Monday, June 25 , 2018, 9:43 am | Overcast 64º


Summer Solstice’s Claudia Bratton Knows How to Throw a Party

She puts a variety of experience and skills to work as longtime executive director of Santa Barbara's annual festival

Throwing a party is stressful. Now consider having to coordinate mimes and moms, street closures and stage performers, floats and food vendors. Enter Claudia Bratton, now in her 11th year as executive director of the Summer Solstice Celebration, one of Santa Barbara’s largest and most colorful celebrations.

Born in Richmond, Va., Bratton was raised in Glendale and Hawaii. Her parents were both smart and social, giving her a foundation of business, art and entertaining.

“My mother was fabulous with flowers, and early on I learned how to throw a turn-key party,” Bratton said.

She held many careers over the years. She initially worked in television as a publicist for Filmfare. She recalls one vivid day that illustrates both her ability to think on her feet and deliver creativity.

“It was a commercial with cowboys, and the director suddenly hated all the saddles,” Bratton said. “I raced out and returned with colorful fabric to adorn the saddles. That move pleased the director and saved the spot.”

Next she worked as a legal secretary, then went on to do accounting for Foley Bezek Komoroski, now Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis, a large Santa Barbara-based law firm. She reflects back and sees the value of her time doing both legal and finance work. She advises any intern under her tutelage to take an accounting course — sooner rather than later.

“I see my job through the lens of all my combined experience,” Bratton said.

She is comfortable looking at contracts and spreadsheets, or mapping the layout of the vendor booths. A lifelong artist, she’s also apt to brainstorm float ideas and find unique local performers.

Bratton is outgoing and outspoken, so her choice to leave finance to follow a career in radio made sense. Over several years, she worked up to general sales manager and general manager of various stations, including Santa Barbara’s KRUZ. In that industry, she learned the importance of communicating a convincing message in a limited time frame, and she learned how to modify a message to speak to various listening audiences and advertisers — a skill she uses today when communicating with her board of directors, her staff of 50 or the public.

Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice began in 1974 as a loose celebration of painter and printmaker Michael Gonzales’ birthday. Each year it became increasingly more organized with the addition of permitted downtown streets, a festival and vendors. In 1982, Gonzales hired Bratton to design the first official festival T-shirt. She modified his painting into a colorful, creative abstraction that began a tradition of artwork, representing Solstice’s annual theme. This year’s theme is “Jungle,” and Bratton says there will be monkeys, cats, King Kong and even urban jungles.

A 501(c)3 nonprofit, the Solstice festival is funded through small amounts of city money, as well as private donations, Solstice merchandise sales and festival fundraisers. The celebration draws 1,000 parade participants and more than 100,000 spectators. Through the Community Arts Workshop, Solstice offers local residents a chance to step behind the scenes and learn costume design, mask painting and float building with the guidance of several paid artists-in-residence. Participants pay $45 for adults or $15 for children to cover their participation during the workshop, which runs May through early July.

Everything built or sewn for the parade, including floats, costumes and various fabrics, will be disassembled, stored and repurposed in coming years. Bratton said that with avid recycling on all fronts, the Solstice has always been a green festival. All floats are push- or pedal-generated.

“We are so fortunate that our community supports this creative endeavor,” Bratton said.

In fact, members of the Santa Barbara City Council and Mayor Helene Schneider will be participating in this year’s parade. Bratton said Schneider will be adorned in hand-painted African fabric raising money for the cause through the Tree of Life.

Described as family friendly, Solstice offers a host of activities, such as stage entertainers, art booths, air bounces and a four-part community mural, along with Saturday’s parade, which starts at noon at Cota Street and continues up State Street to Micheltorena Street. The festival, in Alameda Park, has been extended to three days, Friday through Sunday — all of which are free. Noozhawk contributing writer Jenn Kennedy can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here to see more of her work. Follow her on Twitter: @jennkennedy.

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