MILLVILLE - Seven-year-old Bruce Horner repeatedly dipped his hands and some materials into a small bucket of wet, slippery plaster Monday.

Horner was at the Riverfront Renaissance Center for the Arts making organic sculptures, a somewhat messy job that he said was fun, except for one thing.

"That's the feeling," said Horner, a local youth. "Kind of slimy."

Horner is one of about 20 students attending the 14th annual summer Art Creates Excellence program. The event is for children and teens 7 through 18 and runs for five weeks. Participants can opt for the entire program, or pick just a week or two.

Center Executive Director Rebekah Lyons said the program does more than provide a chance for youths to develop their artistic skills. The program also takes youths whose families cannot afford expensive summer camps, she said.

While the program costs $75 a week for youths ages 7 through 12, and $150 per week for teenagers, parents can apply for full or partial scholarships.

"Over the past 13 summers, young people from Millville and Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties have participated in multiple weeks of programs," said Marianne Lods, executive director of the Millville Development Corporation, which helps sponsor the program. "We happily welcome back several students who participate for a few years."

Those youths who attend get the chance to have some summer fun they might not have expected, Lyons said.

"We keep them happy," she said. "They're safe. They have fun."

This year's curriculum includes drawing, painting, ceramics, found-object art, mosaics, mixed media and digital photography.

Kathy Gross is an art teacher at the Myron L. Powell School in Cedarville, Lawrence Township. She is in her seventh year of working with youths at the summer program.

Unlike a school setting, Gross said the youngsters can be a little more relaxed because they are not working toward a grade.

"I just like the fact that they don't all have to have the same answer," she said. "They really can't mess up."

Unless the youths are working with plaster.

Another city youth, 8-year-old Amaree Jones, was making part of what will be a wall sculpture. She was eagerly dipping her hands and materials into her bucket of plaster.

For Jones, messy is key.

"I like it because you get messy," she said. "I like to get messy all the time. Some time. Not all the time."

Lyons said the artwork produced during this summer's program will be on display at the center for the monthly Third Friday event.

City officials will also come to the center, which is in the heart of the downtown arts district, next month to give awards and certificates to the participating youths, Lyons said.

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