ArtWalk is an extravaganza of color in Little Italy

By Gina McGalliard

Little Italy’s ArtWalk isn’t just your typical community street fair — it’s a 17-block two-day event that has the distinction of being San Diego’s foremost art festival, drawing vendors and visitors from around the country.

Now in its 33rd year, Mission Federal ArtWalk showcases the work of more than 350 artists in such varied mediums as photography, fine jewelry, painting, ceramics, drawing, metal, wood, glasswork, and sculpture. This year’s theme is “Vivid Expressions” and attendance is expected to exceed 100,000.

Attendees wander by the whimsical work of Michael Phillips. (Photos courtesy Olive PR)

“We call it the ‘Little Italy turns into giant outdoor gallery for the weekend,’” said Sandi Cottrell, managing director of ArtWalk. “The artists do very well in this environment. They know that San Diego has become a good art collecting market, so they really love it here. And artists come from all over the world.”

The festival has selected a handful of vendors to promote as featured artists. Among them are Moni Bloom, who creates ceramic sculptures inspired by children’s life and literature; Matthew Grabelsky, who paints images from his New York City childhood; Jason Humphrey, who spent his youth defacing buildings with graffiti before redirecting his artistic inclinations to more legitimate drawing and painting; and Iris Scott, who does oil paintings with her fingertips.

Fingerpainter Iris Scott embellishes a print.

ArtWalk and ArtReach — the festival’s nonprofit partner that brings art instruction to elementary schools unable to afford their own — again also joined forces with Knockaround Sunglasses and will be selling a winning peacock feather-themed sunglass design created by a local fifth-grader.

Though one might think of an art festival as being a grown-up event, the KidsWalk portion is more than substantial enough to justify bringing the little ones along, with approximately a dozen organizations providing interactive activities for children and opportunities to create arts and crafts.

Present at KidsWalk will be Art with Larisse, which offers art instruction to children ages 5 through adult, with studio locations in La Mesa, Bonita and Santee.

A vendor at last year’s festival shares her colorful fruit artwork. (Courtesy Olive PR)

“We’re doing the same thing we’ve done every year [at Artwalk] which is a pastel picture that comes together using not only a drawing technique in the beginning — but then the kids color it in with the pastels and we follow through with toning and adding lights and darks,” said Robinson, who has been involved with ArtWalk for about a decade. “So, things where kids would just quit after they’re finished coloring something, now we’re adding layers of lights and darks to the sky and lights and darks to the object. And it gives them depth and gets them to appreciate that things are much more colorful than one would usually assume. And it gets the parents to open their eyes to the possibilities of what their kids can actually produce and learn.”

Other organizations represented at KidsWalk will be the Living Coast Discovery Center, the Monart School of Art, the Museum of Photographic Arts and the San Diego Creative Weavers Guild.

ArtWalk also has live performances, including the Electric Rain Project.

If you’ve got a creative streak yourself, or want to find out if you do, you’ll want to check out the monoprinting interactive project, sponsored by Hillcrest’s Artist & Craftsman Supply; and the interactive mural pavilion, led by acclaimed muralists Mario Torero, whose work can be seen in San Diego’s famed Chicano Park, and Maxx Moses.

Although obviously focused on visual arts, ArtWalk features performance as well, with a stage devoted entirely to dance, providing what Cottrell described as “an event within an event” called Dance on the Edge. There will also be four other performance areas featuring local singer/songwriters.

ArtWalk will be held April 29 and 30 from 11 a.m.–6 p.m. It is recommended that attendees take the trolley or take advantage of the 30 percent discount offered by Lyft, one of ArtWalk’s sponsors this year, for both new and existing customers. Little Italy’s farmers market will be held as usual. For more information, visit

—Gina McGalliard is a local freelance writer. Contact her at or follow her blog,

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