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YEAR IN REVIEW: Art bloomed around county in 2021

We can all agree 2021 was not what we expected it to be, but at least when it comes to local arts and entertainment it was a pretty good year. Literally pretty in terms of all the art that popped up around Kern County. 

Let's take a look at what has us talking and snapping photos for Instagram this year along with other big headlines.

Art venues

A feather in the cap of the Bakersfield Museum of Art came in September with the opening of  "On the Edge: Los Angeles Art, 1970s-1990s, from the Joan and Jack Quinn Family Collection."

This unprecedented exhibition features more than 150 objects from nearly 70 artists who were instrumental in defining the Los Angeles art scene including Ed Moses, Billy Al Bengston, Lynda Benglis, Peter Alexander, Frank Gehry, Robert Graham and Ed Ruscha.

The work was curated from the private collection of the Quinns, who amassed the work over decades of friendships with these artists.

Joan Agajanian Quinn credited BMoA curator Rachel McCullah Wainwright with her decision to share her family's personal collection with the public for the first time on this scale.

A number of programs were held during the initial run of "On the Edge," which was recently extended through April 2.

Visit bmoa.org/current for more on the exhibition.

Another thrill for local art lovers was the opening of Bird Dog Arts at the Outlets at Tejon. Run by David Gordon, who left his role leading the Arts Council of Kern to become Bird Dog's managing partner, the art gallery and retail space feature work by dozens of California artists, with pieces frequently rotated.

"It will never be the same place twice," Gordon said of the space in advance of its opening in July.

Some local artists whose work is on display include Gordon, an accomplished landscape painter, photographer Felix Adamo, ceramic artist Yvonne Cavanagh, painter Tim Ellis, jewelry designer Susan Ruppel of Wire + Pearl and painters Brandon Thompson, Heidi Beal and Kelly Wonderly.

Visit birddogarts.com to learn more about the space.

First Friday also rallied back through 2021. Although the art walk portion of the monthly gathering has not returned, art spaces including the Bakersfield Art Association Art Center, Moderngigi Gallery and BMoA along with businesses have made downtown a destination.

Myriad murals

This was a year for public art to bloom, literally in January with completion of the "Bloom" mural, which spans the entirety of the Beale Avenue overpass between Kentucky and Jackson streets.

Overseen by artists Jennifer Williams-Cordova and Brandon Thompson, the eastside work serves as a message of empowerment for local girls and young women, featuring some of their faces in the design.

The large-scale piece was made possible through The Hub of Bakersfield along with sponsors including the Arts Council of Kern, the Alfred and Virginia Harrell Foundation, Ward 2 Councilman Andrae Gonzales and Gallagher Family Chiropractic.

Williams-Cordova stayed busy with public art, working with Adventist Health nurses in May for a project for Nurses Week and teaming with fellow painter Beth Chaney for a piece at the new CarLotz at the Auto Mall in August.

Thompson also worked with students from Artists Seeking Knowledge class for the latest work up at the mural alley adjacent to Locale Farm to Table in downtown Bakersfield.

Shafter also embraced its "Dreams" in June with a mural inspired by Shafter Learning Center students.

Lorena Castillo, a Shafter-based artist, transformed a blank wall across Sunset Avenue, which was owned by La Hacienda Market, into a piece evoking the themes of hope, learning, farming and agriculture, community pride, education and traditions.

Taft also got in on the public art movement with a new piece by bumblebeelovesyou.

The artist, whose real name is David Esfahanian, was approached by the Grocery Outlet company to create something for the new business opening on Supply Row in June. 

He created "A Breath of Fresh Air," a trio of murals that run along the back wall of the grocery store, using paint purchased at the True Value hardware store in town.

If the name bumblebeelovesyou sounds familiar, it should since his piece "Don't Mind Me" went up in downtown Bakersfield along the sidewall of The Kitchen on 20th Street in 2017.

Another ambitious public art project began in July, a collaboration between Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services and local art collective Creative Crossing Co-Create. 

Already known for a number of murals in the Oleander neighborhood, the artists' group partnered to create five murals around town: California Living Museum, the Bakersfield City School District office on Baker Street, the Mary K. Shell Mental Health Center on College Avenue, Dignity Health Memorial Hospital on 34th Street and Kern County Mental Health Administration office on 28th Street.

The project was completed in September with unveilings held throughout the month in recognition of National Suicide Prevention and Recovery Month.

The Hub of Bakersfield

This local nonprofit with an eye on revitalizing the downtown area has been busy this year in terms of supporting the arts.

Along with commissioning the "Bloom" mural, it launched another Cash for the Arts program, paying artists to beautify utility boxes in Old Town Kern, east Bakersfield and Homaker Park, a neighborhood between Chester and Union avenues extending north from 34th Street.

This spring, it also commissioned four artists — Nanette Bonilla, Mario Gonzalez, Jennifer Williams-Cordova and Juliana Gonzalez, who creates under the handle Createasea — for "Paint the Void," a project to bring their own artistic stamp to a section of boarded-up windows along Baker Street.

That art project coincided with its campaign to revitalize Old Town Kern including an initiative to save the Southern Pacific train depot from demolition.

