The Santa Cruz Education Foundation will host the River Arts Festival this weekend, May 17-18, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at San Lorenzo Park. Admission is free. The event brings together distinguished artists, students and the community in a benefit to support student programs in Santa Cruz City Schools.

The “Piazza di San Lorenzo” will feature:

Participating schools include Bay View Elementary, Gault Elementary, Delaveaga Elementary, Mission Hill Middle School, Santa Cruz High School and Soquel High School.

And now a few words from Santa Cruz Education Foundation President, Bill Maxfield, as printed in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sunday May 11th in Andy Shapiro’s “It Takes a Village” column:

The worst state budget crisis in a generation resulted in this week’s heartbreaking and headline-grabbing cuts to local education. Behind the headlines are less obvious budget impacts, such as increased pressure on community fundraising in order to save programs from the budget ax.

From PTA-run bake sales, silent auctions and school carnivals to the work of area education foundations and other charities, the squeeze is on. Over the years, and in spite of economic downturns, reliance on these mostly-volunteer efforts has increased dramatically.

As in the past, donations still help fund the costs for school supplies, athletics and music. But the list has grown to include outdoor science camp, school gardening programs, facilities improvements and even small class sizes.

The good news is that Santa Cruz County has a well-earned reputation for making education funding a top priority, even when the state comes up short. From locally-passed taxes to charitable giving, Santa Cruz County steps to the plate for education.

A great example is the upcoming two-day River Arts Festival, presented by the Santa Cruz Education Foundation, happening the weekend of May 17-18. The admission-free festival will bring together 75 distinguished artists from around the Monterey Bay area and student visual, music and performance art from the elementary, middle and high schools of Santa Cruz City Schools.

A percentage of the proceeds from art sales will go to support art supplies and art programs throughout the school district. The district takes great pride in its comprehensive K-12 art curriculum and is one of the few remaining districts that maintain art requirements for high school graduation.

The River Arts Festival will take place at San Lorenzo Park, and is inspired by the storied Venetian Water Carnival that was held along the river from 1895 until 1927, following the devastating downtown Santa Cruz fire of 1894. The event will also provide kids and adults a chance to learn about the ecology of the river and plans for its future.

As we watch our state leaders struggle to solve the budget crisis and our local school officials fight to keep cuts away from the classroom, we can take action locally by supporting volunteer-led efforts to raise funds for our schools and by working to prevent harmful cuts to our schools.