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Our Story

In an effort to acknowledge the people who originally lived on the lands that the Caldera Arts Center, Camp Caldera, and our Portland office now occupy, Caldera is installing signage to permanently recognize the tribes. Find out more.

Caldera launched in 1996 as an arts camp in the mountains. The idea was to bring together youth with limited opportunities, from both the city and from the country, to make art. Turns out it was a pretty good idea. Youth who said they couldn’t draw or write or keep a rhythm found out they were artists. Youth who had never been that far from a town or a city found that hiking was fun and, even more, that they could use their creativity to solve life problems or care for the forest and rivers. They envisioned lives they thought were out of their reach. Students who were at risk of dropping out of school kept with it, graduated from high school, won college scholarships, and came back to work at Caldera.

Over the years, we watched as Caldera students became creative change agents, not only in the Caldera community, but also in the schools and communities where they live. They influenced their siblings, friends, teachers, parents, and us—in other words, pretty much everyone around them. Nowadays, Caldera youth exemplify the phrase “pay it forward” and inspire all of us, including new generations of Caldera youth; many Caldera alumni come back as staff at our summer camp to mentor the students currently in the program.

We’re proud to say that Caldera’s Youth Program has been named one of the top 50 youth development organizations in the country—four times—by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Caldera has also repeatedly been voted one of the 100 Best Nonprofits to Work For in Oregon by Oregon Business.

Caldera now nurtures artists too, through our Artists in Residence Program that helps artists create their work, as well as support our youth. We have learned that artists who get time to focus on their own work become better teachers. Likewise, artists who mentor youth become better artists.

And because art isn’t just for summertime, since 2002 we’ve worked with students every week of the year, not just at summer camp. We begin working with them in sixth grade and stick with them for seven years throughout the end of high school, then we offer scholarships to help with the transition to further education.

Many friends and funding partners have built Caldera; it has been a profound community effort. We are deeply grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts, which has awarded our Youth Program with major annual grants a total of nine times—most recently, to our Geography of We youth programming. The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Cultural Trust, and The Ford Family Foundation, among many other thought-leading foundations, have helped build our programs. We’re profoundly thankful for the many individuals, creative businesses, artists, environmentalists, and community activists who have given money, time, and talent to make a difference in the lives of our youth. 

Group photo of Caldera

Now we’re almost at our 20th anniversary. This milestone comes with some new experiments and expansions, including classes at Peninsula School K-8, that begin as early as third grade rather than our usual sixth grade; a new partnership with Warm Springs K-8 Academy; new arts integration training for teachers at our partner schools; and a new community partnership with an innovative artist group, Fallen Fruit. Additionally, with support from the Meyer Memorial Trust, we’re launching a variety of visioning activities to plan for our next 20 years, grow our ability to advance equity in all we do, and significantly strengthen our programs and infrastructure.

Over the past 20+ years, the power of creativity has transformed Caldera from a small arts camp in the mountains to a thriving, year-round community enriching thousands every year.