Each spring, UCF showcases its creative side in a large-scale event at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. This year, UCF Celebrates the Arts will offer 39 events plus exhibits featuring students, faculty and alumni in dance, concerts, cabaret, lectures and discussions, film, chamber music, family-friendly events, visual arts, and more. UCF is committed to providing access to the arts for everyone: Half of the events are free and the remainder offer tickets starting as low as $10, as well as student discounts/pricing on most events.

The annual festival, which started in 2015, has allowed thousands of UCF artists to showcase their talents in a world-class, professional venue and for Central Florida audiences to see the range of UCF’s arts programs. Each year, approximately 1,000 students and faculty members are involved in the festival, producing events and exhibits for all people of all ages, interest and abilities.

Michael Wainstein, director of the School of Performing Arts and producer of UCF Celebrates the Arts says the festival serves several purposes.

“We are training students to be artists and technicians who work in world-class venues. UCF Celebrates the Arts provides opportunities for them to experience that immediately at the exquisite Dr. Phillips Center. We also see the opportunity to engage with the community and provide access to a wide variety of events and exhibits.

“In addition to traditional audiences, the festival provides us with a venue for interacting with local K-12 students through invitationals, theater for young audiences performances and family friendly events. UCF Celebrates the Arts is providing an educational experience for everyone.”

This year’s festival has several areas of focus:

Kids and Families

Opening the festival is the National Young Composers Challenge, during which young composers from around the country have new works workshopped, performed and recorded by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of maestro Christopher Wilkins. Two invitationals, Music for All UCF-Orlando Concert Band Invitational presented by Excelcia Music Publishing and National Choir Festival Concert, welcome local high school students to the stages to work with UCF faculty and perform. In Mind Matters: New Plays for Teens, an educational panel discussion is preceded by high school theatre students reading three new plays that explore mental health and wellness.

A free, matinee performance titled Terrific Beasts and Mythical Creatures features the UCF Concert Band in collaboration with students and faculty in the music education program. This short, 50 minute program is designed to welcome individuals of all ages, abilities and needs. The musicians and staff expect that people may need to get up, move about or leave during the performance. Visual representations and opportunities to move will be provided to support the enjoyment of music. Guests are encouraged to bring hearing protection, fidget toys, manipulatives, cushions and support objects to the concert.

The Orlando REP hosts The Day I Danced with Dinosaurs, a 30-minute celebration of prehistoric creatures told through music and movement, created for 1- to 5-year-olds and their grown-ups.

Theatre UCF brings back Home of the Brave, a play inspired by interviews with children of military families that has been touring local schools. They will also host WONDERLAND: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure, during which young participants can take a theatrical, digital journey to unlock the Mad Hatter’s box of tea party supplies. This programming was originally created in collaboration with faculty from the College of Nursing and made possible through a gift from the Jeannette M. Gould Family, in order to bring theatrical experiences to children at Nemours Children’s Hospital.

A Celebration of 10 Years of WUCF

Tying in closely with the other family programming, UCF Celebrates the Arts is hosting several events in partnership with WUCF as part of their tenth anniversary celebration.

Running concurrently with WONDERLAND, Play! A WUCF Salute to Fred Rogers will feature crafts, yard games and activities for all ages on the Seneff Plaza.

A series of three talks showcase WUCF’s areas of focus: education, news and drama. PBS Kids! A Conversation with Sonia Manzano features the Sesame Street actress and others sharing insights into children’s media. In A Conversation with Judy Woodruff, the news veteran provides an insider perspective about current events and issues. Executive Producer at PBS Susanne Simpson shares an exclusive peek into upcoming programming during Behind-the-Scenes with PBS MASTERPIECE.

WUCF’s day-long celebration wraps up with Broadway’s Brightest Lights, featuring the American Pops Orchestra and Megan Hilty. The Tony Award-winning Broadway star will be joined by Michael Maliakel, Nikki Renée Daniels and Luke Hawkins will sing showtunes from Geshwin, Lerner and Lowe, Kander and Ebb, Sondheim and more. The performance will be recorded for future broadcast on PBS, bringing UCF Celebrates the Arts to a national audience.

Arts and Technology

Throughout the festival, many events will showcase art through innovative technology. The student choreographers for TECH-nique: A Dance Concert have themed their pieces to be centered around technology and how it impacts our daily lives. For a piece she is choreographing, UCF dance faculty member Judi Siegfried is collaborating with UCF Professor of Engineering Carolina Cruz-Neira, founder of the immersive virtual reality CAVE system, to coordinate dancers’ movements and projections.

“It may be legal, but is it right?” is the question that experts in ethics, visual art and computer science will be asking about AI visual arts platforms in the REALity of ARTificial Intelligence discussion.

Throughout the week, guests can interact with Dr. Hologram, a hologram patient simulation tool initiated by the College of Health Professions and Sciences through its Innovation Center. The researchers are collaborating with the arts and humanities to showcase how this technology might have an impact on the arts.

