Published On: Wed, Mar 31st, 2021

‘Virtual’ Festival of the Arts BOCA 2021 reaches viewers in 22 countries

By: Dale King

The 15th annual Festival of the Arts BOCA took place as planned this year, despite facing the most formidable of obstacles ever: The COVID-19 pandemic.

The Fest normally conducts its musical, film and lecture offerings in the wide-open spaces of the Mizner Park Amphitheater or the smaller, more intimate Black Box Theater at the Cultural Arts Center in Mizner Park.

Not this year. COVID-19 moved the entire March 6-14 production from actual platforms to a computer platform that streamed performances on the website,

Still, said Festival Executive Director Joanna Marie Kaye, “it was far more successful than we thought.”

In fact, COVID actually expanded the Festival’s viewer audience to computer screens in front of 7,500 people in 22 countries – more than would have seen a locally presented event.

“Our 15th installment celebrated the tremendous talent in South Florida, showcased the beauty of Boca from various venues and honored the legacy of our co-founder, Charlie Siemon,” said Kaye.

Siemon, who passed away in 2020, “would have been thrilled to see that paradoxically, we had the opportunity to reach our biggest audience ever in 2021 with all of our events filmed and broadcast worldwide.”

As Kaye explained it, Festival organizers hired a company that recorded and then edited performances that were “broadcast online, like TV.” She said she drew upon her experience working for National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System to help get the job done. She worked for WXEL in Boynton Beach for 15 years and, for two years, at WQED in Pittsburgh.

Kaye said the finale performance March 14 featuring Grammy Award-winning South Florida jazz flautist Nestor Torres and his band was the most popular of this season’s shows. It was presented at the Boca Raton Resort & Club before an audience of about 100 invited guests and was also streamed.

She said Torres’s most recent Grammy-nominated CD, “Nouveau Latino,” heralds the flautist’s exuberant return to his Salsa and Latin jazz roots. In addition to his achievements in the studio and on the stage, Torres has received numerous awards and commendations, including two honorary doctorates for his commitment to youth, education and cultural exchanges.

The Festival kicked off March 6 with Boca native and Metropolitan Opera star soprano Nadine Sierra and friends, in concert at Signature Flight Services at the Boca Raton Airport attended by an audience of 35 invitees.  The following night, the Fest welcomed another Grammy-winning Florida artist, violinist James Ehnes, in a show broadcast from the Boca Raton Innovation campus.

Famed writers and lecturers came to town during the week of March 7-10. The troupe included Admiral James Stavridis, author and retired four-star U.S. Naval officer, discussing leadership; Bruce Feiler, discussing his top 10 New York Times bestseller, “Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age” and Sonia Shah, science journalist and prize-winning author of the heavily lauded, “The Next Great Migration: The Beauty and Terror of Life on the Move.” Their talks were shown via Zoom.

Shah also touched on her book, “Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Coronaviruses and Beyond” which was released in August 2020 with a new preface.

An evening with the Festival All-Stars featuring Constantine Kitsopoulos, festival music director, and musicians from the Festival Orchestra, welcomed the weekend of March 13-14.  Torres and his ensemble offered hot jazz licks in a show the following night that featured an intermission interview between Kaye and Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer. 

Kaye said the Festival hopes to return to its outdoor roots in 2022. “This year was very interesting. We were ready. Actually, the fact that we never did it this way before meant that nothing worked as expected, but all went well.”

She said the only glitch came during the filming of the concert at the Boca Airport. “We had to edit out the sound of the planes taking off.”

At the moment, she admitted, “We don’t know a lot about next year. No presenters are signing contracts. I figure we’ll do fine. We are not ruling out doing some type of hybrid” of live and online.

“We will announce things as soon as we know them,” she added. “We expect to begin solidifying plans over the summer.”

She said the Festival is still accepting donations for its programming. All those this year were free, but contributions were accepted. Donations are still being taken at

In addition, a more fitting tribute will be made to co-founder Siemon, who has been with the festival since it began. In fact, he attended the City Council meeting at which plans for the festival were first presented about 16 years ago.

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