Emily Richardson, Contributing Writer
The RVA East End Festival returned to celebrate music and arts in support of East End Richmond Public Schools after a two-year hiatus. Since its beginning in 2016, the festival has raised over $400,000, according to festival co-chair Marilyn Heckstall.
The fifth RVA East End Festival occurred on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Henry L. Marsh, III Elementary School. Festival attendees could enjoy shopping with local vendors, local organizations offering hands-on activities, like crafts for children, and dance performances throughout the day.
All proceeds from the event will be put toward music, performing arts and visual art programs in East End schools, according to a press release from the festival.
Past proceeds have been used to provide and repair musical instruments for students, construct a dance studio at Armstrong High School and purchase visual art supplies and choral risers, according to the festival’s press release.
This year’s financial goal was $100,000, as stated in the press release. The organization has not calculated donations from this year’s festival, according to representative Sara Hunt.
The festival first came about when various leaders of the East End community 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 a consensus that music and 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 a foundation for their future,” Heckstall said.
Hosting this year’s festival at Marsh Elementary is meaningful to the values of the festival, according to Heckstall.
“Henry Marsh is a beautiful new school with innovative technology,” Heckstall said. “It provides the necessary environment for creative, challenging and productive learning.”
The festival wants to honor the benefits of having a technologically advanced school as it is an investment in students’ future, Heckstall said.
Festival co-chair James “Saxsmo” Gates grew up attending Richmond Public Schools in the East End and began playing the saxophone in the sixth grade.
“Music and the arts have been pivotal in my life,” Gates said. “I want our students to have the same chances as I did to unlock their creative potential and even discover career pathways.”
The festival is an important opportunity for children to see music and art in action, Gates said.
“If art is right there in front of them, they can get excited,” Gates said. “They can see it. They can feel it. We’re raising money so we can make it possible for them.”
Sponsors for the festival 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 enriching event aligns with our mission to impact the health and well-being of the youth and families in our communities,” Christensen stated.
Musical performances included the Richmond Public Schools All City Marching Band, the Richmond Symphony’s Capital Horn Quartet, James “Saxsmo” Gates and Tre. Charles. Dancers from Richmond Urban Dance and Artistry in Motion Performing Arts Center performed at the festival as well.
Singer-songwriter Tre. Charles said he was excited to perform at a festival benefitting the arts in public schools.
“I came from public schools,” Charles said. “I was in choir. I continued to do it through the years and it became a natural part of me, and helped me to express myself in a creative way.”
Charles said he hopes attendees of the festival could see the positive impact that music can have.
“I hope they can see how much the artists really care about this cause,” he said. “There’s a lot of artists on the lineup from a lot of different backgrounds. Everyone’s coming together to promote this cause.”