Crowds gathered on the patio of the Westfield Valencia mall early Sunday afternoon to enjoy a Brazilian drum parade, salsa music and dancing as California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) kicked off its second LatinFest.
Pablo Leñero has been part of festival’s student-run executive committee for both years the event has run and said that it arose from a need to highlight Latin American art and students. The festival features traditional Latin American art created by both Latin American non-Latin American students as well as a variety of more contemporary art pieces.
“We wanted a place where all this art could promote intersectionality,” Leñero said. “The school has a world music program that highlights art from India, Bali and Indonesia but not so much from Latin America despite the large Latinx student population at the school and the proximity of Latin America to the school compared to the other countries.”
Last year, the festival was much smaller with the goal to “see what happens and have fun” to a larger and better established event, according to Leñero. The weeklong festival has increased from 20 to 30 events and will feature more than 80 participating artists, up from the previous 35. This year, the festival will feature free concerts, dancing classes, art installations and galleries, food, film screenings and a fashion show.
“Diversity is very important to this arts festival because Latin America is often put into this one box and we wanted to show that we have richly different colors, cultures and aesthetics,” he said. “Exposure is key to this festival and unfortunately we live in a very politically polarized country. We wanted to show that Latin Americans are more than how we are depicted.”
The LatinFest kickoff was a partnership between CalArts, the Westfield mall, the SCV Chamber of Commerce, and the Latin Business Alliance to help engage the community according to Jesse Smith, chief operating officer of CalArts.
“We’re really proud any time we get to celebrate a different culture,” Smith said. “We’re hoping to have this be a lead into our world arts festival in May. I love how this project is student driven and I hope to see it become an annual tradition.”
Leñero also wants to see the festival become a CalArts and Santa Clarita “institution” and said he is already working to find ways to gain more venues and expand next year’s festival even larger.
“The support of CalArts and the community is such a powerful message and we’re very grateful, especially since this is all student-produced,” he said. “As artists this is our practice and passion and we want to make sure that the community is engaged and having as much fun with this as we do. Inclusion is instrumental to diversity and rather than just say ‘look at us,’ we want people to celebrate our culture with us.”
The CalArts LatinFest is free to the public and will run Monday through Friday this week. To learn more about the LatinFest and to access a complete schedule of all the events, visit latinartsfest.com.