Celebrating the Arts at Harvard

Arts First Festival
April 28-May 1

The annual arts extravaganza sponsored by Harvard offers more than 100 events, from live performances of dance, music, and theater to public-art installations; most are free and open to the public. Festivities begin on Thursday, April 28, at 4 p.m. with the Harvard Arts Medal ceremony; President Drew Faust and festival founder, actor, and author John Lithgow ’67, Ar.D. ’05, will honor the 2016 medalist, architect Frank Gehry, Ds ’57, Ar.D. ’00.

Most of the 2,000 art-makers are undergraduates, says Jack Megan, director of the Office for the Arts at Harvard (OFA), which organizes the festival: “The great joy is getting to work with very creative, very diverse, and very inspiring young people.” The weekend lineup includes Hasty Pudding Theatricals, the Harvard Pan-African Dance and Music Ensemble, Mariachi Véritas de Harvard, and the Brattle Street Chamber Players, as well as hands-on “Make Art” stations; concerts by the Silk Road Ensemble and rock and pop groups that bang it out in a “Battle of the Bands”; and an international-dance showcase that opens with a tango contest featuring the Harvard Ballroom Dance Team. Despite “the terrible things happening around the world,” Megan notes, “we can still hope to have moments of beauty, creativity, and collaboration. Artists have a contribution to make in creating space for reflection and, ultimately, change.”

In addition, OFA has made a point of sponsoring art that explores social and political issues—like minority inclusion and gender identification—that have arisen at Harvard and other universities, especially within the last year. “Where Do We Go From Here?” is an interactive art installation of 13 individual, human-sized, Plexiglas boxes that were placed in the Harvard Houses in response to the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct. Students were invited to write and draw on the boxes, or express private reflections on notes placed inside them. “By focusing on community—a key theme underlying the survey results—the installation invites the Harvard community to engage with this issue,” says Thomas Lee, the Office for the Arts’ director of Learning from Performers and communications. [Updated 4/27/16 to reflect changes made in the art installation.] 

Read more articles by Nell Porter Brown

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