The Hub's efforts for Second Saturday, its monthly event to draw people downtown, has continued to grow, with more than 50 businesses actively participating in the promotion.

Bakersfield in the spotlight

After last year's stellar performance by Jim Ranger competing on NBC's "The Voice," we wondered how else Bakersfield would make bigger arts news. From TV and films to streaming services and YouTube, we made some headlines.

In January, Pine Mountain Club resident Bob Golub had a moment to shine alongside Denzel Washington in "The Little Things."

He was featured in a scene in a convenience store in which his character annoys the former hotshot L.A. investigator who's now looking for a killer targeting young women. 

Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Gregory Porter welcomed viewers into his kitchen in May with "The PorterHouse with Gregory Porter," a six-episode online cooking series. 

Along with his musical accomplishments, Porter worked as a chef in his brother's cafe, Bread-Stuy, in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in the early 1990s. His expertise was featured in this limited series as well as other appearances he made this year including on ITV's "This Morning."

The spotlight was on the Padre Hotel in May when it was featured in an episode of the Discovery+ show "Portals to Hell."

Co-host Jack Osbourne, son of musician Ozzy Osbourne, led the paranormal investigation of the 93-year-old hotel that has previously been explored by "Long Island Medium" star Theresa Caputo and others.

In the episode, the crew caught on camera the curtains that separate the kitchen from the counter at Farmacy Cafe flapping, although no one is nearby and there is no detectable source of what could have caused the movement. Footage also picks up a shadowy figure in the distance, although it could be someone spotted through the window walking along 18th Street.

This September, "The Starling" was released on Netflix with a script by Cal State Bakersfield alum Matt Harris.

The film focuses on a husband and wife (Chris O'Dowd and Melissa McCarthy) who struggle to recover from a tragic loss. McCarthy is helped by a psychologist-turned-veterinarian (Kevin Kline) from whom she initially seeks advice for dealing with a starling that keeps divebombing her.

Also in September on Netflix, season two of "Gentefied" debuted from Bakersfield native Marvin Lemus, who co-created the show.

The series looks at the gentrification and ongoing wealth inequality that affects a Mexican American family living in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Soap opera fans got a local surprise in October when Bakersfield-born actor Rory Gibson debuted on "The Young and the Restless." The Centennial High grad plays Noah Newman, the son of Nick Newman (Joshua Morrow) and grandson of the powerful and ruthless businessman Victor Newman (played by soap royalty Eric Braeden), on the CBS soap.

In November, teenager Sophia Sanders appeared in "King Richard," the film about Richard Williams (played by Will Smith), father and coach to tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams.

An accomplished tennis player herself, Sophia was cast for a small role as a girl whom Venus (played by Saniyya Sidney) faces during her first tennis tournament at age 12. When she starts to lose, Sophia's character melts down.

Two chefs with local ties competed this year. 

Bakersfield native Sharila Stewart competed on Bravo's "Top Chef Amateurs." Now a law student living in Jersey City, N.J., Stewart prepared a West African spiced chicken and rice with ginger garlic sauce alongside "Top Chef" alum Eric Adjepong.

Local baker Regina Walker of Kake Walker took part in the Disney+ competition "Foodtastic," which began streaming earlier this month. The retired deputy probation officer used her baking skills on her team, which had to create edible work based on the character Wreck-It Ralph.

Speaking of bakers, teen chef Aliah Maness won the John’s Incredible Kids Cook-Off championship and had her dessert added to the buffet's menu.

After the contest was delayed from 2020, Aliah faced off against two finalists and won with her trio of cookies in July. This November, her brookie, which marries the qualities of a brownie and cookie, was added to the menu at all locations of the West Coast chain.

Here comes ‘Treble’

August brought the public debut of "Treble & Twang: The Music That Came Out of Bakersfield," which was screened at the Fox Theater.

Sisters Di Sharman and Glenda Rankin started the project in 2015 through their nonprofit, Citizens Preserving History, working with filmmaker Chuck Barbee and his wife, Tammie.

This love song for the Bakersfield Sound grew from 50 interviews with original Bakersfield Sound musicians, their surviving family members and the new generation. Those interviewed include Ed Rogers, Jerri Arnold, Tommy Collins Jr., Fuzzy Owen, Norm Hamlet, Lillian Haggard Rea, Jimmy Phillips, Tommy Hays and Bobby Durham, among others.

More to come

This November brought the first Southern Sierra Film Festival, organized by the Kern River Conservancy.

Held at the Kern County Museum, the environmental film festival for the southern San Joaquin Valley featured five short films from Kern County creators as well as environmentally inspired work from local artists and photographers. 

Gary Ananian, executive director and founder of the Kern River Conservancy, said the festival will continue to tour the valley in 2022, with stops already planned in Kernville, Tehachapi, Three Rivers, Fresno and a return to Bakersfield.

Another new event is also coming in 2022: Vanilla Palm Film Festival & International Art Competition.

The first-of-its-kind festival in Bakersfield set for May will provide filmmakers and artists from Bakersfield and beyond a chance to exhibit their work on a grander scale than previous events, according to organizer Jimmy Andrews.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.