THE arts are flourishing, as far as young people are concerned. This year sees a record level of interest and involvement in the annual Hong Kong Youth Arts Festival (HKYAF), now in its third year. The festival, largely dominated by English speaking schools in previous years, has grown into a widely popular cultural event for youth all over the territory, drawing both Hong Kong and expatriate youngsters of different backgrounds. The event has attracted youth aged five to 25. Festival founder and director Lindsay McAlister said the festival has taken a 'big leap forward' in terms of stirring interest and participation in local students, as well as in programme variety. 'We've moved away from being purely entertainment, and are using the festival as a platform to address important topical and educational issues like the environment and AIDS,' she said. Students from about 200 schools are involved in every aspect of the event, from planning programmes and performing to writing, directing and producing. The programme, running all November, features creative workshops, performing arts events, visual arts exhibitions and outdoor activities. Several projects are also underway to bring together youngsters of different backgrounds to appreciate the arts and the environment. These include an AIDS awareness project; a drama-based workshop series in which law students and young lawyers work with young offenders; a mural painting project to brighten up children's wards in hospitals, and a farm installation project to heighten awareness and appreciation of the natural world.