration.