ARTS FIRST for Newbies

by Sarah Burack

Whether you’re a freshman about to experience ARTS FIRST for the first time, or a senior who has managed to avoid the artistic revelry for the past three years, we’ve compiled a few tips for getting the most out of your inaugural ARTS FIRST.

But first, a bit of the lay of the land:

ARTS FIRST is a four-day festival (running from Thursday April 29 to Sunday May 2) featuring hundreds of student performances, gallery installations, and film screenings. Saturday May 1st is the annual Performance Fair, where student groups sing, rock out, and more in convenient 20-minute sets across campus. The Dance Festival is also on Saturday, and features similar short performances all afternoon in Lowell Lecture Hall. Sunday afternoon there’s Band Fest outside of the Holyoke Center, smack in the middle of Harvard Square’s May Fair celebrations.

What follows, then, are some tips for making the most of your 4 days.

1. Plan ahead. Maybe this goes without saying, but taking a glance through the pages of the Guide is a great way to get an idea of what’s going to be happening over the course of the festival. Selecting one or two key events will anchor your schedule and help you plan the rest of your day. Planning ahead also means using your nights—there are plenty of theater performances to catch on Thursday and Friday evening, and I find it’s best to see the shows then, before you’re tired out by the day’s activities on Saturday and Sunday.

2. Allow yourself to be surprised. Somewhat contradictory to #1, but allowing yourself to be flexible and open to surprises is a great way to see things you might not have selected based on their guide description. Particularly for the Performance Fair and the Dance Festival, performances are usually short enough to encourage audience experimentation. Wander in and out of the different venues, and stay for an extra ten minutes to see Irish step dancing or pop a cappella.

3. Eat. My favorite way to start off Saturday is by stopping by the ARTS FIRST Tent outside the Science Center for the kick-off lunch. Food is usually barbeque style, of better than average HUDS quality, and free for students with their Harvard ID. Plus, you get to eat to the swinging sounds of the Sunday Jazz Band. It’s a perfect way to launch into the Performance Fair.

4. Be outside. On a nice day, the Harvard Yard Stage really functions as the heart of the Performance Fair. I love being able to see all members of the Harvard and Cambridge communities—from families with kids to college students—enjoying the sun and listening to the outdoor performers. On Sunday, the same rule applies to the Band Fest. Wandering around outdoors is also the best way to take in the public art pieces scattered throughout the Yard. And who knows, you may bump into an improvising dancer or two.