There are hundreds of faces behind Harvard’s annual ARTS FIRST festival, but one of the most influential, dynamic and caring is that of Jack Megan, director of the Office for the Arts. During a dozen years at the OFA, he has been uniquely situated to see the ARTS FIRST festival grow and develop into what it is today. Last week, I stopped by the OFA to chat with him about his role in the festival, what it means to him and what he’s looking forward to this year. Megan’s passion for student art-making, as well as his excitement for this year’s program, came through clearly during the conversation. As Megan pointed out: ARTS FIRST content changes each year, but its sense of community and joy always remains strong.
I asked Megan, an artist in his own right, to comment on the ARTS FIRST involvement with the opening of the new Plaza near the Science Center.
“The Plaza is a big focus this year,” he said. “The idea of the Plaza is this great communal space — a social space. The Plaza is not a space that you cross through but a place that you arrive at and participate in some kind of activity.” To emphasize this, Megan described some of the events taking place on the plaza this year, including Matt Damon film screenings and a dance/dinner Party on the Plaza, bringing together music, dancing and a BBQ in the outdoor space on Friday night. The Nostalgics, Harvard’s Motown and soul band, is playing that night in one of the group’s final performances.
“We’re thrilled they’re going to play the plaza,” said Megan. “It’s the first big, all-out party on the Plaza.”
The Plaza will also feature the annual DanceFest, to be held outdoors this year. “What excites me is that the dance community at Harvard is so representative of how diverse and interesting this community is,” said Megan. “You see the variety in our community in the Bhangra or the Pan-African Dance and Music Ensemble and many other dance styles. I’m looking forward to that.”
The Plaza will also host the performance fair kick-off event featuring the River Charles Ensemble, conducted by Ec 10 professor Greg Mankiw with special guests John Lithgow ’67 and the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. “Mankiw has been incredibly fun about this and really willing to engage,” said Megan. “The project involves a lot of students and others at and beyond Harvard.”
When it comes down to it, though, what I really wanted to hear from Jack Megan was how he felt about the festival in a holistic way. What does ARTS FIRST mean to him?
“The beginning of spring,” he said. “The whole notion of rebirth and beauty. The arts, to me, are an expression of all that. So the fact that these two things coincide, this art festival and the start of spring, is like rebirth to me. The other piece that excites me is that these are students who will be leaders, public policy makers, business leaders, folks who will influence the cultural policy and arts resources in their communities.” That these students are deeply involved in art-making during college, to Megan, is “incredibly important,” because these students can “shape the world.”
On Saturday, the day of the performance fair, Megan will be dashing from venue to venue so that he can see 16 performances in four hours. This kind of action is entirely representative of Megan’s dedication to Harvard arts, student performers and the arts in general — throughout the year. With his team at OFA, he has been planning the festival for months, but when the weekend begins, he said, “all of that planning stuff goes away and you just remember why you’re doing it. And it’s an enormous pleasure.”