By Chris Weygandt Alba
The many-splendored Paso Robles Festival of the Arts returns to the downtown park on Saturday, May 28. hosted by the city and Studios on the Park, the annual celebration has captivated the community since its debut three years ago.
Both engaging and creative, the day-long festival touches a chord in everyone who enjoys art, from acclaimed artists to children who like to paint. In the park and in Studios on the Park, directly opposite at 1130 Pine Street, the free event offers fine arts exhibitions, public murals, interactive art projects for all ages, and an array of performances and music. Under canopies in the park several dozen talented artists will exhibit and sell a spectrum of artwork.
The scope and caliber of Paso Robles Festival of the Arts (FOTA) have impressed thousands of people in the past two years. Community enthusiasm inspires festival organizers to continue producing first-rate elements for the public's pleasure. We heard, for example, that assistant city manager Meg Williamson in particular has something up her sleeve.
The FOTA committee of 13 members plans to make the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts a premier fine-art event in California, says coordinator Sasha Irving. For the past year they've concentrated on improving the successes of the two previous festivals.
"We've worked very closely to be sure we create a spectacular experience," Sasha explains, adding that among other quality improvements, "We're increasing the number of artists who work in a greater variety of mediums, and we're introducing more exciting elements."
The theme of this year's special art exhibition - the Colors of Water - "will inspire really beautiful works," Sasha says. "I'm excited to see the diversity of entries, which will be juried by a significant artist in the California art scene."
"Adding to our prestige, and a huge feather in our cap, is the attendance of Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine Museum, who's an expert on California impressionism. On Friday evening prior to the festival he'll give a talk called 'The Art of Looking at Art,' and he'll hold a brief special seminar on Saturday after the quick draw."
If you'd like to attend Stern's Friday night presentation, which has limited seating, RSVP to Sasha at the Studios on the Park (238-9800) by May 15.
At 9 a.m. on May 28, the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts unofficially begins with the Plein Air Quick-Draw Competition downtown. That's when 23 well-known artists select their subjects and start their race against the clock to paint works of art while the public watches. Later on, at 11 a.m., their finished pieces go on exhibit around the "banjo" in the park, and then at 12 noon, the canvases are auctioned off at the Carnegie library.
The Paso Robles Festival of the Arts officially kicks off at 10 a.m. and lasts all day long. The Studios on the Park at 1130 Pine St. will showcase the "Colors of Water" exhibit, and in the studios, artists will be at work in their various mediums.
In the park, there will be art demonstrations and workshops for adults, a public mural project, children's and teens' art stations, live music, amazing stiltwalkers, dance performances, artists' canopies and environmental displays showcasing the Salinas River.
As in past years, a portion of the festival proceeds goes to the REC Foundation for the Paso Robles Salinas River Corridor Project, which plans for walking trails, outdoor art installations, connections to the river corridor, even an amphitheater someday.
The first Festival of the Arts was a combined effort between the city and the newly opened Studios on the Park, founded by artist Anne Laddon, to raise awareness of the city's riverside project. Paso Robles later received $4 million grant from the state to acquire and restore land along the Salinas corridor.
Meanwhile, we have Anne's hard work and vision to thank for the downtown presence of fine arts in the first place. Anne ensures that accomplished regional artists participate in the festival's exhibition and plein-air competition.
She and the Studios' board of directors created a statement this year that envisions the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts as a premier arts festival in central California, one that celebrates the connections between artists and the environment. It will honor and help to preserve the natural beauty and character of our region through the arts.
Every part of the day's events are free because of the partnership between Paso Robles, the Studios on the Park, and many supporters in the community. Those include key sponsors such as IQMS, KCOY TV, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, Mid-State Fair, KPRL AM 1230, and this year's "Sweet Art" recipient Mary Schwartz & Friends (the festival's February luncheon in her honor raised nearly $13,000), plus a wonderful host of individual people, organizations, and businesses.
For more information, visit prcity.com/fota.
"The choice of Mary Schwartz as our Sweet Art recipient was an easy one," said Barbara Partridge, right, Chair of the Festival of the Arts. "She is a major supporter of the arts in Paso Robles, a lifelong volunteer and just an all-around sweetheart." Mary's friend Dee Lacey, left, performed emcee duties and did a brief recap of Mary's history in Paso Robles, sprinkled with personal anecdotes that earned chuckles from the crowd. Mary Schwartz, center, brought tears to the eyes of the audience as she accepted her award and gifts during the February 'Sweet Art' Luncheon as she stated "the Festival of the Arts and Studios on the Park are the crown jewels of Paso Robles."