Students Share the Arts at the Annual ISAS Festival


Hockaday students dressed in patterned pajama pants and wrapped in blankets gathered outside the science building early last Thursday to leave promptly at 5:30 a.m for the five-hour drive to this year’s Independent Schools Association of the Southwest festival hosted by St. Mary’s Hall in San Antonio.

The ISAS art festival, which was first introduced in 1967, has become a three-day, annual spring celebration to inspire and showcase the artistic talent of over 3,000 high school students from about 40 independent schools in the Southwest.  

Ed Long, chair of the Fine Arts Department, has attended 44 ISAS festivals, describing it as a “festival of sharing” in which everyone respects fellow artists and performers. This respect encourages students to experiment with their art in a non-competitive environment.

And Hockaday students blossom during the event.

“No one can really understand Hockaday fully unless they can see Hockadaisies at the festival. They are at a certain summit of confidence and artistic approach,” Long said.

Each year, a new school hosts the festival, so Long looks forward to experiencing it at a new campus and in a new context every spring.

But the excitement this year began even before arriving to San Antonio. En route to St. Mary’s Hall, all four buses slowed to a stop on the side of the road. A highly flammable and toxic coolant leaking from one of buses caused this unplanned delay, and all students not involved in orchestra were left stranded until a functioning bus could come to their rescue.

“Our small group was left to fend for ourselves against the heat and supposed rattlesnakes,” junior and member of the film program Isabel Smith said.

Despite being transferred to the functioning buses, the orchestra did not arrive on time for their noon performance. However, even though they had no time to warm up and two of the soloist’ pieces were cut from the program, the orchestra still played with their usual precision and fluidity.

Once the rest of the students made it to the festival around 2 p.m., they were welcomed to the school with a colorful “Viva the Arts” banner. Neon colored hair, floral crowns and the multi- colored streamers and hammocks hanging from the trees helped create an expressive and enthusiastic environment for the arts.

The passion for the arts was felt from the moment Hockaday students stepped off the bus and saw other students immersed in spontaneous guitar playing in the quad, films and plays’ flyers plastered on every open wall and students galloping around the campus in costumes to promote their performances. Some students even approached groups of complete strangers in an attempt to draw a bigger crowd to their shows.  

After exploring the St. Mary’s Hall campus, students rushed to get a spot in line for the famous Hockaday dance showcase. Excited cheers broke out in the crowd as Hockadance walked to the back of the building, signaling that the show was about to start. When the doors finally opened after an hour of waiting with no escape from the sun’s penetrating waves, aggressive shoves caused more collisions and bumping shoulders in the already jam packed crowd. A horde of students from schools all over the southwest scavenged for any seat they could find. Filled with black ripped tops and teased hair, a piece to “Turn Down For What” and student-choreographed dances, this dynamic performance quickly became an ISAS 2016 favorite.

“The audience’s reaction to our performance was assurance that all of our hard work served a purpose,” junior and member of Hockadance Emma Paine said.

Even though nothing could compare to the overflowing crowd at Hockadance, a lively audience packed into one of the performance tents to watch St. Mark’s improv. This performance relied on audience participation, and the audience jumped at the opportunity to be involved, yelling out suggestion after suggestion until they all became one big jumble of inaudible words. Momentary bursts of laughter filled the tent as the team performed their four ways to die skit, killing off one of their members with a spork.  

At the end of the day students ate their dinners picnic-style on colorful, striped blankets on the quad. Food trucks provided students with almost every type of food they could think of, from crispy fajita bowls to a classic burger and fries to cheesy slices of pizza. For dessert, students chose from creamy coffee or fruity strawberry lemonade popsicles and pina colada or watermelon snow cones.

On Friday, after another early morning wake up, students joined the growing crowd gathering for Hockaday Coffee House. Many seniors including Ellie Bush and Allie Charlton performed, realizing that this was their last opportunity to check “perform at a Coffee House” off their bucket lists. The audience never stopped cheering through the ups and downs of every performance. When Bush and Charlton performed  “Where is the Love,” the audience burst into song when the background music failed, forcing them to sing acapella.

“Allie and I knew that we would be mad at ourselves if we talked about performing but never actually did. So, we felt as seniors, it could be another fun thing to look back on and remember,” Bush said

But not all was performance art. During their free time, many students visited the 2D and 3D visual art exhibits around campus. There were a variety of pieces, including a sculpture made from crayons to an interactive piece which gave the audience individual pages from magazines to shred, symbolizing “the shredding of society’s expectations.”

Audrey Magnuson, sophomore and member of Hockadance, was amazed at the detail and intricate designs incorporated into the St. Mark’s ceramics pieces.

“It’s really impressive,” Magnuson said. “I’ve never thought about buying ceramics before but now I’m really into it.”

Professional artists and performers who shared a love for the arts, came to the festival to critique student’s 2D and 3D pieces along with their performances, helping them improve their own skills and further develop their school’s fine art programs.

Sophomore Katherine Pollock, who showcased her photography skills, took advantage of these critiques.

“The critique gave me a new viewpoint of my work, and I think the advice I received will guide me in the future,” Pollock said.

Lisa Westmoreland, ISAS festival coordinator, enjoyed watching students expand their horizons, inspired by interactions with fellow professional and student artists.

“The festival is a place where kids can try new art forms and learn more about the forms they already love so much,” Westmoreland said.

– Amelia Brown – Asst. Sports and Health Editor –