Digital arts age draws new visitors/vendors to Malibu Arts Festival

Malibu residents Dick Van Dyke and Suzanne Sommers, longtime supporters of the Malibu Arts Festival, show an original painting by Wesley Van Dyke (left), Dick's grandson and featured artist of the 37th annual arts festival, which took place this past weekend at the Civic Center in Malibu. Photo by Janet Laird / TMT

Submissions for this year’s fest took place through an online process, enabling a wider range of artists to enter. Malibu Music Awards are a new feature this year.

By Nora Fleming / Special to The Malibu Times

Neil Sears’ “booth” at the Malibu Arts Festival this past weekend is a post he has held for years, after deeming other spots and a standard vendor booth much too small to house his handmade hickory and willow furniture, which he has been selling at the festival for the past 15 years and making for the past 26 under the family-owned and operated California Twig Furniture, based out of Lake Elsinore.

Swings, dining room sets and even wooden checkerboards are the first thing to greet festival guests as they make their way into the Civic Center Plaza, where a weekend showcase of close to 300 artists and businesses has taken place for the past 37 years.

Sears, who treks to Tennessee for his hickory wood and makes furniture for Yellowstone National Park, is representative of the full range of artisans at the fair, which this year featured everything from traditional paintings and a booth filled with colored shoes to miniature Chinese bamboo gardens, African drums and beaded necklaces, black and white photographs, sculptures and, in the case of Sears, rustic handmade furniture.

Wesley Van Dyke, grandson of Dick and Michelle Van Dyke, was the festival’s featured artist, with his oil and acrylic paintings.

Rebekah Evans, president and CEO of the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, which has sponsored the event for the past three years, estimated roughly 7,000-8,000 guests visited the festival during the course of the weekend.

Evans said she felt this year’s festival had some notable differences in its added features, types of vendors and guests present, making it one of the most eclectic festivals she had seen.

Much of this was due to a new application process for artists. In years past, the chamber had printed and mailed hundreds of flyers to potential vendors. This year, almost every submission was digital, including pictures of the artists’ work, submitted online.

Five local artists worked as a jury for the applicants, weeding through digital photos of work from all over the country.

Some vendors came from as far away as Minneapolis, Tijuana, Chicago and New York City. The jury tried to put together a collection of artists representing a full array of genres, Evans said.

Evans said the future of the festival would continue to be in the hands of Malibu residents and chamber members next year.

“It’s all about Malibu,” Evans said. “It can be nothing to something really incredible. It’s up to the city. [But] this year was one of the best.”

Malibu’s first music award ceremony

The arts festival weekend also featured the Malibu Music Awards, a first time ceremony honoring musicians from both within and outside of the community for their work in the music industry, which took place at the Malibu Country Mart.

Terence Davis, composer, founder and president of Great Music, Inc., masterminded the idea of the ceremony as a way of both celebrating local talent and bringing recognition to the city.

Teaming up with the Malibu Chamber of Commerce, Davis and a variety of special guests presented awards to musicians and their work on Saturday night, post-festival. Awards were also given to art vendors from the festival, after a team of judges organized by the chamber made rounds, examining the wares of vendors and selecting winners in various types of art, such as jewelry, acrylic painting and mixed media.

Davis spearheaded the music judging portion of the awards, working with Chris Henry, a music producer, and Meg Hansen, a representative from A & R, to handpick local Malibu musicians who they believed were the “winners” in various genres such as classical and jazz, in contributions such as community service and music education, and as all-around winners such as a male and female legend and lifetime achievement musician.

Bill Bixler, music teacher at Malibu High School, was presented the Music Educator of the Year award for his work stimulating a passion for music in Malibu youth.

Antonio Ponterelli, a young rock musician from Marietta, Ca., took the Grand Prize Award.

Carol Simpson, who won the Best Malibu Song contest, was present at the ceremony and performed a variety of jazz and blues songs throughout the evening. The Malibu Rising Star award went to singer Celeste. Maria Newman was awarded Malibu Classical Music Artist of the Year. Other award winners can be found at, where Simpson’s song can be heard.

“It will be years before we exhaust all of [the musicians] in Malibu. The list goes on and on,” Davis said, expressing hope that the Malibu Music Awards will continue as a city tradition.