Armani Vigo’s rocket had gotten caught in a thunderstorm.
On the way to the moon, Armani said, the pilot had to fly through thunder and lightning but managed to escape. The only evidence of the storm was the lightning bolts imprinted on the rocket’s tip.
“He was like, ‘Oh well,’” Armani, 11, said. “‘I just gotta put fire and make it go faster.’”
With a wave of his hand, he sent the paper streams of fire fluttering beneath his rocket.
Armani built his rocket during a one-hour art session offered by Pérez Art Museum Miami one morning last week at Robert King High Park Summer Camp. The session was part of PAMM in the Neighborhood, a summer program that offers youth camps and community centers free art-making sessions and museum tours.
“We wanted some major outreach to the community so we could be out there with them, from Homestead to Aventura,” said Kerry Keeler, curator of education for outreach programs, who helped start the program in 2003.
Each art-making session begins with an art discussion led by teaching artists from the museum. They first talk about general contemporary art before showing the piece that will serve as an inspiration for the campers’ art creation — in this case, a space capsule created by Simon Vega out of recycled material.
“Whoa,” said one boy to his table. “That’s cool.”
The artists passed out the materials needed for the rockets — paper cups, paper lanterns, white paper and aluminum foil — before handing out art kits with markers and paper pads, intended for rocket and home use.
“Part of the beauty is in areas with limited resources, we’re able to provide art tools that they can use in the fall,” Keeler said. Money for the kits and the rest of the program is provided by museum donations and ticket sales.
District 6 County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who listened to the beginning of the session, said she considers the program an incredible opportunity for the students.
“I support anything that brings us more knowledge and more experience for a better tomorrow,” she said. “I wish we could expand what they do. It’s never enough.”
Keeler said that she will often get phone calls during the fall, asking that the program visit.
“It came from being a novel thing to something people rely on as a staple of the community,” she said. “It’s been especially appreciated as arts decrease in the school system.”
Jenelly Romero, 8, was impressed with the idea of being able to create her own rocket — something she hadn’t done before with the camp.
“I’ve never seen a round rocket before,” she said as she taped a lantern on top of a cup. “I thought it was really cool, and I like making it with my friends.”
The artists walked around the room as the campers taped lanterns and cups together and colored designs with their new markers. As the rockets grew precariously, the artists often came to the rescue with more tape or scissors.
“Making art is a lot like solving a puzzle,” said Rosa Naday Garmendia, one of the teaching artists. “It helps you think in different ways.”
For her, discussing contemporary art was the best part of the experience with the campers.
“A lot of times, people are intimidated,” she said. “It helps to open people’s minds and see things differently. But the art-making is fun, too.”
For Vigo, his lightning bolt rocket was the best part of the experience with the artists. But, he said he was excited to visit the museum the next day with the camp.
“I’m gonna learn stuff,” he said. “It’ll be fun.”
The museum visit would mark the first time some of the campers had seen art on display, said Maura Montiel, the park manager and camp director.
“It’s a good opportunity for the kids to experience this,” she said. “They love it. Hopefully they’ll grow up to be adults who appreciate art.”
As the scraps of paper and foil were swept away, the campers began to line up for lunch as they did every day. But this time, as they left, there were rockets in their hands, climbing to the stars.