The guitars are propped fretboard down, resting on the lap of each student. In a Lilly Hall classroom, about 20 kids ages 7–11 sit in chairs arranged in a circle, their feet barely touching the ground. One boy swings his legs to keep time as students around him slap the wooden backs of their guitars, the resulting sound imitating the drum beat in Wipeout.
It’s one of their favorite songs—an upbeat, rolling, can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head, surftown anthem from the ’60s. It’s also one of the songs the Butler Community Arts School (BCAS) summer guitar camp will play in a mini recital. At the beginning of the week, many of them had little to no experience playing guitar.
“Remember concert etiquette,” says Brett Terrell, a Butler adjunct who serves as the guitar camp’s artistic director. Along with Terrell, four Butler students provide instruction.
“Take a bow,” Terrell says. He holds his guitar in an outstretched arm and the room follows his lead, folding at the waist. “One… two… three… and we’re up.”
An initiative of the Jordan College of the Arts, BCAS was founded to provide accessible arts instruction in the form of private lessons, group classes, and summer camps. Many are taught by Butler students serving as teaching fellows. Offered throughout the year, programs range from Intro to Stage Makeup to an adult Big-Band workshop.
“A community school by definition is to serve the general community population and to provide offerings that are accessible to everybody,” says Karen Thickstun, MM ’91, Director of BCAS. “That fits with Butler’s mission, too—to make the arts accessible and to provide community experience for students so they gain a more diverse teaching perspective.”
BCAS partners with about a dozen community sites that include Indianapolis Public Schools, charter schools, and United Way agencies like the Martin Luther King Center to provide classes off-campus. Altogether, programs reach as many as 2,000 participants yearly. More than half of the participants pay a reduced scholarship rate. Beyond the financial aspect, the school’s mission to make the arts accessible extends to providing piano lessons for children with autism.
Inside Lilly Hall, guitar camp has been dismissed and the room is nearly empty. Near the front, teaching fellow Austin Sandoval ’19 pulls up a chair to face 9-year-old Alyssa Weems.
It was Sandoval who first approached Thickstun two years ago and asked why BCAS didn’t offer summer guitar camp for beginners. Her response: “Well, why don’t we create one?” After graduating this past May, Sandoval stayed at Butler and is pursuing a master’s degree in guitar.
“Being able to teach as an undergraduate student has prepared me so well for what the real world is going to be,” Sandoval says.
Sandoval gestures at one of Weems’s wayward fingers.
“Take this one off,” Sandoval says, and Weems adjusts accordingly. “Now, press down a little harder.”
He plays the first line of Wipeout and Weems mirrors the movements of his fingers on her own guitar. Her mom, Alicia, watches nearby. Alyssa and her brother have taken piano lessons through BCAS at the International School of Indiana for the past two years, and when Alyssa’s older brother started to learn guitar, she wanted to play too.
“I was amazed,” Alicia says. “After the first day she came home and played Jingle Bells.”
Sandoval and Weems play through the melody of Wipeout once more. By the second time around, Weems hardly needs to look at Sandoval for cues. She finishes the rest of the song on her own.