RVA East End Festival raises funds for arts in schools

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James “Saxsmo” Gates performs for East End Festival guests. Photo by Mohamad Baltaji

Emily Richardson, Contributing author

The RVA East End Festival has returned to celebrate music and the arts in support of East End Richmond Public Schools after a two-year hiatus. Since its debut in 2016, the festival has raised more than $400,000, according to festival co-chair Marilyn Heckstall.

The fifth RVA East End Festival was held on Saturday, September 24 at Henry L. Marsh Elementary School, III. Festival attendees were able to shop with local vendors, local organizations offering hands-on activities, such as crafts for children, and dance performances throughout the day.

All proceeds from the event will go towards music, performing arts and visual arts programs in East End schools, according to a press release from the festival.

Past proceeds were used to provide and repair musical instruments for students, build a dance studio at Armstrong High School, and purchase visual art supplies and choir lifts, according to the festival’s press release. .

The financial goal for this year was $100,000, as stated in the press release. The organization has not calculated donations for this year’s festival, according to Rep. Sara Hunt.

The festival came about when various East End community leaders came together to discuss how they could help meet the needs of the community, according to the co-chair. Heckstall, the former pastor of Asbury Church Hill United Methodist Church, said there was consensus that music and the arts play an important role in children’s brain development.

“We want to inspire our students to prioritize excellence in education, music and the arts as the foundation of their future,” Heckstall said.

According to Heckstall, hosting this year’s festival at Marsh Elementary is meaningful to the values ​​of the festival.

“Henry Marsh is a beautiful new school with innovative technology,” Heckstall said. “It provides the necessary environment for creative, stimulating and productive learning.”

The festival wants to honor the benefits of having a technologically advanced school because it’s an investment in students’ futures, Heckstall said.

Festival co-chair James “Saxsmo” Gates grew up in Richmond Public Schools in the East End and started playing saxophone in sixth grade.

“Music and the arts have been essential in my life,” Gates said. “I want our students to have the same opportunities as me to unleash their creative potential and even discover career paths. »

The festival is an important opportunity for children to see music and art in action, Gates said.

“If the art is there in front of them, they can get excited,” Gates said. “They can see it. They can feel it. We raise funds to enable them to do so.

Festival sponsors include Bon Secours Richmond Health System and United Health Care, according to a press release from the festival.

Becky Clay Christensen, executive director of community health for Bon Secours Richmond Health System, said the festival provides a foundation for leadership in Richmond.

“Investing in this rewarding event is part of our mission to impact the health and well-being of young people and families in our communities,” said Christensen.

Musical performances included the Richmond Public Schools Marching Band, the Capital Horn Quartet of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, James “Saxsmo” Gates and Tre. Charles. Dancers from Richmond Urban Dance and the Artistry in Motion Performing Arts Center also performed at the festival.

Singer-songwriter Tre. Charles said he was delighted to perform at a festival to benefit the arts in public schools.

“I come from public schools,” Charles said. “I was in the choir. I continued to do this over the years and it became a natural part of me and helped me express myself creatively.

Charles said he hopes festival attendees can see the positive impact music can have.

“I hope they can see how much artists really care about this cause,” he said. “There are a lot of artists on the lineup from a lot of different backgrounds. Everyone is mobilizing to promote this cause.

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