Moving an event that draws in thousands and spurs on hundreds of artistic collaborations to an online format is no easy task.
Yet, it came with its advantages.
The Festival of Young Artists, which is organized and hosted by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center each spring, has had to go virtual this year, with a website called spacfoya.org. The event usually combines poetry, visual art and performance art from students around the Capital Region. During the festival, they’ll collaborate to create new works.
With COVID-19, in-person collaboration and performances were off the table, however, virtual ones were not.
“It’s such a huge event that we produce every year and we wanted to find a way to showcase the student’s work because they’d already done so much work to prepare for the festival,” said Dennis Moench, SPAC’s education director.
Moench worked with organizations like the Empire State Youth Orchestra, Northeast Ballet Company, Capital District Youth Chorale, Capital District Youth Pipe Band, Schenectady High School Dance Department, Shenendehowa High School Jazz Ensemble and others to get digital recordings of the works they’d planned to present, all around the theme of “Self-Portrait.”
“A number of them were able to do virtual performances where they had each of their students submit video and audio clip of them performing a piece and then a video editor combines all of those pieces together to create a virtual orchestra or a virtual choir performance,” Moench said.
Some students were inspired by the works of others and created entirely new pieces.
“That was really beautiful to see for students to take this opportunity and run with it and create these beautiful pieces on their own,” Moench said.
In one performance piece, called “The Song of the Summer Storm,” poetry from Kaylee Bagdan is read while dancer Eiley Thompson performs a modern-style dance.
In “When I Grow Up,” artwork from Davinara Marcario is featured alongside a ballet performance by Leven McGovern and a musical performance by cellist Avery Roach.
“The whole reason we created this event was to bring students together to establish a community between them, have all the artists [brought] together one afternoon on one stage. We kind of are creating that now, sort of an online community where students all get to go onto this website, see not only their work up there but the work of other students,” Moench said.
It’s also helped the student work gain a bit more exposure. Typically, 3,000-4,000 people attend the Festival of Young Artists, but since the website launched last week, more than 4,000 have visited it, and the number continues to grow.
“It’s very difficult for them to be able to show their work right now. As an artist, to not have your work seen or heard by others, you start to lose that sense of purpose. Art is supposed to be seen and heard so we wanted to let them continue to be that voice in the community,” Moench said.
While Moench hopes to hold the regular Festival next year, he plans to continue to host the website and to update it with new works later this year.
“We have no idea when we’re going to be able to gather again and have concerts again and really see student work in person. We decided we would keep this website as an ongoing platform. So twice a year we’re going to rotate the exhibit,” Moench said.
They will start accepting submissions in September and will announce the theme of the exhibit then as well.
“We’re hoping that it grows and becomes very popular. We’d love to see as many submissions as we can,” Moench said.
To view the “Self-Portrait” exhibition, visit spacfoya.org.