By Dale King
Festival of the Arts BOCA launched its 15th edition this past weekend with a musical start following by a series of lectures.
It’s basically the same format used since the first show took place in Mizner Park a decade-and-a-half ago. This year, things are very different.
First, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a global impediment to outdoor events around the world. Boca Raton went into lockdown about a year ago, just after the 14th annual Festival of the Arts Boca concluded with a performance by Postmodern Jukebox in the Mizner Park Amphitheater on a chilly Sunday night in early March.
As a result, this year’s shows and lectures are all being held virtually, though some of them are set in the city’s best-known venues like the Boca Raton Resort & Club.
Second, the 2021 entry is the first that doesn’t feature event co-founder Charlie Siemon, who has shown up at every installment since the festival opened. The man who stood before the Boca Raton City Council to pitch the idea of an annual arts, music and culture festival some 16 years ago died last year.
“Our 15th installment will celebrate the tremendous talent in South Florida, showcase the beauty of Boca from various venues and honor the legacy of our co-founder, Charlie Siemon,” said Joanna Marie Kaye, executive director of Festival of the Arts Boca.
“Charlie would have been thrilled to see that paradoxically, we have the opportunity to reach our biggest audience ever in 2021 with all of our events filmed and broadcast worldwide.”
The festival held its first streaming lecture of the season Monday evening featuring retired Adm. James Stavridis, author of 10 books and a retired four-star U.S. Naval officer. He discussed leadership in general but looked closely at the relationship between the U.S. and China as the normally at-odds nations move into the first year of the Biden Administration.
The Naval commander who has served under four presidents – George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Biden – warned that China is creating military-supplied islands in the South China Sea and will undoubtedly claim them for their own purposes.
“They will double down in the South China sea,” he said.
Stavridis warned that “China is moving closer to Russia” and predicted that nation that vexed President Trump for years over trade “will continue to be a disruption to the United States.”
“There are big challenges ahead for the U.S. and China,” said the speaker. “It may come out reasonably well,” he said as he showed a slide of a Chinese warship making a social visit to Pearl Harbor. The crowd alongside the dock waved American and Chinese flags.
The admiral devoted a portion of his talk to his new book, 2034, a fictional account of what World War III could be like. He told the audience it is a fictional work because it allows readers to “imagine a future that we want to avoid.”
Touching on domestic issues, Stavridis gave a cautiously optimistic assessment of the Biden Administration’s governing team. He said all have come from service in positions that are similar to what they are now doing. Even Biden himself, now president, was vice president for eight years.
“I know all these people,” the admiral said. “It is a team with deep experience. They are a collegial group that will work together well. But they will have their hands full.”
He said the Biden team “has to go fast, yet remain stable.”
The naval officer made a bold prediction that the U.S. is “moving toward the endgame” in Afghanistan. The number of troops there has dropped from 150,000 to 2,500, and that country, he noted, “is now being defended by Afghans.”
Satavridis led the NATO alliance in global operations from 2009 to 2013 as supreme allied commander with responsibility for Afghanistan, Libya, the Balkans, Syria, counter-piracy and cybersecurity. He also served as commander of the U.S. Southern Command, the first naval officer to do so, with responsibility for all military operations in Latin America from 2006-2009.
This year’s festival opened Saturday with an appearance by South Florida native, Dreyfoos School of the Arts graduate and Metropolitan Opera star soprano Nadine Sierra. She performed in concert at Signature Flight Services at the Boca Raton Airport, which was carried on the festival’s website, www.festivalboca.org.
Sunday evening’s performance featured Grammy Award-winning Florida-based violinist James Ehnes, performing at the Boca Raton Innovation Campus, but shown on the web.
The Festival of the Arts Boca continues with journalist Sonia Shah (The Next Great Migration) on Thursday; conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos with a small chamber group called The Festival All-Stars on Saturday; and Latin jazz master Nestor Torres on March 14.
Presentations are free, but advance registration is required, and donations are suggested. Visit festivalboca.org or call 561-571-5270.