ARTS FIRST. Here are my 3 picks. That leaves 100s for you.

by Alicia Anstead

ARTS FIRST is my favorite time of year in Harvard Yard and in all the venues around the college and town. Cambridge comes to life with the spirit of student creativity -- and often student arts are charged with an energy rarely captured by professional companies. Students take a different type of risk from professionals. It's a moment in life when the "let-go" factor is very strong, and often it yields art of unparalleled moxie.

"What the students do here is real, gritty, prolific, perfect, imperfect, joyful, determined, brilliant, terrible, and as varied as the cultural heritage and life experience that each brings to Harvard," says Jack Megan, director of the Office for the Arts, which produces ARTS FIRST. "This environment of art-making suggests to every new student that you not only might like being part of a creative process, but that you really should be."

And that's it. You really should be part of the art-making at Harvard -- not just as a student, but as a member of the faculty, staff, community and greater Cambridge and Boston areas.

Here are my TOP THREE picks for this year's 20th anniversary ARTS FIRST FESTIVAL which runs in and around Harvard through Sunday, April 29. It's free and open to the public. Bring the kids. Bring a friend. Bring lunch. Stay for 15 minutes or make a day of it. You can follow my suggestions or curate your own festival experience. Either way, put arts first this weekend. And enjoy the show.

1. SLOW DANCING. David Michalek's video uber-installationon of dancers in slo-mo projected onto the facade of Widener Library is a world-class work of art. What does that have to do with the students? Let's just say: Kids, get out there and see this one. It will rock your world.

2. HAIR. I'm partial. One of my students produced this. But I am eager to see if there's any reverb from American Repertory Theater's Diane Paulus -- whose Broadway production won a Tony and who helped students think about the show. And, I confess, I am eager to see how students in 2012 depict hippies. Peace out, everybody.

BONUS 2. ALL THEATER. I can't wait to see HAIR, but theater students have packed every single stage with their original thespianic pursuits. Here's the full lineup of shows that are original and otherwise. Just go. You'll see what I'm talking about with students taking risks, daring to discover and finding their theatrical mojo.

3. OVER THE CENTURIES: POETRY AT HARVARD (A LOVE STORY). Ever wonder what it would be like if all the famous Harvard poets -- past and present -- got together to read their poetry in one place? Yeah, me, too. Geek out on this event at 3 p.m. Sunday in Agassiz Theatre: Poet Jorie Graham and an ensemble of her students will present a multi-media poetic recitation composed of many of the voices of Harvard poetry.

Of course, don't limit yourself to my picks. Hundreds of other events created by hundreds of student artists and creative teams are at your fingertips this weekend. Here's the online guide, but look for the printed guide around town and campus. It's the best book you'll read this weekend.