For Public, Festival to Open a Front Door to GMU

By C. Woodrow Irvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 12, 2008

For three weeks beginning today, George Mason's University's Fairfax campus will become "the center of the artistic universe," as school officials have described the inaugural Mason Festival of the Arts.

They have scheduled a wide selection of theater, music, opera and visual arts, along with educational and community engagement programs.

The arts festival is the latest offering from the university aimed at uniting the school and the greater Fairfax community, GMU President Alan G. Merten said.

"The arts are one of the front doors at George Mason. I was struck from my first days at George Mason at the quality of our arts programs," Merten said.

The event will allow the best of what GMU and the community can offer to come together in one place at one time, he said.

The festival will include music and drama performances on 14 evenings and all-day programming for three weekends, concluding June 29. A Community Arts Weekend on Saturday and Sunday will feature free performances and booths for local artists and vendors, including 27 arts groups and 16 individual artists.

Organizers said the mission of the festival includes promoting arts education, using art to explore the region's cultural diversity, encouraging intergenerational interaction through the arts, bringing together artists from different disciplines and circles, and showing that the arts are important to the community's economic and spiritual well-being.

Rick Davis, the artistic director of GMU's Center for the Arts, said the festival will bring a critical mass of professional, community and university artists and arts groups.

"We will send a message to our community that we have a lot going on and it's at a high level," Davis said.

One of the major components of the festival will be the reemergence of Fairfax County's own professional theater company, Theater of the First Amendment. The troupe has been in residence at GMU but has not staged a full production in more than two years because of budget and space constraints.

The company, which will provide the primary sponsorship for the festival, will present "Mariela in the Desert," by Karen Zacarias, and the world premiere of "Two-Bit Taj Mahal," by Paul D'Andrea.

Davis said he found the idea of an artistic celebration outside the regular academic year particularly enlivening.

"One of the things about a summer festival is that the atmosphere is just different," he said. "You give yourself permission to do things that you might otherwise not."

As an example Davis cited "Ellis Island: The Dream of America," a collaboration between Theater of the First Amendment and the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra. He said the joint effort was "a really exciting thing that might not have happened" outside a summer festival.

Other organizations whose works will be part of the festival include A Class Act -- Acting for Young People and Adults, Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, Fairfax Choral Society, Fairfax Art League, Gray Ghost Theatre Project, Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Potomac Academy and World Children's Choir.

Significant artistic contributions will also come from faculty members and students with GMU's College of Visual and Performing Arts.

"I think it's hugely positive. What seems to be appealing is that there is something for everyone," Mary Lechter, the founder of A Class Act, said of the festival.

Lechter said her students will benefit from the experience, the exposure and the chance to interact with other artists.

The festival will include weekend performing arts workshops for children during which parents are encouraged to catch a performance while their kids learn about music, dance, theater and visual arts. In cooperation with the City of Fairfax, in the evenings and on weekends free public performances by students and community groups will be presented in the Center for the Arts concert hall lobby.

A new series of one-act plays written and performed collaboratively by children and seniors will be staged. In addition, the Mason Film Festival will present local independent and student productions at GMU's Johnson Center Cinema during weekends.

"This festival promises to be an extraordinary array of arts for everyone," said Ann Rodriguez, president and chief executive of the Arts Council of Fairfax County, another festival partner. "Whatever your passion, you'll find it at this festival. We hope in the years to come it will be a destination for the region and more. GMU is an extraordinary arts resource in our community."

George Mason University is at 4400 University Dr. in Fairfax. The festival will be at locations in and around the Center for the Arts, with most major events scheduled for indoors. Free parking is available on weekends in Lot K near the center; weeknight parking is $2 an hour, up to $8, in the parking garage adjacent to the center. A complete listing of times, locations and costs for the Mason Festival of the Arts is at

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