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Posted February 14, 2017

Students Perform at Annual Festival de Bellas Artes

The four-day festival celebrates and honors culture along with musical performance.

It all began out of frustration.

Anne Marie Strangio, who was a choir teacher at Washington Middle School, started up the Festival de Bellas Artes in 2010 after not being able to find an appropriate venue for her large Spanish choirs made up of more than 150 students. 

"At one choir festival, the adjudicators said that we sang 'too much Spanish,' and my kids' shoes were 'too ratty' to look like a choir," Strangio recalled. "At another choir festival, judges criticized the stylistic components of their singing, suggesting they tone it down." 

In reponse, Strangio decided to start a new and very different musical festival, one that celebrates and honors culture along with musical performance. The National Hispanic Cultural Center agreed to a partnership, and the Festival de Bellas Artes was launched. Two years later, the Festival merged with a multicultural dance festival sponsored by APS Fine Arts.

This year, nearly 1,200 students from 38 performing groups from elementary, middle and high schools participated in the festival over four days Feb. 7-10. The festival included workshops and performances, including two public performances on Thursday and Friday night.

"Both evening concerts were full houses and full of ridiculously wonderful applause," Strangio said. "Each evening concert ended with a mass number featuring more than 400 students onstage performing together. They brought the house down!"

Elementary students sang and danced together to Bidi Bidi Bom Bom, and middle and high school students ended with El Relámpago, played by the AHS Mariachi while everyone else danced and bowed. 

"It was a whole week of magic," said Strangio, who is now the principal at Lew Wallace Elementary School. "Karen Price (of APS Fine Arts) organized amazing workshops, arranged buses for all of the APS schools, did lots of troubleshooting, and made sure we had plenty of pizza. 

"Elsa Menéndez, the Director of Education at the NHCC made sure we had every space ready-to-go in the center, made sure all three theaters were open and ready and had a full staff to work with us for 12-hours a day. After day 4, we were all completely exhausted and punchy, but it was sooooo so so so so worth it."

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