School Beat: The SFUSD Arts Festival–A Celebration of Student Creativity

by Lisa Schiff on February 28, 2013

In this prolonged era of standardized testing and relentless budget cuts, it can be hard to remember that many things are going right in our public schools. One of those bright spots–support for arts education–is, at least relatively speaking, particularly gleaming in San Francisco. Through a combination of our district’s path breaking Arts Education Master Plan, partnerships with local cultural institutions, and tremendous financial support from San Francisco voters for the Public Education and Enrichment Fund, which (among other things) supplements funding for sports, libraries, art and music, children in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) have had access to credentialed art teachers, schools have had arts coordinators, and teachers and principals have had professional development devoted to arts education.

The SFUSD Arts Festival is an annual celebration of the combination of these efforts. Running this year from March 2 through the 10th, it is being hosted for the first time at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum (coinciding with the Terracotta Warriors exhibit) and is co-presented by the SFUSD Visual and Performing Arts Office, the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco Arts Commission. According to event organizers, “this year’s event will include a visual art exhibition featuring artwork by 2,000 students; live musical and dance performances by over 65 student and community groups; screenings of student films and videos; poetry readings; and hands-on art activities.” All events are free and open to the public, making the Arts Festival extremely accessible to San Francisco families and other residents.

According to Susan Stauter and Antigone Trimis de Cartagena, who are respectively SFUSD’s Artistic Director of Visual and Performing Arts and its Arts Education Master Plan Manager, seeing childrens’ art on the walls of widely known public museums is a profound experience for parents, students and teachers, heightening our appreciation of our children’s creativity by seeing it revealed in this new context. And, not only will students’ art be seen in a fresh light, but this type of festival is a way of making our cultural institutions more welcoming and helping us feel more connected to them. Again, according to Stauter and Trimis de Cartagena, many people will visit this museum for the very first time because their children’s pieces will be there.

The SFUSD Arts Festival is primarily a recognition of our children’s creative expression, but it is also an opportunity to acknowledge and give continued support to the individuals who work hard every day to ensure that all students throughout San Francisco have access to the arts. One of the events during the festival is especially designed to give a public nod to such folks. On March 7, from 5-8pm there will be a Community Celebration to announce this year’s winners of the Dreamcatcher Awards, “which honor educators and community partners who have contributed significantly to arts education in San Francisco.”

All people are creative. People understand the world and learn in a myriad of ways. These are two fundamental truths that motivate so many to keep arts alive in our schools. The SFUSD Arts Master Plan provides both a vehicle and a vision for an arts infused education and events like the SFUSD Arts Festival are signs that we are heading in the right direction. No one would argue that we have arrived at the end point—there is still quite a long ways to travel before we can comfortably say that all children have opportunities to experience a variety of creative forms. Nor can we confidently assert that the multiple viewpoints that the expansive realm of the arts embraces is equally embraced throughout the school day. But, we are on our way. The Festival is a reminder of just that fact and hopefully it will inspire us to return to our schools, track down our arts coordinators and principals, or come to a School Site Council meeting and work together to provide our children more.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco.

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