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Arts & Culture

NextNOW Goes ‘Then’

Student-Led Arts Festival Seeks Retro Vibe in Virtual Programming

By Sala Levin ’10

Collage of NEXTNow headliners

Lion Babe photo by Dana Trippe; Las Cafeteras photo by Rafa Cardenas; Black Belt Eagle Scout photo by Sara Cass; mxmtoon photo by Noelle Duquette and Savannah Elisabeth Jankosky; Reginald Dwayne Betts photo by Mamadi Doumbouya

Headliners at this week's virtual NextNOW Fest include musicians (from left) Lion Babe, Las Cafeteras and Black Belt Eagle Scout.

Remember MySpace? How about quoting Destiny’s Child lyrics in your AIM away messages? Or posting cryptic entries on LiveJournal? Well, if you’re a college student, maybe not. (And if you’re me, you’re dialing up your Internet connection to search AltaVista for “best anti-aging creams.”)

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center’s NextNOW Fest opens today, summoning that late ’90s-early ’00s spirit—low-rise jeans optional. This year’s festival is embracing the community spirit of the early days of being online by moving to an all-virtual format for a very 2020 reason: the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t want to take chances (with people’s health), so we said, ‘Let’s go all-virtual and do an excellent job at putting on an online festival,’” said Erica Bondarev Rapach, acting executive director of The Clarice.

For five nights, NextNOW Fest will feature throwback digital dance parties, live in-home performances from current acts like Chicano band Las Cafeteras and singer-songwriter mxmtoon (below), and workshops on topics ranging from sustainable fashion to music production.

“My favorite thing about NextNOW Fest is being in proximity to other people who love the arts as much as I do, and the community created by sharing in art, so that’s what we really tried to work hard on this year—figuring out how we can still create community despite the fact that there isn’t that boost because of the physical proximity to other people,” said student curator John Smith ’21.

The emphasis, as is customary for the NextNOW Fest, is on Terps themselves. “The festival has always had this goal of connecting students at the beginning of the year and providing space for creativity and community, so we still have student performances and student-run workshops,” said Megan Pagado Wells, associate director of programming for The Clarice’s Artist Partner Programs.

Here’s some of what you can expect from an online NextNOW Fest.

mxmtoon the singer in a blurry photoLive Performances
Stream-able wherever you and your device are, live music performances will take place each night of the festival. In addition to Las Cafeteras and mxmtoon, R&B duo Lion Babe will take over the stage … er, screen, as will singer-songwriter Black Belt Eagle Scout. DJ sets will highlight Japanese city pop, Asian American and Pacific Islander artists, and early 2000s emo/pop punk, pop and hip-hop.

Reginald Dwayne BettsAlumni Commissions
Since its inception in 2014, NextNOW Fest has supported the creation of new work by alumni in the performing arts. This year, the alumni commissioning project has expanded to include creative writing and visual art. Reginald Dwayne Betts ’09 (shown) will turn excerpts from his highly praised book of poetry, “Felon,” into a performance, and artist Sobia Ahmad ’16 will work with students on a version of her project, “wherever you are is called Here,” which creates flags to reflect the concept of home. Dance, theater and music commissions will also be presented.

Songwriting, photography and video, sustainable fashion, zine-making and music production will be the subjects of workshops every night of the festival, offering “a lot of different ways to get people engaged and really hone in on their creativity,” said Smith. “In a time like this where there’s a lot of angst, I think it’s good to channel that into something that makes you feel good.”


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