From outdoor dancing to trying new instruments: Arts Merge lets students explore multiple art forms in the same program

Director of Interdisciplinary Arts Clyde Sheets gives an inside look into this innovative three-week session and shares how it prepares students for a life in the arts.

A student reads aloud a new composition in a Creative Writing class.

Each summer, Interlochen hosts a variety of arts programs, ranging in subjects from animation to creative writing. These options are great for students who know they want to focus on a single defined artistic interest. For students who have gifts or inclinations in multiple areas, another strong option is the Arts Merge program. What exactly is Arts Merge, and what does it have to offer? Director of Interdisciplinary Arts Clyde Sheets digs into the opportunities this unique program provides.

A creative whirlwind

Arts Merge, a program for 6th-8th graders, is one of Interlochen Arts Camp’s Interdisciplinary Arts programs. At three weeks in length, Arts Merge allows students just the right amount of time to try out multiple artistic disciplines.

“The goal of this program is to show students everything that Interlochen is,” Sheets explains. “We want to give the Arts Merge students the experience of being Interlochen Arts Academy students in a short window of time, like a whirlwind demo of everything that they can do at Arts Academy.”

Interlochen is unique in offering this opportunity—it’s the only summer camp where you can find a holistic, interdisciplinary program dedicated entirely to the arts, allowing students to enjoy both focus and variety. Arts Merge classes include Creative Writing, Introduction to Acting, Environmental Studies, Visual Arts Survey, Instrument Exploration, Dance, and Interdisciplinary Collaboration Projects. 

Four students in Camp uniforms play saxophones.

Instrument Exploration

In Instrument Exploration, students get the chance to play multiple instruments, listen for understanding, pair movement with music, sing, and study musicianship.  

“Students get introduced to every instrument type in the orchestra,” says Sheets. “It gives them a view of what they might want to do in the future, in a fun, low-stakes way. If you've never played a trombone before, you're going to get an opportunity to play a trombone. You'll be handed a violin, a cello, or a saxophone. You’ll learn from professionals what each of these instruments does, plus then spend some time on piano so you can learn chords and chord structure.”

It’s the perfect opportunity for students who are interested in music, but haven’t decided yet which direction they want to pursue.

Creative Writing

In Creative Writing, students participate in imaginative writing exercises, short reading activities, informal discussion, and free writing time. Students in the program can also learn directly from a writer with real-world publishing experience. This year’s guest author is Marya Hornbacher, a New York Times bestselling writer whose first book, Wasted, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Sheets says that students have considerable freedom in exploring genres.

“This class allows students to explore both poetry and open-form written expression, but they can also write scenes or monologues for their acting class,” he says. “We want to make sure that we're tying as much together as we can, making the entire experience as interdisciplinary as possible.”


In the Arts Merge Dance program, students explore a wide variety of dance forms in an environment where they feel safe to challenge themselves and try new things. The class also offers students a unique twist, thanks to Interlochen’s beautiful natural environment.

“We want students to react to the world with every art form that they practice. In the dance class, they do an outdoor dance and react to the environment of the woods around them,” Sheets says. “It's really fun, and you don't have to have any experience or formal training to do it. You're just asked to be creative and have fun.” 

Students and an instructor study a leafy tree branch in front of the lake.

Environmental Studies

The Environmental Studies classes are another Interlochen signature. As an organization, Interlochen frequently invests in sustainability, and Interlochen Arts Academy students can enjoy classes in agriculture and all the benefits of Interlochen’s on-campus R. B. Annis Botanical Lab and Community Garden. Arts Merge allows Camp students to dive into a subject that Interlochen values highly. Students explore the natural world with hands-on activities, short research projects, and even games.

“We have such a beautiful canvas with all this nature around us,” says Sheets. “In this class, we get to know the area, while we’re getting to know ourselves and where we are.”

A dark-haired Intermediate student works on a painting.

Visual Arts Survey

Once again, students can take advantage of Interlochen’s beautiful setting when they take their art skills outside for an en plein air experience. Visual Arts Exploration classes allow students to try their hands at drawing, painting, and more—with access to a variety of supplies for experimentation.

“When students come here, they have access to a rich variety of resources for any of these art forms that they might want to explore,” says Sheets. “There are plenty of supplies for anything they can dream up.”

Introduction to Acting

In this class, students practice voice and movement exercises and enjoy the fun of on-the-spot improvisation. They play theatre games and work with scripted material, all with the purpose of developing a strong base of foundational skills.

“Our teachers are working together just as much as the students are, so we collaborate as we make discoveries during each class session,” says Sheets. 

The professional art world is interdisciplinary. It’s not about working all by yourself in a room. It’s about working with like-minded people, pulling all of your skills together, and collaborating to make something larger than yourself.

Clyde Sheets

Who’s the program for?

While any student can benefit from the variety of classes in Arts Merge, it’s ideal for students who already have artistic interests in several directions.

“This program is best for students who are excited about learning the many ways they can express themselves,” says Sheets. “Many of the students in this program have done music, and they also practice art. They paint or draw—and maybe they also like to write. It's for those students who want to learn from professionals how to keep building those skills, and have fun while they’re doing it.”

Perhaps most importantly, the program's unique approach prepares students for a wide range of future artistic paths—be it college, career, or lifelong personal enrichment. In every class in the program, students work on Interdisciplinary Collaboration Projects, combining art forms and exploring the relationships among different arts disciplines.

“The professional art world is interdisciplinary,” says Sheets. “It’s not about working all by yourself in a room. It’s about working with like-minded people, pulling all of your skills together, and collaborating to make something larger than yourself.”

The session culminates in a final open mic performance, which all of the students’ families are welcome to attend. By allowing low-stakes exploration across disciplines, Arts Merge nurtures diverse creative impulses and empowers students to deepen existing passions while they uncover new ones. Students emerge with new skills, new inspirations, and an understanding of how thrilling it can be when multiple artistic fields merge.

Learn more about Arts Merge at Interlochen Arts Camp or apply today