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Jazz bands, choirs, dancers and thespians from private and diocesan high schools around Western New York converged on Cardinal O'Hara High School in Tonawanda last Wednesday for the second annual BISSNET arts festival.

Standing for Buffalo Independent Secondary School NETwork, BISSNET is a consortium of 18 independent high schools in Erie and Niagara counties.

The arts festival is one of BISSNET's main events during the year. Held during the spring, the arts festival shows off arts programs from its member schools -- whether it be displays of two- and three-dimensional art works or performing arts such as drama, dance, choral and instrumental music groups.

The arts festival takes a unique approach. Rather than offering a linear performance on a stage where people sit and watch, work is shown and performances are held in different parts of the school at the same time. Visitors can walk around freely and enjoy whatever they decide to see.

Besides celebrating the arts, BISSNET aims to unite the schools. "Each school is so unique," said Susan Bach, associate director of BISSNET. "This brings the schools together." Often, these independent schools create their own arts curriculum, unaware of what other schools may be doing.

But the arts festival is supposed to retain a friendly atmosphere. "We don't want this to be a competition," Bach stressed. More than anything else, BISSNET's goal is to unite the schools and celebrate the arts.

Member schools of BISSNET are Cardinal O'Hara High School, Niagara Catholic High School, Nichols School, Park School, St. Mary's High School, Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School, Canisius High School, St. Francis High School, Gow School, St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart, Buffalo Seminary, Holy Angels Academy, Immaculata Academy, Mount Mercy Academy, Mount St. Mary Academy, Nardin Academy and Villa Maria Academy.

Sean Pegado is a sophomore at Nichols School.