Every Sunday, locals and visitors alike can be found flipping through framed photographs and admiring paintings of sunsets and other breathtaking backgrounds, all just a stone’s throw from Stearns Wharf.
The Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show draws hundreds of artists to the waterfront from 10 a.m. to dusk each Sunday, requiring that participants pay an annual fee, live in Santa Barbara County and showcase their own work for wanting buyers.
Folks have been stumbling upon the show for nearly 50 years, witnessing an evolution from a mile-long creative display with more than 300 artists and a years-long waiting list to around 200 members who are feeling a bit like the city’s forgotten stepchild.
To complicate matters, the “top” of the show, from the Dolphin Fountain to the skate park, will soon close for 18 months while construction commences on the State Street Bridge replacement project across the street on East Cabrillo Boulevard.
Since 1966, the arts and crafts show has fallen under the umbrella of the city Parks and Recreation Department and is the only event written into the municipal code, back in 1974.
Jeff Kennedy, a longtime member and local artist, joins a chorus of others who think that means the show — an art institution in Santa Barbara — should receive more direct funding from the city for advertising.
Artists currently fund the show with the $100,000 they pay in annual fees, which foots the bill for use of the park, two monitors and other administrative costs.
Because the show is sponsored by the city, however, and not another organization as is the case with Old Spanish Days Fiesta or the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, direct funds cannot be allotted, according to recreation programs manager Judith McCaffrey.
Artists vent opinions at monthly meetings with parks officials and an arts and crafts show advisory committee, but Kennedy thinks they’re being ignored.
“Over the years, our fees have just ratcheted up, ratcheted up, ratcheted up,” he said. “Most people down there are doing it part time. Nobody’s making a living off that show. It’s in need of some assistance in advertising it. We’re not even allowed or given signage.”
Those participating in the show are used to rolling with controversial punches.
The show grew out of a small gathering in De la Guerra Plaza on Saturdays and Sundays, but was then moved by the city to the beachfront where three local artists began painting and displaying their work on weekends.
When merchants started staying open on Saturdays, the show was slashed to just Sundays and Saturdays only on special holidays, Kennedy said.
When hotels started moving to the waterfront on Cabrillo, such as The Fess Parker, the show was stopped where the hotel starts instead of spanning down to the public restrooms.
And when Skater’s Point was built in the 2000s, the show was cut again.
Kennedy, a UC Santa Barbara graduate who started showing in the crafts section in 1985, said the 18-month closure starting in February would displace 20 artists.
The Parks and Recreation Department has decided to move them to an area near a parking lot, a fate Kennedy says artists are resigned to, especially if the city would start pitching into an advertising fund.
One of the affected artists, a longtime member who didn’t want to be named, said she hopes the city could give her and others a discounted fee.
“I love the camaraderie and feeling like it’s my own little business,” she said. “But everybody’s complaining because I feel like we’re a little taken for granted.”
Senior recreation supervisor Jason Bryan, who oversees the show, said the timing of the bridge project is unfortunate, since it will coincide with the show’s 50th anniversary in 2015. He said he understands some artists want to divert more funds away from Visit Santa Barbara and other arts organizations.
Artists air concerns and are very involved, Bryan said, noting quite a bit of city resources are used on the show that takes up a big swath of Chase Palm Park.
“These are people who draw outside the lines by their creative nature,” he said. “They’re some passionate people.”
Bryan said the $534 artists pay for a one-year permit is affordable, and about half of them use a payment plan that tacks on an additional small fee.
Fees include $20 that goes into an advertising fund, which Bryan said has about $10,000 — most earmarked for anniversary year festivities.
He agrees the show is a great face for Santa Barbara, displaying all handmade originals except for some photography and digital art reproductions.
“There are a lot of restrictions that go along with the show,” Bryan said. “That’s part of the charm that makes us so different from a lot of other opportunities. The show is constantly changing and evolving.”
Kennedy, who now shows his photography across from the Santa Barbara FisHouse restaurant, said he remembers when fees were just $25 and hopes the number of artists doesn’t continue to dwindle.
“There is nothing like our show,” Kennedy said. “It really puts a stamp of the art community on Santa Barbara. We have a whole group of people who work very, very hard all the time in order to be able to display their best work. Yet those in power in the city do absolutely nothing to show their appreciation for the attraction we all provide.”