Art Start

Young Musicians Pearl

Each summer, YMA helps kids explore their creative sides and experience a taste of college life.

Neal Spinler beams while talking about one of the longest-running youth nonprofits on the West Coast. Founded in 1965 and based in the Pearl District, Young Musicians and Artists (YMA, 220 NW Eighth Ave, 503-946-1056, has helped three generations of aspiring young artists tap into their love of the performing arts by offering residential arts camps each summer at Willamette University in Salem. As executive director, Spinler has a passion for YMA’s mission that is palpable—although he’s not an alumnus.

“I’m the oddball that didn’t go to this camp as a kid,” he says.

Indeed, many of his colleagues did attend YMA camps in their youth, including Camp Director Galen Cohen, who was a student and then a camp counselor before moving into his current position. Alumni also include members of internationally acclaimed music groups, including Portland Cello Project, Pink Martini, and the Decemberists.

YMA Portland

For most who attend, the YMA experience continues well beyond each summer. The camps are divided into concurrent sets of two-week-long sessions. The first (June 23–July 5 in 2019) introduces students to an array of music programs—such as piano, choir, and orchestra. The second session (July 7–19) features a broad menu of creative disciplines, from musical theater and dance to creative writing and photography. The camp is open to kids in grades 4 to 12, but certain classes require participants to be in at least grade 6 or 7.

Each day while residing in college dorms, camp-goers receive six hours of professional instruction and can then participate in a number of classic camp activities, from bonfires and games to different counselor-led electives.

“They get this great mix of an intensive arts camp and summer camp,” says Spinler. “For a lot of kids it’s their first introduction to what college is like, and for some it’s their first time being away from home for that long.”

Willamette University’s campus abounds with resources. “We have access to performance halls, rehearsal rooms, and technology,” he says. “It’s great to go sit in the woods and play cello, but YMA has that extra piece that gives kids the quality space they need to work in.”

Online registration starts each fall and fills up by late May. The all-inclusive $1,800 tuition covers both weeks, and financial aid is available.

–Lauren Kershner | Photos by Kinderpics