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Our View

Our View: More than meets the eye

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Mariko Wyrick and Ron Primetyme Miles perform at the Festival Napa Valley Founders Dinner at Cardinale Winery in 2016.

Throughout this weekend and into next there will be a series of parties and performances across the Valley, celebrating wine, food and high culture.

Organizers of Festival Napa Valley promise “10 Days, 100 Wineries, over 60 Events,” including standout performers such as the cast members from the musical “Hamilton,” comedian Bill Murray, star violinist Joshua Bell, and Daiana Garcia and the Havana Chamber Orchestra.

It would be easy to dismiss the festival (formerly known as Festival Del Sole) as just another playground for the wealthy elite. After all, event passes start at more than $700 and can range up to $10,000 for all-access tickets. The entertainment is highbrow and cosmopolitan, and festival-goers will enjoy the finest food and wine that the Valley can provide.

But that view would be to miss something important about the festival.

The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board has met several times in recent months with organizers and staff and we were struck by how much more there is to Festival Napa Valley.

Since 2012, the non-profit Napa Valley Festival Association has given about $850,000 to the county’s school districts to support arts education. More festival money, about $1 million, was key to drafting and implementing the Napa Valley Unified School District’s new five-year Arts Education Master Plan, which is trying to integrate and expand the system’s formerly fragmented arts programs, including music, theater and creative arts classes.

The festival is funding a $10,000 program through the Napa County Office of Education and St. Helena’s Nimbus Arts to offer at-risk students arts programs to help them express themselves and find new ways to engage with their education.

The festival has given more than 100 scholarships to local youth who show promise in music and it has sponsored a series of free concerts, often by the festival headliners themselves, for kids in the county’s Boys & Girls Clubs.

Through its “Arts for All,” it has offered free tickets for festival performances, and other events through the year, for veterans, seniors and low-income families. Organizers say about a quarter of all seats for festival events are covered by this program.

It also offers the annual “Festival Napa Valley Music Academy,” a tuition-free program hosted at Napa Valley College bringing together the country’s most promising collegiate, graduate and post-graduate student musicians.

We were impressed by what we heard from festival officials. We were also struck by how little we, and the public at large, knew about these philanthropic endeavors.

Festival organizers admit they have not always told their story very effectively and, to some degree, have allowed a perception to take root that the festival is an elitist institution with little connection to the average county resident. Other major philanthropic institutions in the Valley, particularly the Napa Valley Vintners and their hugely successful Auction Napa Valley, have done better at making clear the tangible connection between glitzy fundraisers and real change in our community.

Festival leaders say they are working on telling that story better.

We were pleasantly surprised and impressed by what we have learned about the festival in our recent meetings with its leaders. We applaud their efforts in our schools and in our community, and we hope the residents of Napa County will be able to learn about and appreciate what the Festival means to them.

The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Brenda Speth, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.

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