Malibu Arts Festival celebrates 36 years

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Malibu Resident and actor David Arquette enjoys a flower display at the arts festival. Photo by Janet Laird

Thousands turn out for the annual event.

By Kim Devore / Staff Writer

You know you’re at the Malibu Arts Festival when you see Neil Sears setting up shop. The self-taught furniture maker was front and center at the usual spot where he has been selling bent willow chairs and hickory rockers for the past 15 years. This year’s festival was the largest ever, with more than 165 artists taking part and each one has a story to tell.

With his full white beard and folksy manner, Sears looks like a furniture craftsman out of Central Casting. He’s quick to let on that he is the official furniture builder for Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful Inn, and for a few hundred dollars, one of his cozy western creations could be at home on your range. What’s more, Sears seats are eco-friendly. “We use local willow as well as hickory from Tennessee. Both are renewable,” he said. “We are 100 percent green.”

While Sears has watched the annual gathering grow in size, the arts festival remains a true local event. You’ll spot everyone from local celebrities to council members sauntering past the stations. Gary Shandling, Suzanne Somers, Dick Van Dyke and David Arquette were just a few of the famous names in the Civic Center crowd.

Approximately 10,000 people and a menagerie of pets turned out for the two-day event. That was enough to put smiles on the faces of Malibu Chamber of Commerce members who called it a “huge success.”

Although willow worker Sears has put in 15 years, local photographer and Pepperdine swim and dive coach Nick Rodionoff has been involved in all but the first arts festival. He was the featured artist this year, with his photographs of multihued sunsets over local beaches prominently on display.

In addition to star power, there was plenty of flower power with Zuma Orchid’s George Vasquez literally up to his eyeballs in towering phalaneopsis and giant dahlias. Art was everywhere and so were beach, underwater and sea themes. Joel Miller’s vintage photography and memorabilia booth proved to be a blast from the past.

“That’s Trancas and PCH,” he said, pointing to a grainy image of the Malibu Hitching Post, “and that over there is the Malibu Inn.”

The 1960s era snapshot of the local institution featured a sign boasting chicken and steak for a buck fifty and a Malibu burger for 50 cents. There were iconic images of Elvis riding the waves and longboards being loaded into classic woodies. A box of classic movie posters included titles like “Endless Summer,” “Surf Fever” and, yes, even “I was a Teeny Bopper for the CIA.”

As casually clad dudes took in a little Miller time, yoga teacher-turned-watercolorist Helen Campanella was busy putting up a colorful collection of flowers and fish.

“I am having w-a-a-a-y too much fun,” Campanella said.

The 30-year Malibu resident said her new passion isn’t much different from her old one.

“Painting is a lot like yoga,” she explained. “You have to let it go and go with the flow.”

Campanella, who started painting three years ago, is celebrating her second year as a display artist. “Painting is like the energy of the universe. It’s what you put your mind to. You just do it. I can’t worry about making a mistake. If I don’t like something, I just cut it up and turn it into a montage.”

For 36 years, the Malibu festival has been a great way for Campanella and others to express themselves. “I love doing this,” she said. “I want beautiful things in my life. I want things that make me feel good.”