An intriguing list of presenters, events and activities will delight the community - young and old - at the third annual Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) scheduled for March 22-28 at The University of Texas-Pan American.
The announcement of this year's FESTIBA schedule as well as new opportunities provided to the community to promote literacy through a grant from the National Foundation for the Arts were presented at a press conference Feb. 20 at the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library in Edinburg.
FESTIBA is a weeklong celebration of the arts and humanities and promotes literacy and cultural awareness by providing students and the Rio Grande Valley community interactive, hands-on opportunities to experience books, theatre, storytelling, music, art, dance, and performance competitions.
The festival's role in meeting the challenges of illiteracy not only locally but across the nation was addressed by a number of press conference speakers who represented the partnerships developed to promote literacy, reading and an appreciation of the arts and humanities through the yearly event.
Dr. John Edwards, UTPA vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, cited statistics from a 2003 report by the Department of Education regarding the positive impacts of enhanced literacy including less unemployment, higher salaries, greater civic and volunteer participation and increased reading to children in the home.
"In 2003, a higher percentage of parents with intermediate or proficient prose literacy than parents with basic or below prose literacy read to their young children five or more days a week," Edwards said. "Our student base comes from the Valley and we need more students who are going to be literate and able to function in society. We need them at a high level of literacy to be able to enroll at the University. And we want the entire community involved in this with us."
During FESTIBA, more than 300,000 books will be distributed in more than 30 Valley schools through its partnership established last year with Reading is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF), the nation's oldest and largest children's and family nonprofit literacy organization. In 2008, RIF distributed 16 million books at 18,000 sites throughout the United States.
Stephen Leach, director of Government Relations and Community Outreach for RIF, said during FESTIBA Community Day March 28, visitors to the RIF tent will be able to meet Maya and Miguel from the animated PBS children's show thanks to Scholastic, the global children's publishing, education and media company. Children will also receive from RIF a free copy of the book "The Best Mariachi in the World," by J.D. Smith.
"Being here at FESTIBA goes hand in hand with RIF's mission of getting books in the hands of children and to develop the love of reading," he said. "Statistics show that the more books you have in your home early on the more successful you will be down the line in school."
RIF last year joined Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15) to launch the South Texas Literacy Coalition, which will again host a Congressional Roundtable on Literacy during FESTIBA 2009. The coalition, which also includes Congressman Solomon Ortiz (TX-27) and Henry Cuellar (TX-28), other national literacy organizations, community leaders and pre-K to university level educational experts, has goals to increase the number of print materials in children's homes, build family involvement in literacy-related activities, and build community awareness and understanding of literacy.
"Early reading and writing is the key to success for students and FESTIBA, as well as the Big Read program are fostering those opportunities for families in South Texas," he said.
The Texas Book Festival, one of the nation's premier literary festivals, is a third year partner with FESTIBA and will donate more than 4,000 books locally and sponsor visits by renowned children's authors to six Valley schools through its "Reading Rock Stars" program. Guest authors will include Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Georgina Lazaro, Carmen Rafolla, Xavier Garza, Sergio Andricain, Gwen Zepeda, and Emma Romeu.
"It would be hard to imagine a more fruitful partnership than the one we have with UTPA and Region One (Education Service Center). Both organizations have really strengthened the Festival's mission of sharing the joys of reading with children who may not own books of their own. The enthusiasm in the Valley for the Reading Rock Stars program is due in large part to their efforts," said Clay Smith, literary director, Texas Book Festival.
This year, with a theme of "Connecting Culture to Literacy through the Arts and Media," FESTIBA will also incorporate activities to promote reading and literacy Valley wide made possible by a Big Read grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Big Read is a national initiative to restore reading to the center of American life by providing communities the opportunity to come together to read, discuss and celebrate a selected book. One of 208 organizations that received the grant in 2008, UTPA has partnered with the Edinburg's library to host activities since September 2008 through June 2009.
During FESTIBA, a keynote panel of experts will discuss the local Big Read book selection "Bless Me Ultima" by Rudolfo Anaya and host an art exhibit related to themes and symbols in the book.
"The Big Read grant enables us to highlight the importance of reading through a variety of creative programs at UTPA, local libraries, and in the public schools," said Dr. Steven Schneider, UTPA English professor and director of New Programs and Special Projects in the College of Arts and Humanities, who is Big Read's project director.
Other highlights of this year's FESTIBA include the premiere of the UTPA-produced film "The Red Queen," Pan American Days and Spanish Symposium faculty presentations; a graphics art exhibit and a digital light show, and much more. During Community Day, March 28, there will be a presentation by renowned author Sandra Cisneros, who 25 years ago authored the classic "The House on Mango Street." Visitors will also be able to visit the UTPA planetarium, the CAS gallery display of Becky and Che Guerra's art collection and a number of pavilions featuring theatre demonstrations, storytelling and story book characters, and work by UTPA artists. On the UTPA Quad stage, the community will be entertained and enthralled with concerts by the world famous Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan, dance artist Angeles Luna, rock group Elefante and local mariachi competition winners. All activities are free and open to the public.
Additional FESTIBA sponsors include Region One and UTPA GEAR UP; Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; International Women's Board; Children's Miracle Network; H-E-B; Scholastic; Becky and Che Guerra, Nuevo Santander Gallery; McAllen Mexican Consulate; International Bank of Commerce, The Monitor Newspapers in Education, and the International Museum of Art & Science.
For a complete list of FESTIBA events, go to http://coah.utpa.edu/festiba/ or call 956/381-2175. Information on local Big Read activities is available at http://www.neabigread.org/events.php?mode=communityCalendar&communityID=2783.