Source: WBUR By: Peter Balonon-Rosen

Boston is no stranger to outdoor festivals. This week, the city welcomes another festival made up of completely local talent.

It’s the Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) Citywide Arts Festival, which returns for its third year on Wednesday, as the three-day showcase of student performing arts kicks off.

“This is our opportunity to showcase the wonderful work that our BPS arts teachers have been doing all year,” says Myran Parker-Brass, Boston Public Schools’ executive director for the arts. “It’s their time to bring their students out, show the amazing talent and work that is in their building. It’s also an opportunity for us to give the greater Boston community an opportunity to see and hear our students.”

Hundreds of student performers in 35 choral groups, bands, orchestras, dance ensembles and theater troupes will perform for fellow students, parents and community members on the Boston Common. The festival is free and runs 10 a.m.-2 p.m. this Wednesday through Friday.

This year sees an expansion of the festival.

It will now take place over three days, instead of the two it has in the past. Over the three days, attendees will have the opportunity to see performances at a mobile stage and at the Parkman Bandstand, which will serve as a stage this year.

Last year about 25 groups performed at the festival, which was moved inside due to rain one day.

This year Parker-Brass expects the greater number of participants will entice more of the Boston community to attend the festival. She hopes it will expose student artistic achievement to a wider audience.

“There’s still this underlying thinking that there aren’t a lot of arts going on in the Boston Public Schools, but we have wonderful programs in pretty much all of our schools at this point,” Parker-Brass says. “So this is a way for the broader community to see what we’re doing.”

Students perform in a mariachi band at the 2014 Boston Public Schools’ Citywide Arts Festival. The festival returns for its third year on Wednesday. (Courtesy of Boston Public Schools)

The festival comes in the midst of a larger push for more arts opportunities in Boston schools.

Launched in 2009, the BPS Arts Expansion Initiative has awarded grants to outside private organizations who partner with BPS and provide instruction in areas including visual arts, theater, poetry, dance, instrumental, choral and media arts disciplines.

Groups including The Barr Foundation, The Boston Foundation, The Klarman Family Foundation and the Linde Family Foundation donate money to the initiative. The funds, managed and distributed by Boston-based nonprofit Edvestors, go to support arts programming and events in Boston schools.

“Art contributes to the school climate, art is one of the reasons that some children come to school,” says Laura Perille, president and CEO of Edvestors. “Art is one of the contributing factors to a healthy, engaging urban school environment.”

Since 2009, the BPS Arts Expansion has raised and invested $10 million in private dollars for arts instruction and professional development in Boston Public Schools. This school year, Edvestors directedover $700,000 to groups to provide arts programming in Boston schools.

While private money has certainly augmented arts programming in Boston, increased public investment in the arts has played a large role in the BPS Arts Expansion Initiative. Current annual funding for arts in the district is about $5 million more now compared with 2009.

Since then, the district has added nearly 120 additional full-time arts specialist positions.

“In a time when other urban districts and sometimes suburban districts are reducing their arts in the school, Boston has been kind of bucking that trend and every year continuing to add arts teachers to their buildings,” says BPS’s Parker-Brass.

Members of the Ohrenberger Band on the Boston Common during the 2014 BPS Citywide Arts Festival (Courtesy of Boston Public Schools)

According to the district, since the BPS Arts Expansion Initiative began, the number of Boston students in preschool through eighth grade that receive weekly, yearlong arts education increased from 63 to 93 percent.

The expansion of any arts programming — not necessarily weekly — for high school students lags behind. While there have been increases, about 37 percent of Boston high school students still have no access to arts education in school.

School officials plan to use a recent $100,000 grant to focus on expanding high school arts programs next year.

For now, they’re focused on preparing for Wednesday’s festival. But there’s one factor which they have no control over: the weather.

The festival will continue rain or shine. If a day proves stormy, as it has in the past, organizers have a backup plan — the festival will be relocated to the Wang YMCA of Chinatown.

In the meantime Parker-Brass has one more activity on her to-do list.

“Pray for no rain!” she says.

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