A Tale of Two Festivals

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Artist Ivo Spirov stands next to his work at the 44th annual Malibu Arts Festival.

The Malibu Chamber of Commerce hosted the 44th annual Malibu Arts Festival on July 25 and 26, which spurred a mixed response from artists who were there to sell their work. The event, which is set up in the Malibu Library parking lot, is a place, year after year, for artists and Chamber of Commerce members to exhibit and sell their wares and creations.  

Chamber of Commerce CEO, Mark Persson, told The Malibu Times that about eight or nine thousand people attended the two-day festival.

“This year’s Saturday was bigger than last year’s Saturday,” according to car counts and security observations. Sunday’s attendance was a bit slower than usual, which Persson said may be attributed to a car accident that closed Pacific Coast Highway in both directions in Pacific Palisades. 

There were 150 artists at the festival along with 50 local businesses and nonprofit organizations. Many local artists display their work, as well as artists from out of town.

“To make it purely local would be difficult,” Persson explained. “There are 250 spaces [available] and it’s never been purely for locals or we wouldn’t call it a festival, but we are definitely interested in featuring local businesses and artists.”

The art is juried, meaning that any artist who wishes to purchase a booth for the first time must be reviewed and approved by a panel of five local jurors.

“We’re striving for quality,” Persson said. “With the popularity of our festival, we have to be pretty strict about who comes in.” The jurors are anonymous, their names known only to the Chamber, but each must be an artist or “art expert.”

One tradition that accompanies the festival every year is the Malibu Optimists Club Pancake Breakfast, which is served for three hours each morning. The club charges $5 per breakfast, and sponsors and homeless people get their food for free.

Anne Payne, a member of the club, said that on Saturday “they never had a lull.” But on Sunday, “they didn’t get busy until around 10 a.m.”  She explained how much she loves the event. “A lot of locals come because it’s tradition,” she said. “Children that came with their parents years ago have grown up and now come with their own children. It’s a good cross-section of the community.”

Others, particularly the artists, were not so upbeat about the festival. Nick Rodionoff, a local photographer who’s been exhibiting work at the annual event for over 20 years, was disappointed that the number of artists has dwindled over the years. “There are fewer people [attending], and they’re buying less,” he said.

He noted that many of this year’s artists are new to the festival, and many of the artists who have exhibited for over 20 years are no longer coming.

“It’s one thing to break even, but something else to lose money. You’re not going to attract fine artists from other places, like northern California, if they’re going to lose money,” Rodionoff said.

Another artist, Gustavo Santana of Culver City, said this is his eighth year at the Malibu Arts Festival, and it will be his last. “I’ve given it so many chances, but it’s just going down and down. They just don’t have the people coming to this … yesterday was like a ghost town.”

But Persson noted that he has heard positive feedback about the festival.

“You can’t have that many people without a few issues here and there, but we got more compliments this year than ever before and I heard a few stories about successful artists,” he said. Persson explained that the Chamber watches visitors leave with pieces of art and gauge some of the success of the festival on what patrons are carrying out.

Artists and brothers Ric and Tim Vigallon have been selling their metal sculptures at the festival for approximately 20 years. Tim explained that they saw less sales this year, but believe it is because the pieces they brought were all too large.

“[Customers] liked it but they went home and measured and it wouldn’t fit,” Tim said. “Usually I don’t have the biggest stuff. Medium, and not extra large, seems to work better.”

Despite less sales than usual, the brothers will be back next year, and have already put down a deposit to be located in the same booth.

Local artist Ivo Spirov shared that he liked the festival because of the people he met.

“I really enjoyed my time at the festival,” Spirov shared. “I got to meet plenty of talented people and to show my work not only to the Malibu community, but to visitors from all over.”

Ethel Klimes of California Balsamic said sales were brisk, especially her “electric lemon vinaigrette.” Volunteers manning the “Malibu Film Society” booth could barely keep up handing out free popcorn, and the California Wildlife Center seemed to attract a crowd at all times. 

Malibu’s first and only radio station KBU had Brooke Halpin DJing at the festival, playing a selection of Beatles songs and taking requests during the lunch hour both days. There was also a stage next to the beer/wine garden and dog park where musical acts performed throughout the day.