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Harvard ARTS FIRST Festival Brings Community to Campus

The local community preparing to watch an ARTS FIRST performance in the Plaza Tent in front of the Science Center.
The local community preparing to watch an ARTS FIRST performance in the Plaza Tent in front of the Science Center. By Courtesy of Xander D. Patton
By Xander D. Patton and Taylor S. Johnson, Crimson Staff Writers

All for arts and arts for all. Presented by the Office for the Arts, the Harvard ARTS FIRST Festival is an annual, four day celebration of the visual and performing arts at Harvard College. Every year spawns new acts and representations of art, and this year was no exception. This year’s festival featured an assortment of senior theses, the 28th Harvard First-year Musical “Post Mortem,” a number of public art pieces displayed throughout the Yard, several craft stations in the Science Center Plaza, and so much more. The scale of this event itself represented the time and effort Harvard students, faculty, staff, alumni, and affiliates dedicate to their creative endeavors.

Claudine Gay, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean and Harvard President-elect, attested to the festival’s allure.

“I don’t even know when I started attending ARTS FIRST, it’s been a long time, but every year it’s incredibly inspiring” she said. “It seems to get better every year, if that’s even possible.”

Gay cited the event’s infectious joy as a reason to keep coming back.

“Realizing how much joy the arts bring to not only everyone in the audience but clearly the performers.”

The energy and enjoyment of the arts was impactful and memorable, and something that everyone — not just those affiliated with Harvard College, but the City of Cambridge as a whole — looks forward to each year.

“I just think it’s a great way of bringing our whole community together,” Gay said.

Julia M. Yanez ’24, a Crimson editor, saw this community-building first hand while working on the “Wheel Throwing” exhibit. Here, Yanez and fellow student Maya Peña-Lobel ’24 demonstrated how to create ceramic pieces using a potter’s wheel.

“I wasn’t someone who grew up around having art, so it’s been really nice to be able to pick up ceramics this year, and, now, being able to share that joy with someone else has been really lovely,” Yanez said. “It seems like there’s a lot of really happy faces around here, so it’s nice to be a part of it.”

In addition to her work with ceramics, Peña-Lobel also performed with Harvard Fallen Angels acapella group.

“I do Environmental Engineering, and I feel like I don’t get to express the artistic side of myself, or engage with the arts community here on campus or in the larger Cambridge community, so it's really special to promote that and let arts take the center stage,” she said.

Art offers a unique balance and refuge. Both Yanez and Peña-Lobel agreed that this is an event that they would return to next year.

Alexa Albanese, an Administrative Staff Member of the Office for the Arts, defined the Festival as a space to admire, create, and find joy within each other through art.

“This is the culmination of the artwork at the Office of the Arts that we do every year. It's being able to share creativity and art with the community,” she said.

Young children take the stage during the ARTS FIRST Festival.
Young children take the stage during the ARTS FIRST Festival. By Courtesy of Xander D. Patton

Many members in the crowd attended the festival for the first time this year — many came in support of a friend, or roommate who was performing. Regardless of the purpose for being there, the diversity of the artists alongside the diversity in the types of art was apparent to all.

Experiencing such artistic vision sparked confidence among some members of the crowd — in fact, many audience members could be overheard expressing their excitement to return again next year — even as performers.

Much like the events from the festival ignited curiosity and wonder in viewers, the ARTS FIRST Festival sparked a sense of unity across the Harvard community.

—Staff writer Xander D. Patton can be reached at

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