Think of it as a district-wide fridge to hang up kids' art. The Eastside Arts Festival, now in its fourth year, celebrates the artistic achievements of East L.A.'s elementary school children.
The program is the brainchild of Maureen Longaker, a 10-year classroom veteran who taught theater arts in elementary schools for four years prior to launching the Eastside Arts Festival in 2011.
Today, she is among 42 theater teachers, 38 visual arts instructors and 38 dance mentors who participate in a much-lauded elementary school program in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
"I saw all kinds of wonderful things my peers were doing and classroom teachers were doing," said Longaker. "It made sense to bring all of us together as an impetus to start conversations among students and teachers as they expanded their horizons by meeting and viewing the work of their peers."
Unlike traditional art shows, the Eastside Arts Festival is not a contest or a "best-of" event, said Russell Copley, festival administrator. Instead, it functions as a celebration of the arts for students, parents and teachers.
"There are no prizes and there is no competition," he explained. "The reward is treasured within the experience of sharing and reflecting." The program accepts every application.
"Inclusion is our motto," said Copley, a former theater teacher at Eagle Rock High School who is now the K-12 Arts Integration Specialist for the LAUSD's Educational Service Center East.
For the past two years, the event has been hosted by Eagle Rock High School. The most recent event took place in March and featured original student-created art in many forms.
In its first year, the festival showcased 16 schools and was attended by about 1,500 students and community members. In 2015, there were 40 schools, more than 1,000 performers and artists, and about 2,500 attendees.
"It was amazing," Longaker said.
This year's festival also featured 14 workshops by groups including the Armory Center for the Arts, which presented nature and watercolor activities.
The idea for the Eastside Arts Festival came in 2011 from one of Longaker's colleagues, teacher Jonathan Weisbart, who encouraged Longaker to bring students and teachers together to show off what the kids could do, regardless of background or academic performance.
"Some of our kids may not be the best reader or the best mathematician in their class or know very little English," said Paty Garcia, a teacher at Anton Elementary School. "But with the arts, they have found an area in which they excel. Their self-esteem and confidence grows, they start to believe in themselves and then go on to be better readers, better mathematicians, better students and much happier people."
Roberto Antonio Martinez, instructional superintendent of LAUSD Educational Service Center East, said arts education is a critical component of students' mental, social and emotional growth.
"To see this celebrated with such passion and dedication is a testament of how the arts underpin our cultural identity," Martinez said. "I encourage our schools to sign up and engage in this memorable event."
The festival builds awareness in the Los Angeles Unified School District about the value of arts education, personal expression and the democratic values of social justice that includes freedom of thought, Copley said. "We expressly believe that every child has a right to receive arts instruction."
The ultimate goal of the Eastside Arts Festival is to prove that art is necessary to education, Longaker said.
"It is the thing that the children do that gives them passion, drive, commitment, collaboration, creativity, flexibility, skills and long term outcomes," she said. "The impact is palpable."
For more information, visit www.eastsideartsfestival.org or the festival's Facebook page.
-Alicia Doyle, Tribune Content Solutions