By Lee Wade
DOWNEY – The 3rd annual Downey Dia de Los Muertos Art Festival is just weeks away, and we’re just hitting our stride. In fact, I don’t think there is another free Day of the Dead Festival in the Los Angels area that can rival us for class, presentation, variety, quality and value.
I’ve been “in” event marketing, both Hispanic and general market, for 25-some years. I’ve developed a keen eye for what’s going to take hold, and work, long term, and what is not. I’ve observed that if an event is destined to become a local, annual tradition-- an ingrained part of the community—it will become apparent within its first three years. Otherwise, it will just peter out; it was apparent within 4 or 5 hours, that first year, that this event was a winner.
My part of the Festival is to secure sponsorship, assist with marketing, make suggestions and help as needed, but that happens lots of times, and the events don’t always turn out as special as this one. Sure, the perfect weather helped, as does free parking and free admission, but mainly, it was “the vibe.” People felt good; they were smiling.
Here’s why I think this Festival is so special:
There is a “real” 738-seat theater with continuous live entertainment: colorful, dramatic ballet folklorico.
The traditional noon showing of “Macario,” the quintessential “Day of the Dead” movie, from Mexico’s “Golden Age” of film. It’s rare to see this Academy Award nominee (for best foreign film) on the big screen, where the surrealistic images can really dazzle the audience.
This year, there’s a second film, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Made in Mexico,” about the repressed Mexican rock music scene in the 50s and 60s, including its exclusion from radio, concerts, clubs, juke boxes, and record stores. A fascinating peek, with interviews from the big stars of that era. That showing is at 5 p.m.
There’s a romantic “zocalo” with continuous live music, with space to dance, have a glass of wine or a beer surrounded by colorful decorations and greenery.
There are amazing sculptures. The alley off of Brookshire will be converted to an “Urban Art Alley” which includes three large sculptures by Martin Sanchez, whose work was a hit last year with his 22’ high skeleton on a bicycle. This year he’s showing three, new magnificent works.
New this year is the “trunk altars” display: altars built into the trunk of a car, usually a vintage, collectors car, so it’s like a car show, but with altars.
As always, the balcony level lobby is the traditional fine arts exhibit: oils, acrylics, collage, mixed media, ceramic, etc. This display is elegant and professional, thanks to the good taste and hard work of Carolina del Toro of the Downey Arts Coalition.
There is an altar contest, and they are all on display in the Theatre main lobby.
Much bigger this year are two large arts and crafts pavilions, in the Theatre courtyard, for children to “make and take” masks, decorate “calaveras”-- the iconic little sugar skulls—and to create a luminaria.
We have master papel picado and calaveras decorators on hand to demonstrate and guide. There are altar making kits for sale, too
Up to date, trendy food trucks galore, ranging from specialty ice creams to Brazilian cuisine-- plus tacos and burgers.
There’s great shopping: for art, jewelry, accessories, clothing.
There’s face painting.
Much of the credit as to why this Festival works so well goes to Amber Vogel. Her day job is as Manager of the Downey Theatre, but she is also the de facto producer of this beautiful Festival, of which I am so proud to be a part of.
Lee Wade owns Events Marketing, a long time L.A. based agency specializing in Hispanic fiestas. Eventsmarketing.us