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"Fiesta De Muertos" by Mike Willis, part of "Latination," which opens Friday at Metro Galleries.

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"Traje De Mariposas" by Betty Leonor, which took best of show at the fourth annual Latination.

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"Hot Tamales" by Michelle Stone, part of "Latination," which opens Friday at Metro Galleries.

Kicking off one of the busiest social weekends of the year, First Friday will fire up a fiesta of art exhibits, activities and nightlife to light up downtown Bakersfield.

That fiesta starts at Metro Galleries with "Latination," an exhibit in its fourth year. Don Martin of Metro said the response to this year's show, which asked artists to work with the theme of fiesta, proved outstanding, with more than 150 works entered.

"I was surprised that we went over 120 or so. That's been the highest in the past. I did send the call for works out to various arts groups throughout California and also used my Twitter account (@MetroDonMartin)."

Heeding the call, artists around the state -- from Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree and Landers -- entered the juried exhibit.

One standout was Joyce Janzen, an 85-year-old artist from Morro Bay, whose folksy pieces reminded Martin "of Grandma Moses."

Of course, most artists were local, including returning entrants Alberto Herrera, Christina Sweet and Susan Roussel.

Roussel, known for her ceramics, embraced what Martin saw as a running motif in the submissions: skulls.

"Last year, she did a skeleton bride and groom. It sold before the show. So I told her to create more and then I'd put them up all over."

Her works include two pairs of eternally happy couples and other colorful skeletal figures, including a take on Aunt Jemima.

Other artists include Michelle Stone, who sells her greeting cards at the monthly downtown Art Walk; Betty Leonor, Nyoka Jameson, Julie Barrios, Nancy Torii, Jesus Fidel and Howard Perez.

One newcomer to the exhibit is graphic artist Mike Willis, who also embraced skeletons with "Fiesta de Muertos," a work that makes no bones about living it up with a bottle of tequila.

"Every year he's been a client and he's bought works. We have a lot of new people, a lot of Foundry members," Martin said.

Sweet, who co-owns The Foundry, offered a striking follow-up to her painting of Frida Kahlo, which stood out at last year's show.

"I created an award for her last year, best new artist. She keeps getting better and better. Her piece (this year) is fun, whimsical. I used it for the poster."

Sweet's painting "RUN!" captures a frightening moment as the viewer come face to face with a bull charging in the street.

(Check in at Metro Galleries Friday using Facebook or the foursquare app and show it to Martin or gallery staff for a free Latination poster.)

Party on 19th Street

Sweet will have little time to bask in the glory of her work -- at least at Metro, as she holds down the fort next door at The Foundry's new location.

Sweet said Tuesday in an email that everything is running smoothly as the gallery settles into the former site of Ellie Jaye's children's boutique.

"I feel as though our roots are now firmly planted. The location is perfect for our needs, our neighbors are supportive and I feel like the new venue will showcase our members' artwork in a way it deserves!"

Susan Reep christens the gallery's new home with the opening of her "Journey to the Ninth Continent." (More on that exhibit on Page 24.)

Sweet said the new location, which triples the floor space of their former home next to Dagny's Coffee Co. on 20th Street, will allow the artists' collective to dream bigger.

"The best thing about moving in to a larger space is that there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. ... We will also be able to accept more submissions to our group shows and plan larger events. We are working on scheduling artist workshops, which we have room for now."

The proximity to Metro also excites Sweet.

"Being next to the Metro is great! I do feel the First Friday traffic will be thicker. We had a slight disconnect on 20th Street. We are pleased to be in the middle of the action."

That action extends beyond art to include music and food. On Friday, The Foundry will offer wine and a performance by Kama (Ruby) Maccioli. Over at Metro, Luis Aguilar from El Pueblo will dish up Mexican appetizers and margaritas while Mento Buru performs.

"On opening night, we get a couple of thousand people," Martin said of Latination. "It's because we make it a party. We have seating, it's like a nightclub. I don't drink on opening night, but Luis comes by with that big margarita (with multiple straws), so I have to take a few drinks. It's a really fun night."

Amid all the celebrating, guests may forget that winners will be announced for the top three works. Every year, Martin selects a varied panel of judges from all walks of life. This year's crew included City Councilwoman Sue Benham, news anchors Kurt Rivera and Jackie Parks, artist Claire Putney, floral designer Bettina Belter, and Olivia Garcia, editor of Bakersfield Life, which co-sponsors Latination.

Other fun downtown

Along with the exhibit openings and art walk on 19th Street, those seeking art can head to Dagny's Coffee Co. or the Bakersfield Art Association's Art Center for shows by Michelle Stone and Deanna Nelson, respectively.

Alberto Herrera, who is showing at Latination and will hold a book signing for his new children's book, "Musika" at Kuka's Folk Art, will be a triple threat with an art exhibit at Farmacy Cafe in the Padre Hotel.

The Padre is also stacking up events with a launch party for the DowntownBakersfield.com phone app, being held inside Prospect Lounge.

The Bakersfield's Downtown Business Association, in conjunction with Mobile Branding Solutions, recently launched a website and app to highlight businesses and activities downtown.

The party is free and open to the public. The first 100 guests who download the free app and show it to organizers at the door will receive a free drink and appetizers, according to a news release.

Also downtown, the Guild House, which reopened this week for lunch, will host a First Friday reception. For $10, you can enjoy an appetizer plate, desserts and a glass of wine. Saxophonist Ken Fahsbender and keyboardist Larry Peahl are set to perform.

With so much going on downtown, Martin said he hopes people continue to make it a destination for First Friday and beyond.

"First Friday continues to evolve. ... I'd like those who may just come to Latination to realize we're doing this every month and to come back again and again."