Santa Barbara Summer Solstice: Rooted in Community, Fueled by Fun

From CAW to Completion, Santa Barbara’s Annual Solstice Festivities

Santa Barbara
Summer Solstice:
Rooted in Community,
Fueled by Fun

From CAW to Completion,
Santa Barbara’s Annual Solstice Festivities

6/23 4-9pm | Alameda Park
6/24 11-9pm | Santa Barbara & Ortega St. to Alameda
6/25 11-4pm | Alameda Park

By Leslie Dinaberg | June 22, 2023

Being part of the Solstice team is addictive. Former executive director Robin Elander (in blue sweater) is still out there helping out. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

An uplifting, friendly, grassroots kind of energy is part of everything that happens at the Community Arts Workshop (CAW).

From rehearsal space for Opera Santa Barbara to the creation of the pianos for Pianos on State and the opening party for the Santa Barbara Studio Artists Tour, the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” vibe is baked into the very bones of this place. But nowhere is it more palpable than the Solstice Workshop. As they have done for close to 50 years, the visionary creators, artists, designers, builders, and swarms of worker bees gather each year to create an amazing, completely homegrown festival for the rest of us to enjoy. 

From May Day ’til the ides of July — when the whole magical enterprise historically goes into hibernation — the CAW is all Solstice all the time. 

“It’s just an amazing origami act,” says CAW Managing Director Casey Caldwell. “It’s a really amazing operation, and almost all of this stuff” — he gestures at a mind-boggling collection of power tools, glue guns, construction equipment, and materials featuring everything from bolts of fabric to enormous papier-mâché puppets, pylons, two-by-fours, and industrial plastic byproducts — “it just somehow goes into those two old trailers.”

The Creation of CAW

Sun imagery peers over the Summer Solstice festivities. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

A fitting use for the former city recycling center (and former city motor pool). While a need for a permanent home for Solstice and a facility like CAW was identified in the 1980s and was part of the Regional Arts Master Plan for several decades, it was a handful of dedicated individuals and the entire Solstice universe of supporters who kept the dream alive and finally made it happen under the stewardship of the Santa Barbara Arts Collaborative.

In 2014, the City of Santa Barbara signed a lease to officially create the Community Arts Workshop in a space that Solstice had used (at 631 Garden Street) off and on for years. In 2018, they extended the lease for 25 years — for $1 a year. After an approximately $2 million capital campaign “to bring the space up to code, fix the soil contamination [from the aforementioned motor pool], do basic things like build bathrooms, doors, and windows, all that stuff,” there is only about $60,000 left to raise, according to Caldwell. “So we’re very, very close. We plan to be done by the end of this year.”

Thanks to the vision of these artists and art supporters, CAW is now able to provide a working community space with two large buildings and four separate spaces for rehearsals, painting, sculpture, gallery shows, classes, special events, and the annual workshop space for the Santa Barbara Solstice Parade. 

The Making of Solstice

From its beginnings in 1974 as a small, wacky birthday celebration for the charismatic and free-spirited artist/dancer Michael Gonzales, who passed away in 1989, the Solstice parade is now an institution — the “real start of summer” each June. From its hippie-ish folk origins — which initially featured costumes created by two-day marathon parties and Alpha Thrift Store finds — Solstice has morphed into a professional budgeted enterprise and a next-level weekend-long art fest that runs Friday through Sunday, June 23-25 this year. New Executive Director Penny Little has even further plans to expand the reach of what she describes as “a three-ring circus on steroids.” 

“I would like Solstice to be a year-round thing,” says Little, who has been involved with the group in a number of different capacities since 2006, when she served (through 2015) as assistant to longtime Executive Director Claudia Bratton. 

