Shafter is a small town with big ideas about how to encourage artistic expression. Starting today, you'll see what that means when the six-day city-wide "Colours: A Celebration of the Arts" gets under way.
And it's going to be bigger and better than last year's two-day inaugural event. That's the word from Larry Starrh, one of the chief organizers, who's also a playwright and member of a long-time Shafter farming family.
A major expansion is represented in the number of venues: 13, from only four or five in 2011.
"We're using a lot of different facilities this year -- churches, the high school, all of the museums," he said. "The city of Shafter and the whole community are really embracing it, and that's good."
Although it's an ambitious undertaking for a town of its size -- Shafter's population is slightly under 16,000 -- the festival seems to have struck a positive chord with people from many different walks of life in this pleasant, tree-shaded town that's just northwest of Bakersfield.
Take, for instance, Mike Kotria, the pastor of the Congregational Bible Church, where Starrh's play "Meddlin'" will be performed.
"It is truly a celebration of the multi-colored makeup of art in Kern County," said Kotria, a member of the founding committee. "It's an historical event for us as we celebrate and highlight transformed art in our valley."
All areas of the arts will be represented, even wine-tasting, which many people consider an art all its own. The overall focus, however, is on transformation art --the idea of taking an animate or inanimate object and changing it in some way to create a new and different work of art.
A main attraction is likely to be the Parade of Lights on Saturday evening, which begins on East Tulare Avenue and ends at Mannel Park in the center of town.
Intended as a salute to the city's rural nature, the parade will be made up of tractors and other kinds of farm equipment. The vehicles will be lit up with strings of colorful bulbs in a line-up that's just one example of transformation art.
"There is a lot of talent here, from musicians to conductors to actors and playwrights to painters and sculptors," Starrh said, adding that many of those same people "have day jobs where their canvas is a field and their brush a tractor."
Three different stage plays will be offered: the Shakespeare comedy "Midsummer Night's Dream"; "Our Town," an American classic presented by the Shafter High School drama department; and Starrh's musical comedy, "Meddlin.'"
"Colours" also will display a gallery of visual art and a silent film accompanied by well-known Los Angeles-area organist Robert Salisbury.
Also involved in the festival are three individuals connected with the movie and entertainment industry: Justin Zachary and Antelmo Villareal, both of whom have Shafter roots; and Jim Schmidt, a Bakersfield resident.
Zachary won an award for his Los Angeles stage work in "Trainspotting" in 2002. Since then he has produced and directed a short film, "Hearts on the Knee," and has co-written three screenplays.
Villareal, an animator and graphic artist, has worked on a number of feature films, including "Barnyard," "Horton Hears a Who," "Ice Age," "Dawn of the Dinosaurs" and "Rio." He is currently a technical director at Blue Sky Studios.
Schmidt, of Dean River Productions, is the producer of "Trade of Innocents," a movie about the child sex trade in Asia starring Mia Sorvino and Dermot Mulroney.
As he reflected on the 2011 event, Starrh said he hopes to draw a bigger crowd this time around -- about 1,000 attended last year -- and to be more active in doing publicity for "Colours."
"The greatest lesson we learned is that it takes baby steps," he said. "It's sort of hard to get people jazzed about (the festival) until they experience it. We need to get the word out."
His long-range vision is to involve all parts of the county in the festival.
"This isn't just for Shafter. Eventually I want it to be all over Kern County," he said. "It's like the Edinburgh (Scotland) Fringe Festival -- that's what we patterned this after -- where everything in the city shuts down for the whole month of August. They started small and it's grown and grown."
Initially, the "Colours" committee hoped to garner enough of a profit last year to fund student scholarships, but that didn't happen.
"We didn't achieve our goal to give scholarships, but we covered all of our costs," Starrh said.
"This time we're going to use whatever we make over and above (costs) as a base for next year's festival."