The Arts First festival, produced by Harvard’s Office for the Arts, is a weekend dedicated to showcasing a variety of visual art exhibitions, musical and theatrical performances, and opportunities to create art that are free and open to the public. This year is the event’s 27th year running, and it took place from May 2 to 5.
During the weekend, Harvard undergraduates, graduate students, faculty members, and other affiliates exhibited their work throughout the campus inside arts venues, classrooms, and outdoor spaces and stages.
The festival began on May 2 with the presentation of the Harvard Arts Medal, which the Office of the Arts awards each year to a Harvard alum or faculty member to recognize their contribution to the arts world. This year, the recipient was U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith ’94. Other distinguished artists were also in attendance during the weekend, including 2017 Grammy-Award winner Noah Georgeson and world-renowned pianist Angela Hewitt.
Arts First festivities continued throughout the weekend. Friday’s events included Jazz on the Plaza, a performance by the Harvard Jazz Bands, followed by a concert of three choral groups celebrating Walt Whitman.
The Performance Fair, a stream of performances on 11 stages in and around Harvard Yard, ran on Saturday. Students and faculty showcased their talents in the form of original musical compositions, classical and pop arrangements, cultural dances, improvisation comedy, poetry, a capella, among many others. Festival attendees also had the opportunity to view student work created in Harvard classes.
Additionally, “Make Art” stations were set up on campus to provide the public with the chance to make their own creations. Harvard faculty and students offered lessons in a range of visual art forms, from throwing pottery to minting coins.
This year, to conclude the Performance Fair, the Graduate School of Design World Tea Club, together with the Dudley World Music Ensemble, hosted a World Tea Ceremony. Demonstrations of global tea-making traditions provided attendees the opportunity to reflect on the events of the day.
The increasing involvement of other parts of the university, like the Harvard Art Museums and Smith Campus Center, have allowed student art to reach a broader audience through their support of the festival’s initiatives.
Marin J. Orlosky Randow ’07, coordinator of Arts First for the past five years years, has worked to expand the festival throughout Harvard’s campus.
“Every new art space on campus is going to be activated during the festival this year, which is really exciting. We’re going to have a number of outdoor site-specific theater, dance, and music performances. We’ll be able to showcase a wider range of visual art, too” she said before the festival. “I think seeing all the different ways we can use the campus to bring different art forms to life is really exciting.”
Arts First has not only grown physically over the years, but also in its publicity and attendance. Kathy M. King, who has been a part of the festival for 10 years and presented a “Make Art” ceramics station in 2019, said that she is pleased to have seen how the audience has increased over time.
“In the early days, ‘Make Art’ was a lot of families and Harvard-related people, but I’ve seen over the years that more and more people from the surrounding communities coming in,” she said. “Sometimes they identify themselves as living a few towns away, hearing about the festival, and then wanting to bring the whole family.”
She said that the positive response to the festival’s activities and production has been “really rewarding.”
Arts First also provides the student population with opportunities to actively engage with the community in artistic ways. Aviva L. Ramirez ’22 is directing the First-Year musical, ‘Cruising Altitude,’ which ran throughout the weekend of Arts First. Though she’s never directed before, she’s proud of the work that the cast and producers have put into the show and said beforehand that she looked forward to showcasing the musical during the festival.
“We really pushed to be involved in Arts First,” she said. “We wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible.”
— Staff writer Alexis J. Boo can be reached at email@example.com.