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After two virtual years, Sac State’s Festival of the Arts returns in person

The Koyasan Spirit of Children Taiko Group performs as part of Japan Day at Sunday Funday in 2016. Sunday Funday and other Festival of the Arts events will return in person this year, following two years of virtual programming due to COVID-19 safety precautions. (Sacramento State/Craig Koscho)

Nafi Thompson, like so many Sacramento State student artists and performers, spent nearly two years dancing on Zoom, and “it was tough,” she says.

“I like to interact with the audience and see their first-hand reaction,” she said. “If you’re a true artist at heart, you want people to come and see your work.”

Thompson and other artists once again will share their work with live audiences during the College of Arts and Letters’ annual Festival of the Arts, which returns April 19-24 in person following two years of pandemic-necessitated virtual programming.

The six-day festival, the college’s signature event, is open to the public and features creative performances, exhibits, guest lectures, and master classes from local and national artists, including Sacramento State students and faculty.

A girl shapes pottery while a man looks on
Liana Chin, 7, makes a clay bowl with help from Thomas Lomeli at Sunday Funday in 2016. The event, which features games and activities for all ages, is part of the annual Festival of the Arts, the College of Arts and Letters' showcase event. (Sacramento State/Craig Koscho)

With a nod to the spring season, Arts and Letters Dean Sheree Meyer called the festival an opportunity to “regenerate and rejuvenate.”

“I’ve been walking around campus and everything is in bloom. To me that’s the metaphor,” she said. “It’s not that we didn’t bloom for the last two years, but we weren’t able to share things in the same way.

“The fact that we can bring back people of all ages to our campus and celebrate who we are and what we do, in person, is wonderful.”

The week includes events sponsored by every academic department in the college.

The festival includes two large public showcases aligned with the goal of bringing the arts to the community. The U-Create! event does so literally, taking place in downtown Sacramento from 5-9 p.m. Thursday, April 21. Held at the Verge Center for the Arts and Axis Gallery at 7th and S streets, the event will feature live music, dance performances, student readings, and more, celebrating research and creative activities by Sac State faculty and students.

On Sunday, April 24, the community is invited to Sac State for Sunday Funday, the festival’s traditional culminating event featuring games and activities for all ages. Sunday Funday includes the annual Japan Day celebration of Japanese language and culture, a screening of the documentary film The Candy Store: Adeliza’s House for Odd Birds, performances by Sac State music students, and puppet shows by the Puppet Art Theatre Company.

Other highlights include:

  • An author talk, poetry reading, and book signing with acclaimed Chicana author Ana Castillo.
  • The Sacramento Dance Sampler, which brings together 16 diverse local dance groups as well as Sac State students and faculty for a concert featuring emerging and established artists.
  • A talk with actor Missi Pyle, who has appeared in more than 180 films and TV shows including Galaxy Quest, The Artist, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.
  • A music and lyric storytelling by Jack Gladstone, an enrolled citizen of the Blackfeet Nation who illustrates American Indian culture through music, lyric poetry, and spoken narrative.
  • An art history symposium on “The Transformative Power of Dress,” which will explore how clothing has been used to transform identity.
Ana Castillo portrait
Acclaimed Chicana author Ana Castillo will hold a talk, poetry reading, and book signing as part of the Festival of the Arts. (Photo courtesy College of Arts and Letters)

Theatre and Dance Professor Lorelei Bayne is producing the Dance Sampler (student Nafi Thompson is choreographing and will perform in a two-woman dance piece) and said returning to in-person concerts is both strange and celebratory.

“The visceral exchange of energy between any audience and live performer, there’s no feeling like it,” Bayne said, emphasizing the festival’s importance in bringing people together and showcasing diverse artists.

“As an anchor institution, Sac State has a lot of visibility in the community, and our campus community and surrounding community is so rich,” she said. “Reflecting that back through Festival of the Arts and all the events going on is our responsibility.”

That community includes people of all ages, something Music Education student and pianist Kenna Guy knows well. She teaches piano to children from as young as 4 up to teens, and said live performances can make a lasting impression on them.

“I’m constantly encouraging my younger students to come to campus and experience something they might not have experienced yet,” said Guy, who will perform solo and as part of duet during the festival. “For them, it’s encouraging to hear older students play and say, ‘I can do that someday.’ ”

Meyer said events such as Festival of the Arts contribute to the “creative economy,” bringing people to Sacramento, bringing them together, and fostering a vibrant community.

“I have this strong belief in what arts and culture does in the world locally and globally,” she said. “The evidence has been how important during the worst of COVID it was for people to find ways of still connecting to arts and culture. It helped us get through some of the darkest times, it really did.”

For more information and the full schedule of events, visit the College of Arts and Letters website.

One dancer lifts another as audience members watch, indoors
Dancers perform during U-Create! in 2019, the last year the event and others related to Festival of the Arts were held in person. U-Create!, which returns to the festival lineup live this year, brings Sacramento State faculty and staff into downtown Sacramento to showcase their art for the community. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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