EJ Huerta, who oversees the operations of the mask room. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“I feel like I could do so much more if we started early on,” says Little. She reports she has already assembled a board and done a Winter Solstice Fundraiser, a giant puppet workshop, and a maquette workshop for people to make miniatures of the floats. “I wanted to get back to this idea of having workshops to train the community and to bring more people and further outreach. It brought in new people that had never done that before, just by doing one workshop. … It’s all about giving the community something that they can learn, and then get excited about, and then do — and that’s great.”

Little says that this year she wants to start in September. “It’s exciting … I love making decisions. I have visions.” Part of that vision for this weekend’s festival is the new Roots of Culture Zone (“Roots” is the theme of this year’s festival), which offers a free space to any art, artist, or cultural organization that has information to share with the community. “Solstice is such a big thing, that maybe even the locals feel like it’s so big, but I want to make a space for the locals to have and be able to afford to sell their wares,” says Little.

Also new this year (on Sunday, June 25, at 11 a.m. at Alameda Park) is PAWject Runway, a dog fashion show that gives pups and their owners the opportunity to walk the catwalk in their own one-of-a-kind outfits and creations. For the past few weeks, the Solstice costume team has even offered their services — including access to fabrics, accessories, and sewing machines — to help create exciting creature couture.

Looking to the Future

Little, who has committed to bringing Solstice to its 50-year celebration next year and beyond, says that one of her biggest goals is to recruit and train the next generation of celebration artists. “We train and we mentor … when someone learns to take an idea, a conception, and imagine a thing from conception to reality, that is one of the biggest life skills you can learn in life.”

She adds, “And besides team building … learning how to collaborate, learning how to communicate, learning how to create community … we’re trying to create a culture and a community here that inspires, makes people feel safe, that makes people feel accepted for who they are, wherever they are in life. It doesn’t matter.”

Solstice Festival Weekend

The festivities kick off on Friday, June 23, at Alameda Park (1400 Santa Barbara St. at Sola St.), with a mainstage lineup emceed by DJ Darla Bea that includes David Segall at 4 p.m., World Dance for Humanity at 4:30 p.m., Grooveshine at 4:50 p.m., Budunkafunk at 5:40 p.m., Something this Way Magic at 6:40 p.m., and Rey Fresco at 8 p.m.

The Solstice Parade starts at noon on Saturday, June 24, at the intersection of Ortega and Santa Barbara streets. The parade will travel on Santa Barbara Street and then end at the Solstice Festival at Alameda Park, where floats will remain on display throughout the afternoon. In addition to special areas set aside for seniors and ADA access, there is VIP seating in a shaded seating area that includes water, snacks, and a parade swag bag. The cost of VIP Seating is $60 per person, with all proceeds supporting the costs of the workshop and parade infrastructure (for more information, email solstice@solsticeparade

Also on June 24 is the festival at Alameda Park, with a mainstage lineup emceed by DJ Sandwich. Love Lightning kicks off the day at noon, followed by Pocket Fox at 1 p.m., Will Breman and Band at 2 p.m., Area 51 at 3:20 p.m., Mashugana at 4:40 p.m., Down Mountain Lights at 6 p.m., and Petty Set Go at 7:20 p.m.

The Sunday, June 25 festival at Alameda Park features a mainstage lineup emceed by KJEE’s Cool Ruler and DJ Katnip with One People starting at 1:30 p.m., followed by Jacob Marquez & The Good Vibes at 2:40 p.m., Morie & the Heavy Hitters at 3:50 p.m., and Cornerstone at 5:05 p.m. 

The Children’s Parade will be back on Sunday at 1 p.m., as well as the PAWject Runway dog fashion show at 11 a.m. that day. 

In addition, all of the festival park hours (Friday, June 23, from 4-9 p.m.; Saturday, June 24, from noon-9 p.m.; and Sunday, June 25, from 11 a.m.-6 p.m.) will feature a variety of food and merchant vendors and a beer and wine garden area for guests over age 21. 

All events are free and open to the public.


Longtime Solstice volunteer Richard O’Steen. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom


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