Celebrating its 28th year, the free arts festival offers art, music and dance
By Bart Mendoza | Downtown News
Mixing art, music and dance into an incredible feast for the senses, Mission Federal Credit Union ArtWalk returns to Little Italy April 28 and 29 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Now in its 28th year, over 100,000 people are expected to attend the free event.
Taking place in the heart of Little Italy along India Street, the works of 350 artists will be on display, with four music stages and one dance stage among the attractions.
Despite the large number of attendees, it is a testament to event organizers that ArtWalk rarely feels crowded. “One of the good things about the large footprint of the event, is that you never have an uncomfortable size of crowd,” said ArtWalk Managing Director Sandi Cotrell. “We spread the art out into the side streets of Little Italy as well, so that people can flow in and out of all the nooks and crannies of this fantastic neighborhood.”
A family friendly event, in addition to art displays there will also be a children-friendly area in Amid Park, with over a dozen activities ranging from an opportunity to make an instrument and play percussion with drum circle organizers Rhythm Worx to performances from the Sophia Isadora Academy of Circus Arts. Children will also be given an opportunity to create their own art, with silk screen and printmaker Valentine Viannay.
“We thought it would be fun for kids, of all ages, to participate in art,” Cotrell said. “There will be an opportunity to work on your own piece as well as work on a communal piece. Everyone will be made to feel like an artist, no matter what they‘ve been able to do in the past.”
La Quinta, Calif. based artist Mario Cespedes works in acrylics, with art that illustrates fables, fairy tales and mythology of communities along South America’s Amazon River. Cespedes, who will be showcasing his work at this year’s ArtWalk, said the only limits to how large his paintings can become are practical. “I have to be able to fit it in my van, that’s why I can’t make bigger pieces” he said. A regular at street fairs, Cespedes has been part of ArtWalk for four years and said he considers it to be one of the premier events for showcasing his work. “This particular event is incredibly important to artists like myself,” he said. “It’s well run, with nice crowds. It’s great to get our art in front of people that appreciate our work.”
While art is the main focus of ArtWalk, music is also a big part of the experience. Twenty three local bands and solo artists will perform at the festival, yet even in music the focus is on original art. No cover bands are allowed and musicians are requested to perform their own material. “In the same way that we promote original art from visual artists, we’re looking for original art from our musicians as well,” Cotrell said. On hand will be singer-songwriter Gayle Skidmore, acoustic troubadour Dave Humphries and powerpop trio Neon Cough, among others.
Stick player Tom Griesgraber has been a mainstay at the Little Italy event for over a decade and his virtuoso performances on the stringed instrument are always crowd pleasers. “It’s one of my favorite events in San Diego and I actually plan my tour schedule so that I’m home for it,” Griesgraber said. “It’s great to be right at street level and interact with people between songs. In my case, they’re always curious about the instrument or the music.”
Griesgraber considers ArtWalk’s role in showcasing art to be a valuable asset to the community. “ArtWalk does a better job than anything else I know, of getting people thinking about art and feeling open to exploring new things. It’s an obvious break, for audience and performer alike, from the norm, and a brilliant way to introduce the two to each other.”
Alfred Howard, who will be performing twice over the weekend with his groups The Black Sands and The Heavy Guilt, echoed Greisgarber’s sentiment. “My favorite thing about ArtWalk is the amount of people gathering to take in art and music,” Howard said. “It is a great means to get in front of people who would likely never hear you otherwise.”
The north stage at Grape and India street will be devoted to dance. “We want to be a venue that is celebrating… all kinds of art, not just the visual,” Cotrell said. The weekend’s roster includes a diverse lineup, from tango to Belly Dance.
After eight years with ArtWalk, Cotrell said she still enjoys all aspects of the event, especially seeing the changes in an artist’s creations over time. “Getting to know so many artists, you get to view how their art develops from year to year,” she said.
ArtWalk attendees are encouraged to take public transportation or walk to the event. A free shuttle will be provided at the San Diego County Administration building, located at 1600 Pacific Hwy. For more information about the ArtWalk, visit missionfederalartwalk.org or call 619-615-1090.