Arts, Arts Features

Annual Arts Fest Embraces A New Form

A series of spring traditions have been entirely canceled or undergone extreme reinvention since the COVID-19 pandemic. Marathon Monday and Spring Break were erased from calendars. The ALC Showdown has transformed into a showcase event and shifted from the bustling stands of Conte Forum to an outdoor viewing event, with screens scattered throughout campus for students to socially distance themselves on the grassy quads. 

But, the annual Boston College Arts Festival—an event open to all BC students, alumni, and neighboring Boston communities—is returning to BC’s campus as a hybrid of in-person, virtual, and pre-recorded events after converting to an entirely digital format in the wake of the pandemic last year.   

“We made it happen even in a really weird form in late April last year when literally everything was insane,” Arts Fest production manager Allison Lardner, Lynch ’21, said about pulling together the entirely virtual Arts Fest last year. “Why can’t we make it happen again a year from then?”

Lardner, who is responsible for organizing the event and ensuring COVID-19 protocols are followed when the festival begins, said the Arts Fest team, comprised of 12 full-time Boston College Arts Council student members and Arts Fest director Tatiana Flis, has been making preparations for the event since August. This year, the Arts Council had to start entirely from scratch when converting the festival to its hybrid format.

From Thursday, April 29 to Saturday, May 1, a slew of events featuring 28 arts groups will occur on BC’s campus, and videos will be uploaded on the Arts Council’s newly designed Arts Fest website and promoted on its social media pages. Adapted to abide by social distancing requirements, the in-person portion of the festival will partly take place under a tent on Stokes Lawn and on a large performance stage on the O’Neill Plaza. A new Arts Walk, spanning across locations on campus from Robsham Theater, Maloney Hall, Devlin Hall, and Carney Hall, will also showcase artwork. 

For performances that take place in person, unique virtual content will be made available online at the time the performances are being performed live. A livestreamed poetry performance of the Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters, will also be accessible from the Arts Fest website.Videos, live-streams, will also be made available on the Arts Fest website as arts groups perform in-person.

The festival’s theme, “A New Wave of Creativity,” is reflected in the range of art pieces and performances as well as the hybrid formats Arts Fest is utilizing in order to pull off the three-day event. Although Arts Fest is packed with group singing, dancing, and theatre performances, the Arts Fest team has also focused on highlighting individual student, alumni, staff, and faculty artists on campus through Instagram story takeovers and a podcast series that features student artists on BC’s campus.

“We definitely need this community-building, bonding activity,” Yifan Wang, the visual arts director for Arts Fest and MCAS ’22, said. “And I really see Arts Fest as this bonding event that will bring everyone together across campus, across departments, and from different cultural backgrounds.” 

This year, Wang had the idea to start a podcast series featuring interviews with the artists whose work will be featured along the Arts Walk. Alongside the artwork displays, festivalgoers will be able to scan QR codes to listen to the artists speak about the inspiration behind their work and how they created their art pieces. 

Although Wang said the pandemic isn’t an overt theme students’ submissions have focused on, during the interviews she’s conducted with student artists, she discovered that many of them turned to art during the pandemic as a form of self-expression and introspection.

“[Art] is probably a way for them to escape or to just cope with the tough situation that everyone was experiencing last year and this year too,” Wang said.

Wang has also been in charge of accruing artwork submissions for the Arts Walk and its larger virtual gallery available on the Arts Fest website, which will be curated by studio art assistant professor Hartmut Austen along with volunteer student ambassadors. The walk will also feature an interactive scavenger hunt component. 

In addition to paintings, drawings, photography, pottery, and sculptures, Wang said the Arts Walk is also planning to incorporate literary works from students and the magazine groups on campus, including Kaleidoscope, Stylus, and The Laughing Medusa. Students’ work will be displayed on poster boards, and magazines will be set out along the walk for students to grab them. 

Although the event is usually known for its spontaneity—students freely milling in and out of looming white tents that dot the lawns outside of Stokes Hall and O’Neill Library—festival goers will have to register for free tickets to attend in-person events for the sake of contact tracing and limiting the number of people inside the tents. For those who can’t attend in person, there will be videos and a virtual gallery on the Arts Fest website. 

