DUNEDIN — This week, the fictional nation of Zambwana was born.
Not in Africa, but at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, as students attending a performing arts summer camp created songs, lyrics and dance for a musical production they will present to their parents today.
Half the fun was being the first to use the Premier Studio, a brand-new, state-of-the-art classroom and part of the center's recently completed $1.9 million expansion and renovation project.
"I think this is much prettier than the old studio," said Brooke Ferguson, 8, of Palm Harbor.
"We have more room and a bigger stage," added Briana Sanchez, 12, also of Palm Harbor. "Plus we can move the ceiling lights around to get just the right lighting."
This week, the art center at 1143 Michigan Blvd. opened its new Louis and Valerie Flack East Wing to about 160 summer campers and 30 adult students. It was the couple's donation of $1.2 million that helped spur Vision 2010, a capital campaign to fund the new digs.
A second phase is planned for 2014, and the center's fundraising efforts will continue.
But why wait?
A $250,000 donation will get you naming rights to the Premier Studio, where theatrical camps will take place all summer long.
"The combined two phases will ultimately double the size of the center, bringing it to about 35,000 square feet," said Ken Hannon, the center's associate director. "It gives us some much-needed breathing room."
The new wing totals about 12,000 square feet. Construction began in September and was completed in May. About 7,500 square feet of existing space was refurbished and 4,500 square feet was added.
Besides the Premier Studio, the wing houses new clay labs, a dedicated youth gallery and other multipurpose studios.
The David L. Mason Children's Art Museum has been relocated to a large diamond-shaped room within the wing.
The museum's walls are white for now, but by the time the art center holds its grand opening ceremonies, scheduled for Sept. 9 and 10, the room will be transformed to look like the inside of a circus tent, said Todd Still, director of youth education.
While many of the summer campers created artwork or played on computers, several youngsters were hamming it up in the Green Screen area, which uses technology similar to that of TV weather forecasters, merging backgrounds with the performers' images for a special effect.
On this day, the children appeared to romp with monkeys in a jungle and swim with fish.
"We like to pretend we're on the news," said Lauren Weigle, 7.
In a sense they were. As they jumped around and made monkey faces, their images were rebroadcast on the five new flat screen monitors scattered throughout the room.
In the clay studios, older children worked on wheels while the younger set sculpted by hand.
And in one studio, adults were busy throwing, decorating and glazing.
"It's the first time in about 10 years that adults have been able to work with clay over the summer because now we have the room," said Clara Ann Yarian, the studio management instructor otherwise known as the "clay fairy."
She said the clay classes are very popular with students coming from as far away as Lutz, Land O'Lakes, and north Tampa.
Despite the stalled economy, class registration has grown by 20 percent over the last few years, Hannon said.
"Our students talk about doing more for their inner selves," he said. "The economy tells us people aren't spending as much money on material things, but they are certainly taking advantage of programs like ours."