Laughing zebras with lipstick-red lips, a gargantuan multicolored human heart sitting amid paints, and all kinds of crafts materials, feathered hats and sparkling masks lining the walls — such has been the vibrant harlequin scene at the Summer Solstice Workshop on Garden Street the past couple of months in preparation for this weekend’s Santa Barbara Summer Solstice parade and festival, running Friday through Sunday in Alameda Park in downtown Santa Barbara.
“We’re really here to further creativity, to show people they can be creative and give them a context for that creativity,” said Riccardo Morrison, artistic director of the workshop.
Riccardo has been involved in the workshop for the past nine years and has been artistic director for the past six. But that’s not all he is. He can also be spotted dancing as the Monkey King in Saturday’s Summer Solstice Parade, which kicks off at noon beginning at Cota Street and continuing up State Street all the way to Micheltorena Street.
This year, Solstice festivities start Friday, having been extended to three days instead of two. The festival will open at 4 p.m. Friday at Alameda Park and run until 9 p.m., with an evening full of theatrical and musical entertainment, including performances by Randy Tico, a Santa Barbara musician, and some of the parade ensembles.
The annual parade of floats will begin at noon Saturday and conclude at Alameda Park about 1 p.m., with final entry usually about 2 p.m. The celebration will continue with live music and food and drink from local caterers and nonprofits; an arts and crafts boutique with more than 75 artisans and craftsmen; a large “drum circle” formed by parade participants and anyone who cares to join in the beat. The floats from the parade will be on display. A special children’s area will include a stage with storytellers, musicians and mimes.
Solstice festival hours Saturday and Sunday will be noon to 6 p.m., with free art projects, booths and entertainment.
On Sunday, live jazz entertainment will be performed on the main stage in Alameda Park from 1:30 to 6 p.m., as a community mural is created under the direction of artist Carlos Cuellar. People of all ages can help decorate the mural, which will be about 60 feet long.
All of the arts and crafts booths, food booths, and the beer and wine garden will be open all three days of the festival.
The workshop, though, is where the magic of this distinctly Santa Barbara celebration begins. Though some are built off-site, most of the whimsical and fantastical floats for the annual parade are created at the workshop, a small, quiet parking lot turned bustling art studio.
As a culmination of the efforts of hundreds of people, this annual celebration requires a lot of manpower — and more is needed before Saturday’s parade. And if you’re not the artistic type?
“That’s what we’re here for!” Riccardo said. “We have artists to guide you, and the processes are usually fairly simple. People shouldn’t feel limited. If they come here someone will have something for them to do.”
All ensemble groups creating a float would welcome any help they can get. If you’re a worker, a builder, an artist or just someone with time on your hands, the Summer Solstice Workshop is a great place for a colorful time.
Summer Solstice has always been one of the largest events in Santa Barbara, with the vibrant floats and breathtaking dancers attracting people from miles around.
Scott Delarvin, a member of the New York-based Urban Rumble and The Jungle group, is attending his ninth Summer Solstice in Santa Barbara.
Standing among a towering Empire State Building and Chrysler Building dwarfed by fearsome King Kong and T-Rex floats, Delarvin described why Summer Solstice is so extraordinary: “It’s the comradery of doing it all. It’s that once-a-year artistic moment. I’m an engineer, so my world is very linear. Then I come to Solstice and it’s art.”
He added that he enjoyed the fleeting beauty of it all. “I like the fact it’s only around for one day,” he said. “It’s not something to be critiqued for hours and hours.”
The Solstice Parade captures that momentary brightness of summer for people of all ages, whether or not they’re involved in the process of creating the floats.
Santa Barbara High School junior Matias Rivera decided to create a float with a few of his high school buddies just for the fun of it. They’re creating a float of “B’Dough,” which Matias describes as a “symbol of happiness and acceptance and is basically just a huge deformed cat.”
“The same way a cross signifies Jesus Christ: Deformed cat equals happiness,” he joked.
Guided by artists who work at the workshop, Matias and his friends are creating the float of their own design and doing most of the “grunt work,” he says.
“We’re just a rag tag team of high school boys looking for fun,” he said, “and we get the perk of community service hours.”