Art to be front and center at Taste of Downey

DOWNEY - Everything is set for Friday's second annual Taste of Downey food festival in front of City Hall, meant to showcase - in a relaxed, fun, family setting - some of the best food Downey has to offer, and, added this year, the inclusion of an art component that will feature the works of 15 local artists.The event, which last year enjoyed an attendance estimated somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 food tasters who sampled the culinary offerings of a little over 20 leading Downey restaurants, is scheduled from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Admission tickets are $20 for 12 'tastes' from among such established, new, and altogether famous Downey eateries as Mimi's Café, Olive Garden, Café N Stuff, Porto's Bakery & Café, Frantone's Restaurant, Granatas & Tapas, Mambo Grill, Tokyo Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Bob's Big Boy, Elephant Bar, Firestone Grill, R&J Southern Home Cooking, Tropicana Bakery & Cuban Café, to mention a few. The Wiseguys Big Band Machine, a fixture at summer concerts in the park programs and known for their Golden Oldies music as well as the latest modern beat, will provide the live entertainment. In the meantime, some 64 feet of wall space is being provided to the works of 15 local artists whose participation, in conjunction with the city, is being coordinated by Downey Art Vibe, described as a local nonprofit arts organization that "seeks to increase cultural programming by partnering with the city of Downey in hosting galleries, art-walks, film screenings, and festivals in the downtown area." City officials met with all 15 artists a few weeks ago in a 'portfolio review' session for a preview of the artists' art works destined for the outdoor art gallery. Founded in 2007 by UC-Berkeley graduate (photography and South American history) Valentin Flores, who is pursuing a double master's in urban planning and public administration at USC, Downey Art Vibe regards its participation as actually its second collaboration with the city in the presentation and advancement of local art, something that in its many forms has experienced definite signs of resurgence lately, what with the formation and recent activities of the Downey Arts Coalition as well as the ongoing Art on the Vine exhibits at Mari's Wine Bar on Firestone Boulevard. The first one, said Flores, was the group's one-night photography exhibit held in 2009 at the Downey Theater, titled "Ambivalence," which featured 300 photographs and displayed "upstairs and downstairs." "We were expecting a crowd of 350, but 800 [enthusiasts] showed up," he said. "The night's $8,000 gross wasn't bad, either." Gracing the art walk walls Friday will be mixed media works (paintings, photography, etc.) in the roundabout area by artists Jose Cervantes, Junior Leon, Gabe Enamorado, Alina Wilson, Carolina Del Toro, Jorge Del Toro, Lee Davenport, Monica Pucciarelli, Carlos Ontiveros, Ilianna Padilla, Ricky Ostendi, Pam Lane, Allison Mansell, Joan Anderson and Jamie Lennon Rowland. Rowland is the late afternoon's featured artist, which means his works, as planned, will command more space than the others'. Downey-born and -bred, the 27-year-old artist offers this personal perspective of Downey: "Our city is directly in the middle of Southern California, but if I want to see some art I have to go to another city. If I want to see an independent film, I have to go to another city. If I want to see an Indie band at a small venue, I have to go to another city. I've been all over the world and Downey is still the most fascinating place I've ever been. I want others to feel the same way. Downey shouldn't just be the center of Southern California geographically, it should be its cultural center as well. I hope you all get a taste of this when you come out [to the food festival] this Friday." Flores says he's been assisted tremendously especially by artists Rowland, Enamorado and Wilson while making preparations for the mounting of the outdoor art gallery, as well as by a group of about twenty-five like-minded volunteers. Last Tuesday, for instance, the group distributed flyers at the high schools, also Downey Adult School and Cerritos College, announcing Friday's event. Efforts to reach the leadership of various Downey community organizations reminding them of the upcoming festival were also made. Collaboration with City Hall is a valuable plus in this regard, he added, especially in matters of spacing, policing and such. Tickets are available at City Hall, the Barbara J. Riley Community and Senior Center, and the Chamber of Commerce. Tickets will also be sold at the festival. "Months and months of preparation have gone into this," said Brian Saeki, director of community development, the city department in charge of the event. "My staff has worked very, very long hours in putting it together. We expect this to be more successful than last year." About 2,500 food and art lovers are expected this time. Computed at $20 per head, the $50,000 expected to be generated will contribute heavily to the $65,000 paid to the independent, supposedly experience-rich event planner, Community Arts Resources, which the city contracted to assist the city in "re-branding the event (graphics and website), marketing, restaurant and patron recruitment, logistical support - before, during, and after the event - as well as coordinating with the Los Angeles County Health Department." The city will absorb the expected balance of $15,000. Parking, Saeki said, should be no problem. In addition to the space around City Hall and in the downtown area, the parking lot of Downey High School will be open to accommodate the expected crush. In any event, says Saeki, "Since the food festival starts at 5:30, the theater-goers will have a chance to sample the food, the art walk, etc., before proceeding to the showing of 'Singin' in the Rain'" which goes on at 8 p.m. Helping with the over-all planning and preparations was a working committee composed of representatives from the police, fire, community development, finance, public works, and community services departments. The complete list of participating restaurants: Acapulco, Bionicos Express, Blizzberry, Bob's Big Boy, Buffalo Wild Wings, Café N Stuff, Edible Arrangements, Elephant Bar Restaurant, Firestone Grill, Frantone's Restaurant, Gloria's Bar & Grill, Granatas & Tapas, Habana Café, Hacker's Bar & Grill, Jamba Juice, La Barca Grill & Cantina, Mambo Grill, Marisa's Mexican Restaurant, Mimi's Café, The Mission Café, 3rd Street Coffee, Narai Thai, Olive Garden, Pina Pizza House & Restaurant, Porto's Bakery & Café, R&J Southern Home Cooking, Randy's Place, Se Cheese Confections, Tokyo Garden, and Tropicana Bakery & Cuban Café. The Taste of Downey food festival is being sponsored by the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Southern California and the Downey Chamber of Commerce.

********** Published: September 29, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 24