EDINBURG — The sound of laughter and music mixed with the smell of frying food outside city hall here Friday evening as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Festival of International Books and Arts closed out another year with 2020’s Community FESTIBA Festival.

The festival tied together two weeks’ worth of panels and performances with an evening of musical acts, book signings, art displays and award presentations.

Dahlia Guerra, UTRGV assistant vice president for public art & special projects, called this year’s FESTIBA a success.

“I thought it was perhaps one of the best, if not the best, ever,” she said. “I thought the theme was very profound and important. It was about sustainability, it was about building a better world and we held quite a bit of different presentations.”

Over the course of the two weeks, the symposium featured world renowned pianists, flamenco dancers, noted agriculturalists, mariachis, and a variety of intellectuals and artists.

“This is all for our community; it’s stuff we normally don’t see,” Guerra said. “There’s a lot of diversity. Look at tonight: we had a dragon dance, the Filipino dance, earlier we had a Korean dance, so it’s about celebrating the arts, the cultural arts. It also represents that our community is really quite diverse.”

In keeping with the symposium’s mission to spread literacy, scores of elementary students from Valley schools were recognized for their accomplishments as readers Friday night. Guerra said the reading skills exhibited by those students are important for their future success.

“The more advanced your child is in reading by the third grade, that’s going to predict their success,” she said. “A certain percentage will not graduate from high school because they can’t read. So it’s all about reading, and I think that’s why it’s important.”

Dean Torres, a top reader for Ramirez Elementary in Edinburg, was one of the students recognized Friday.

“I feel like it’s a good experience, because he loves to read,” Dean’s grandmother, Linda said. “He’s very, very interested in a lot of topics.”

Guerra said rewarding students like Dean helps reinforce a positive attitude toward reading and learning in general.

“Every time we get these kids out in front of an audience and show them that their reading is important, and that their achievements in reading are really going to impact their lives, we’re making a difference. We’re making a difference in all of these kids’ lives,” she said.

Guerra thanked the sponsors that supported this year’s FESTIBA.

“It takes all of us together. It takes a team,” she said.