Visual Arts

The visual arts will be represented through events like Creative Clash, the competition where students and alumni race against the clock to create themed artwork in front of a crowd. The Graphic Design and Experimental Animation Showcase will celebrate the work of graduating seniors in the merging media program, and the Architecture Showcase features student presentations and a keynote address from Brooks + Scarpa. Always a festival favorite, the Character Animation and Animation/Visual Effects Premieres showcases award-winning short films from UCF students.

The Florida Prison Education Project, an interdisciplinary research group, is bringing in Baz Dreisinger, Executive Director of Incarceration Nations; David Gussak, author of Art and Art Therapy with the Imprisoned: Re-Creating Identity; Curt L. Tofteland, founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars and Omari Booker, a formerly incarcerated artist for Art and Incarceration: A Panel Discussion of Prison-Based Arts Programs.

As always at UCF Celebrates the Arts, the lobbies will be filled with visual art exhibitions. This year, they include 3D sculptures inspired by the Dancing Houses of Amsterdam, a showcase of fashion from the late Harriett Lake, rain barrels painted by K-12 students for OUC – The Reliable One, architecture models, exhibits from UCF’s Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, work generated by incarcerated individuals through the Florida Prison Education Project, intricate narrative sculptures, emerging media designs and more.

Storytelling Through Humanities and Life-long Learning

Storytelling takes center stage at the festival this year. Historian Andrew Carroll discusses the significant collection of war-time letters he has collected and shares scenes from a new documentary about this in First Look and Discussion of War Unfolding. Pegasus Professor and nationally syndicated columnist Luis Martínez-Fernández talks about how events of the past four years have impacted societies around the globe at When the World Turned Upside Down: Politics, Culture and the Unimaginable Events of 2019-22.

The festival provides accessibility to people who cannot attend in person at one virtual event: Where Bright Thoughts Like Rivers Flow: Storytelling and Writing with and for the Cherokee Nation. Emily Legg will discuss the participatory nature of Indigenous storytelling and its capacity for building and sustaining community.

The documentary film The Biggest Dream is about the Arecibo Observatory, which was managed by a consortium led by UCF at the time of its collapse. Writers Go Wild! features the work of students graduating from the Creative Writing MFA program.

Performing Arts

The wealth of opportunities for the community to attend a concert or theatre event for an affordable price is a strength of UCF Celebrates the Arts.

Under the direction of guest conductor Eric Jacobsen and with performances from Opera Orlando, the UCF Symphony Orchestra: When in Rome performance will premier excerpts of UCF composer Alex Burtzos’ new opera, HE Who Gets Slapped, based on the 1915 play of the same name. We’ll be Swingin’ and Singin’ with the Flying Horse Big Band as they perform with vocalist Lucy Yeghiazaryan, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and The Jazz Professors. The UCF New Music Ensemble presents /ˈhɑː.mə.foʊn/ with Guest Artists line upon line percussion, a performance of world-premiere music exploring the ambiguity and richness of language.

Other music performances include Faith, Hope and Love: UCF Choirs, UCF Percussion Ensemble, UCF Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band Concert, Inspired: An Evening of Chamber Music for Strings, Piano and Clarinet, and Brassapalooza.

The UCF Opera studio presents Michael Ching’s Speed Dating Tonight!, a contemporary, one-hour opera sung in English. Guests are introduced to the characters through a series of short musical “dates.” In leading up to the performance, the students have had the opportunity to meet and work with the composer.

Graduating musical theatre students take the stage for an evening of cabaret-style performances in two performances of Knight to Shine: A Musical Theatre Showcase. Project Spotlight, a student organization that produces plays, will present Race to Infinity, a play written by a student that was workshopped on campus during Pegasus PlayLab 2022. In the play, a girl uses video games as a tool to find her place in her family.

Theatre UCF brings back alumni from Broadway and beyond to share updates and favorite songs in Reach for the Stars: A UCF Alumni Showcase. Emceed by alumna Cheryl Hines ’90, patrons will enjoy hearing from alumni like Quentin Darrington ’16MFA (MJ The Musical, Once On This Island), Justin Sargent ’08 (Spiderman Turn Off the Dark, Rock of Ages), Michelle Knight ’02 (Disenchanted)Jerusha Cavazos ’13 (The Prom), Khalifa White ’16 (The Lion King) and more through in-person and virtual appearances.


Tickets for UCF Celebrates the Arts events are on sale via the Dr. Phillips Center box office. A goal of UCF Celebrates the Arts has always been to keep the festival accessible to all. In 2023, 19 events are free (registration required) and for ticketed events, pricing starts at $10. Student pricing is available for most events with valid ID from any K-12 school or college. A complete event list and more information is available at arts.cah.ucf.edu/celebrates.