It is a tradition of the St. Charles Parish Public Schools System to annually host ArtsFest – a weekend set aside to showcase talent from the district’s theatre, band and choir groups, as well as visual art presentations and dance performances from the district’s schools and learning centers.
An in-person ArtsFest was not possible this year because of COVID restrictions, but that didn’t stop some of the district’s brightest minds from creating a stunning alternative.
The 14th annual ArtsFest launched virtually this month and features representative performances and presentations of 67 programs from 16 schools and learning centers. In collaboration with the Satellite Center’s interactive media program, the event is being celebrated virtually through a custom-built platform which showcases the many talents of local students through performance recordings and digitized artwork.
Brian Gough, the interactive media facilitator at the Satellite Center, said his class of interactive media students from Destrehan High School and Hahnville High School were instrumental in the idea to have the event virtually, as well as the creation of the ArtsFest website. Gough said he and the students talked in great length this school year about how frustrating it was when the 2020 ArtsFest was cancelled and how disappointed many students were when the art they had worked on so hard suddenly couldn’t be showcased.
After Gough had a conversation with Joshua Martin – who is the coordinator of the school district’s gifted, talented and the arts program – about ArtsFest alternatives, he said he approached his class about what they thought could be done in the festival’s place.
“They were given a task … they were given a problem and they came in and their job was to find out what the problem is and find the best solution,” Gough said. “These kids have never built a website, but they learned by doing. I didn’t touch the website – the kids created it from beginning to end … they did all the work.”
Gough said his class – which includes students A’Zealya White, Colin Plaisance, Donovan Ellis, Jaselyn Guidry, Lainey Castiglione, Tabatha Toney and Trevor Pierce – thought of and then completed the entire project in less than a month.
“It makes me feel very grateful for the kids that I have in my class,” Gough said. “They’re hard workers. They’re very service-learning driven and they want to help their community … this is just another way bringing arts to the community.”
Gough said the classes’ reflection period at the end of the project revealed to him how important the undertaking was to the students.
“What I heard from them is that they feel very proud that they were able to provide this service to the community,” he said. “Knowing that they made that impact is just everything.”
Martin said the task of having to reimagine what ArtsFest would look like not being in-person, after having it in person for 13 years, wasn’t easy.
“ArtsFest is the largest community outreach the arts in the school system has,” Martin said. “We had to think how we could engage the audience in a meaningful way. We had to say, ‘How do we get all of these performances in one place with the mitigations and limitations on audience engagement?’”
Martin said he was initially surprised when Gough said his class could tackle the project, but that the result is better than he could have ever imagined.
“It was hours and hours of work,” Martin said. “I’m just so impressed. I’m aghast at what they were able to do in a short amount of time.”
Plaisance, a HHS senior who was a part of the project, worked on the details of the galleries for the numerous visual arts’ boards.
“It feels really good now that it’s done,” he said.
Guidry, a HHS senior who also was part of the project, said she was thrilled when the project all came together and on time.
“I missed having ArtsFest last year,” she said. “The feeling of having one this year makes me very happy.”
The virtual ArtsFest launched on April 21 and is available at www.scppsartsfest.com.