Art and Culture on the Bay 5

Now in its 21st year, the beautiful outdoor Balboa Island Artwalk continues to delight.

As far as artwalks in Orange County go, the Balboa Island Artwalk has one thing over all others.

“We are on beautiful Balboa Island, and the backdrop for the artwork is beautiful Newport Harbor Bay,” says Co-founder and Director Debra Huse, The event has really grown since its infancy more than 20 years ago.

“We started very small,” Huse says. “Our first show wasn’t even outdoors. We started with about 10 local artists, only artists that lived on Balboa Island. What we had in mind was just to let people know that there are a lot of talented local artists.”

They eventually started to branch out, and a small show on Bay Front was met with overwhelming success.

“We have been adding music and artists ever since, and it just keeps growing,” she says.

The Balboa Island Artwalk, which takes place May 17 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., has grown to include around 90 artists, and draws a crowd of more than 3,000 people each year.

“It’s kind of the kick-off for our summer, and everybody comes out to visit with each other and enjoy the art and music together,” she says. “It’s quite a happening. A lot of people come with their families, their dogs and their rollerblades, and it’s a lot of fun.”

No longer limited to artist residents of the island, artists and craftsman from San Diego, Los Angeles, the desert, and the greater Orange County area gather to showcase jewelry, photography, pottery, paintings, blown glass and sculpture. And, since so many of the artists are local, the coastal landscape provides a majority of the inspiration for the artwork.

“A lot of it is very nautical and ocean-themed,” says Huse, “But everything included is more along the lines of fine art, like something you would find in a gallery."

Each year the walk also includes a few unknown artists.

“We always have a few artists that maybe have never shown before, and we give them an opportunity to showcase their work and for people to get to know who they are.”

Even kids get involved in the art showing.

“There are always some kids’ art projects along the way, too,” Huse says. “And, little kids get to watch the artists do demonstrations, which is really educational and community-oriented.”

Set up along the South Bay Front walkway, each three-block stretch is broken up with live music, with four stages in total.

“It’s kind of neat because you stroll along and on one side are the artists, the bay and the beautiful scenery, and three blocks later, on the other side, is the live music.”

This year’s musical lineup includes The Retros, Rick Sherman & Alan Remington, Jim Roberts, Don Ross and Rose, and the surf keyboard stylings of Grant Peacock.

“Some of the musicians have been playing the artwalk for almost the entire 20 years,” Huse says. “Because they had so much fun the first year, they can’t wait to come back. It’s the same with the people who come to the art walk; they know where to find their favorite band because they have been coming for so many years.”

Each year the Balboa Island Artwalk also releases a collectable t-shirt and a poster featuring original artwork.

“They are different every year, and people love to collect them,” Huse says.

To make the most of the event, Huse recommends spending the entire day.

“Plan to come for breakfast on the island, lunch and/or dinner and spend the whole day starting down one end and then walking to the bay front.”

She also says parking can be tricky.

“There is not a lot of parking in the area, so it is best to come by bicycle.”

If you aren’t close enough to ride your bike, The OC Cruiser provides free shuttle service to the event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from the parking lot at Bayside Drive and Pacific Coast Highway. 

“There is also parking on the peninsula, and you can take the ferry across,” says Huse. “That, in itself, is fun because across the ferry is the Fun Zone, and there is a lot to offer in the area.”

There is also a small market set-up at the ferry landing for the day.

“We’ll have Girl Scouts selling water and cookies along the way,” Huse says. “And, don’t forget to bring a bag for all the goodies you’ll buy!”

Because the event is outdoors, sunscreen, a hat and comfortable shoes are also a good idea.

Admission is free. It’s a perfectly artistic way to start your summer.

“Really, you have never seen so many smiling faces,” Huse says. “On that day, there are so many people happy to be on the island and happy to be outdoors with the art and culture. It is fun for the entire family.”