Inside the Stokes tent, Full Swing, Boston College Dance Ensemble, Synergy, and the Golden Eagles Dance Team will perform live in-person choreographed dances. While the number of performers on stage will be limited, video backdrops of pre-recorded dance routines will be displayed behind the dancers. 

BC Underground, previously discontinued at the 2018 Arts Fest, will return this year on May 1 as an open-mic showcase that will give any student an opportunity to perform at Arts Fest.

Battle of the Bands and the Singer Songwriter competition—two precursor events for students to earn a spot competing at the BC’s Best competition—will also take place over the span of the three-day festival. Nine BC students will compete on the O’Neill Plaza outdoor stage in the Singer Songwriter competition, where they will perform their original songs and showcase their vocal talents. For Battle of the Bands, six BC student bands will perform in three acts. Winners of both competitions will move on to perform at BC’s Best. In the past, these three events have been hosted several weeks before Arts Fest, but now they will occur back to back. 

Annabel Hodson-Walker, CSOM ’21, undertook transferring Arts Fest to its virtual format last year within the span of a month—when it typically takes nearly the whole school year to plan for the in-person event. Since Hodson-Walker was the only person responsible for the Arts Council’s social media pages last year, she took it upon herself to shift the in-person event to an online format by contacting the arts groups who were originally planning on participating in Arts Fest for digital content. The Arts Fest team then conducted a virtual Arts Fest by promoting the content it acquired on the Arts Council’s Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube pages as well as on a landing page for the Arts Festival that was created on the BC website.

“Especially at a time that was so low for many people, I thought it was really important to still have arts be a part of everyone’s lives,” Hodson-Walker said about organizing the virtual festival last year. 

This year, Hodson-Walker, who’s the current Arts Fest marketing coordinator, said the Arts Council has invited students to take over its Instagram stories for a day throughout the school year. These daily Instagram stories show viewers a behind-the-scenes look at how Arts Fest is made and bring attention to artistic processes, ranging from learning choreography at dance practices to glimpses of how artwork is created by students in BC’s art studios. 

During the three-day festival, Arts Fest organizers will take over Arts Council’s Instagram stories for the day, giving students who are attending virtually a chance to see what the event is like in person.

“People, especially first years and even sophomores who still don’t quite know what BC is, will be just excited, I think, to have that kind of spirit of togetherness and creativity,” Lardner said.

Usually, members outside of BC’s student community also participate in Arts Fest, as faculty and staff often bring their kids to campus during the festival. But this year, they’ll have to participate virtually. Arts Fest’s hybrid format will enable all attendees, on and off campus, to participate in the festival. 

Arts Fest marketing coordinator and website designer Eleni Krupinski, MCAS ’21, said in the past Arts Fest has never needed its own website platform. But in order to make the festival easily accessible to all audiences and to showcase BC arts groups that can’t feasibly perform due to social distancing and space restrictions, the website will serve as a hub for the festival and, once the event closes, as an archive that will be accessible beyond the three-day event.

“Everyone who is involved in the arts, they really love what they do,” Krupinski said. “And we want to continue to give people the space to do the things that make them happy. … We don’t want to have an environment where it’s just school. We want to keep creating the spaces where people can pursue their passions.”

While members of the BC BIGS program usually take a field trip to BC’s campus to see live events, Wang said the littles will get to participate in arts and crafts from home with an Arts Fest toolkit, which contains coloring activities.

Arts Fest has undergone a major transformation this year. After over a year of the COVID-19 pandemic in which a festival seems far from feasible, Arts Fest demonstrates artists’ abilities to reinvent how people engage with art. 

“It felt important to me [for Arts Fest] to really embody that belief that … art is a living thing,” Lardner said. “It is a thing that can transform with the times and can be a tool for transformation itself.”

Graphics by Caroline Denning and Meegan Minahan / Heights Editor

April 19, 2021