Arts and Culture Education

Nine year-old Bradley Sica (pictured above) wants to be an artist when he grows up and paint portraits of Derby horses to sell at the race track. Both his parents work on the backside at Churchill Downs, so you could say it’s been an inspiration.

“I like art so much, I couldn’t get bored of it,” Bradley said.

Bradley is spending his spring break at a new art camp the Kentucky Derby Museum is hosting this year especially for the children of backside workers, free of charge. Bradley says he had to convince his mom that the program was free:

“I said, ‘Mom, I’d like to be drawing, can you take me?’ and she said, ‘But it costs money,’ and I said, ‘No it don’t.”

Liz Schlemmer | wfpl.org

Mayrin Vergara and Yisel Tapia team up to finish a canvas at the Kentucky Derby Museum’s art camp.

The program was designed by Ronnie Dreistadt and Heather Hill, who work in education services at the Kentucky Derby Museum, in conjunction with the Backside Learning Center, which provides educational programs and social services for equine workers and their families. The Center’s director Sherry Stanley said the camp is meant to give workers’ families a vacation during Jefferson County Public Schools’ spring break.

“Now that all the horses are coming back to the track, everyone is going back to work, so it’s a very busy time for parents,” Stanley said. “It was going to be difficult for them to be with their kids and take care of them over spring break, so we thought this was a great opportunity.”

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A typical day at the “Art-questrian Camp” includes four hours of art instruction and time to explore the museum and learn about Derby history. The camp’s coordinators say they hope it will give students a deeper appreciation for the Kentucky Derby and their families’ role in it. Backside employees typically work seven days a week tending horses and preparing for races.

“They have parents and aunts and uncles and family that work with these thoroughbreds, and you know, they’re really the backbone of the whole thing,” Dreistadt said. “So this hopefully gives an opportunity to see the other side of the track.”

The camp-goers went to the VIP clubhouse to sketch the twin spires. They’ve sculpted horses, painted Derby-inspired pop art, practiced printmaking and learned about historic photography of Derby races at the “art-questrian camp.”

“Their families are so connected to the horseracing industry to begin with, and to incorporate that artistic element with the camp has just been phenomenal,” said Hill.

Lucky for Bradley, equine art is a real industry, thanks in part to the Kentucky Derby.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.