National Art Experience

National Art Experience 2023-24

An Exploration of


All living beings need water. As humans, we cannot thrive when water is contaminated or is in hazardously low supply. Access to clean and healthy water is currently at the forefront of national and international conversations on health, equity, and environmental conservation.

For many people, water is recreational. People enjoy swimming, boating, fishing, paddling, or simply relaxing by the water’s edge. Environments that feature clean water, often known as “blue” spaces, have been shown to promote physical, emotional and mental well-being.

For some, water is sacred. Water is included in many religious and cultural ceremonies across the world. Water Protectors working to protect waterways often draw connections between the necessity of water for health and survival, the emotional and mental health benefits of water, and the sacredness of water among different cultures.

Water is also home to many living creatures, meaning it is not just humans who depend on clean and healthy water. Migrating birds, fish, turtles, insects, mammals and micro aquatic organisms all depend on fresh water sources such as ponds, lakes, rivers, and creeks, while the oceans are home to upwards of 228,000 known animal species. Water is the reason Earth has been nicknamed the Blue Planet.

This Year’s

art experience

Camp Fire is challenging young people to think about the role that water plays in their own lives by encouraging them to go outside and experience water: jumping in puddles, sitting by streams, or getting soaked in the rain. Perhaps they live in an area where water is limited. In that case, their connection to water may feel different than it does for someone who lives in a coastal or rainy area. Part of the purpose of this year’s National Art Experience is for young people to think about the significance of water in their own lives and communities, and to translate these ideas into art.

For Facilitators

For Participants

Several of the activities listed here can be offered in a group setting. Young people are also welcome to modify the art projects to suit their goals. We encourage youth to complete 4 out of the 10 projects over several months as part of the Art Experience.

Download the “Facilitator Guide” to see instructions for different activities and learn more about the National Art Experience.

You are invited to create art that uses water, make art that features water, or you can make art that explores the significance of water, such as an illustration of an ecosystem or a water protector’s sign. There are so many ways to create are with and about water.

Download the “Choose Your Art Experience” guide to choose your activities and learn more about the National Art Experience.

How to Conduct the National Art Experience

Each affiliate may determine how to conduct its own National Art Experience. However, it will work best if at least some of the art projects are offered on site, and if leaders work to promote the experience among youth and families. We offer the following suggestions to help guide you:

  • Hold an end-of-year art competition. Invite participants to enter one piece of art per category (such as Photography) into an art show. This can be further divided by age or grade level.
  • Invite audience members to vote on their favorite art per category as well as Best in Show.
  • Or remove the competitive aspect and showcase all of the art during an event that includes an art gallery exhibition and live performances. You can include music and food and invite families.
  • Club leaders can provide beads, program leaders can create certificates, or you can contact Camp Fire National Headquarters for National Art Experience Emblems for youth participants.
  • All Camp Fire programs are encouraged to use “#CampFireNAE” on their social media platforms to share the entries. This will ensure the artwork has greater exposure across the network.
  • Camp Fire NHQ will host a virtual art show in the spring of 2024. Visit the website for details!

Image of the National Art Experience emblem and then 2023/2024 specific emblem


There are two emblems you can earn by completing the National Art Experience!

Visit the Learning Lab to get more information about the emblems and how to order them.

About the

national art experience

Camp Fire’s National Art Experience was developed to encourage creativity and self-expression, inviting young people to use the arts to explore their own skills, strengths, and identities. Camp Fire hopes that by participating in the National Art Experience, young people will connect more deeply to themselves, their communities, and to the natural world. 

Participants are welcome to visit art museums, public art events, and to make use of craft stores for inspiration. They also are encouraged to spend time outside as part of this experience. 

Young people in any Camp Fire program—including out-of-school-time, in-school, environmental programs, summer camps, or teen service and leadership programs—may participate in the National Art Experience. Participants can choose from several activities, which may be completed individually or as a group. 

The National Art Experience is conducted through local Camp Fire affiliates. Each affiliate may determine specific deadlines and local resources, but all entries must be submitted during the program year (September 2023-August 2024). 

Camp Fire National Headquarters is also offering a digital experience by creating an online exhibition using #CampFireNAE. Participants can post on social media and tag #CampFireNAE. We also encourage participants to submit entries for a virtual showroom by emailing submissions to 

National Art Experience Background

Camp Fire has been conducting the National Art Experience (formerly National Art Competition) since 1973. This experience recognizes and encourages creativity, excellence, and innovation in the arts. It is conducted locally by Camp Fire affiliates using national guidelines. 

In the early years, the experience was based entirely on creativity; there were no age- or program-level divisions. In 1994, age- or grade-level categories were put into place.  

The Camp Fire National Art Experience provides encouragement for individuals to pursue art as a career as well as an avenue for youth to explore new interests, ideas, self-expression, and sparks. 

The Importance of Art for Youth

Art education teaches youth many of the 21st century skills that will allow them to thrive as adults, among them flexibility, problem-solving, creativity, innovation, and striving for excellence. 

A 2019 survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that employers are looking for professionals with skills that are specifically strengthened and encouraged by the arts, including written communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and initiative. 

That same year, findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed disparities in art programs across the country tied to race, ethnicity, family income, and whether a school is in a city, suburb, town, or rural area. Part of the purpose of the National Art Experience is to help close the gap when it comes to art programming. Through the Camp Fire National Art Competition, caring and engaged adult role models can help youth foster a love of the arts, teach youth practical artistic techniques, help youth develop and nurture their artistic expressions, and strive to provide equitable access to art experiences. 

The arts are not a frill. The arts are a response to our individuality and our nature and help to shape our identity. What is there that can transcend deep difference and stubborn divisions? The arts. They have a wonderful universality. Art has the potential to unify. It can speak in many languages without a translator. The arts do not discriminate. The arts lift us up.  

—Barbara Jordan, lawyer, scholar, civil rights activist. In 1972, Jordan became the first Black woman elected to Congress from the South since 1898.