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‘Art finds a way:’ Festival of the Arts returns with hybrid programming

After a year mastering the art of hybrid events, the Office of the Arts is bringing the annual Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts back with both virtual and in-person programming. The Festival is making the most of the creative options available and will feature work from all members of the community. The Festival will take place between April 25 and May 1, 2021.

As one might expect, the hybrid format of the Festival comes with its own advantages and challenges. In an email to The Brandeis Hoot, Director of Arts Engagement Ingrid Schorr shared that “The most significant challenge is that we can’t have any vocal, wind or brass performances in public spaces. That’s huge.” Many studio artists are also working from home. The Dreitzer Gallery is now being used as a studio space, so a gallery exhibition by Fine Arts students isn’t possible. And although the Festival usually draws alumni and friends from all over New England, they can’t breach the campus bubble this year, so the organizers are not able to plan any family or community events. Still, this year’s setup is a marked improvement from last year’s Living Room Fest, which pivoted from an in-person to an exclusively online event just at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There are hidden advantages to the hybrid setup of the festival, though. “It’s strange and counterintuitive to not try and get a big audience, but some of the best events in festivals past have been small and intimate,” Schorr explained. This year, the Festival has also been easier to plan in many ways. “We could at least plan for some on-campus collaborations, and a lot more stability in general,” Schorr told The Hoot. “Not to mention we are much better at using Zoom!”

All aspects of the festival, in-person and online, have been considered in thoughtful collaboration with members of the community. For instance, the Festival will be hosting a Create@Brandeis Craft Market, an in-person event in which “Brandeis students, faculty, staff and alumni are invited to sell their original crafts,” according to their website. The Market will take place at the Brandeis Booths, a decision which was inspired by a poll on the @createatbrandeis Instagram account.

In years past, the Festival has given grants to support artists’ work. This year, however, the Festival is starting a “Gifted Givers” program in which artists create works of art to give away to other members of the community. The Office of Arts Engagement is coordinating these meet-ups, and on its website it emphasizes that this act of giving “can support community care. Because at this moment in time, we need and want connection, comfort and hope.” According to an email from Schorr, the Gifted Giver program was inspired by recent student mutual aid efforts as well as by the words of Leonard Bernstein, the festival’s founder, who “wrote that among the components of happiness are ‘the joy of gratitude’ and ‘the enjoyment of gifts.’”

As we’ve seen throughout the past year, hybrid events can provide a creative way to bring people together while respecting social distancing. The most important part of this hybrid setup, Schorr explained, is getting a sense of knowing the artists. “When you choose a gift from the Gifted Giver online catalog,” Schorr wrote, “you’ll get to know more than 50 individual artists. You’ll see their thinking made visible.”

The full Festival schedule will be made available online in late March, and there will be previews on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. There will be many exciting events to look forward to, including the Senior Thesis productions from the Department of Theater Arts, an online concert co-sponsored by WBRS and a virtual Scram Jam on April 25, where students can perform poetry, comedy and other spoken-word acts. The event will also be livestreamed.

Ingrid Schorr is the producer of the Festival, but she wrote to The Hoot that it has “really [been] a campus wide effort.” In addition to faculty and student advisors, Sam Forman ’21 is the Arts Engagement program assistant and Quinn Corte has just joined the office as a project coordinator. Campus staff from Student Activities, the Creative Arts departments, the Kniznick Gallery, Conference and Events and Digital Media and Conference Services are also helping with the Festival’s production.

Even as the pandemic continues, the continuation of the Festival of the Arts is a beacon of inspiration for the creativity and resilience of the Brandeis community. After a year of pandemic restrictions and a year of learning to adapt to them, the Festival is getting ever closer to “normal.” As the promotional materials for the event state, “art finds a way.”

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