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Hidden talent

Gary Blackwell of Long Beach works on his painting of models Nesenia Gonzalez, orange, and Brenda Coronado from Ballet Folklorico Cachanilla as part of the Plein Air Quick-Draw event at the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts on May 23, 2009.
Gary Blackwell of Long Beach works on his painting of models Nesenia Gonzalez, orange, and Brenda Coronado from Ballet Folklorico Cachanilla as part of the Plein Air Quick-Draw event at the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts on May 23, 2009. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

If you ask Anne Laddon, the North County is primed for an artistic explosion.

“People are really hungry for the arts. People really want the arts here,” said Laddon, printmaker, painter and founder of Studios on the Park in Paso Robles.

Launched in 2009, the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts seeks to draw attention to the North County’s natural beauty and native talent.

“What we’re doing is shedding light on talent that’s been here for a long time,” said Sasha Irving, festival coordinator and Studios on the Park programs director. “Even locals are surprised to see how many artists are in their back yard.”

This weekend’s free festival will feature more than 80 artists from around San Luis Obispo County and California working in a variety of media. Highlights include the Plein Air Quick-Draw, the Fine Arts Show and Sale and the juried arts exhibition “The Colors of Water.”

The event is co-sponsored by Studios on the Park and the city of Paso Robles.

“Across the board, we’re achieving really great things with our wine and our food and our art,” Irving said.

More than 7,500 people are expected to attend this year’s Paso Robles Festival of the Arts, up from 5,000 in 2009 and again in 2010.

“It’s unlike anything else that happens in Paso Robles,” festival chair Barbara Partridge said, noting that the event has grossed $40,000 annually in the past. Organizers hope to double that this year.

The festival kicks off Friday night with a free reception at Studios on the Park, followed by “The Art of Looking at Art,” a lecture by noted author, art historian and museum director Jean Stern. Both events are new this year.

Laddon described the lecture, held at the Paso Robles City Library, as focusing on “the building blocks of your education about art.”

Saturday’s festivities kick off at 9 a.m. with the Plein Air Quick-Draw in City Park.

Twenty-seven artists will have just two hours to capture the downtown area on canvas before their still-wet-paintings are framed and auctioned off on the steps of the Carnegie Library.

Irving said the auction offers a chance for art collectors to snap up a few deals. “People have no idea that you can buy original art for such a low price,” she said, noting bidding usually starts at $200.

Art lovers may also want to invest in a few raffle tickets, Partridge said, available for $10 apiece or $40 for six. The grand prize winner will walk away with $1,000 worth of art.

This year’s artists are a diverse bunch.

“We’re across the board. We’ve got everything from contemporary and abstract work to traditional impressionism,” Irving said, plus an array of media ranging from oil paintings and pottery to metal sculpture, glass art and jewelry.

Local participants include John Barnard, Ken Christensen, Dotty Hawthorne, Shirley Pittman and David Settino Scott.

According to Irving, two factors set the Paso Robles festival apart from its peers: its connection to the community and its unique geographical setting.

“We want to stay close to our roots as a family town,” she said.

While their parents attend interactive art sessions about landscape painting, urban photography and fine crafts, children can participate in the colorful Paint Jam and other hands-on art projects.

Family-friendly entertainment includes street performances by electric cellist Marston, string quartet Skylark and blues rockers Julie & the BadDogs, as well as the popular Dragon Knights stilt walkers. (Adults, meanwhile, can kick back in the River Lounge with a bottle of beer or a glass of wine.)

Another portion of the festival honors Paso Robles’ proximity to the Salinas River.

Attendees can learn about local plants and wildlife in City Park, then peruse artworks depicting the world’s most precious resource at the “Colors of Water” showcase.

“Paso Robles is actually a riverside town. We’re using artists to draw attention to (that),” Irving said, noting that the festival was created partially to aid the city’s efforts to purchase and restore riverside property. (Paso Robles later received a $4 million state grant to do that.)

Organizers would eventually like to turn the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts into a three-day event on par with similar events in Beverly Hills, Palm Springs and Sausalito.

“We want to be a world class festival,” Irving said.

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