Santa Monica Glow festival seeks to engage — and entertain

The second edition of Santa Monica’s nocturnal art festival, called Glow 2010 this year, will be up and running beginning Saturday evening, and if it’s anything like the inaugural version, expect a little company as you stroll the waterfront array of installations and performance art.

Last time, the Glow festival drew 200,000 visitors. “It’s amazing to do a first-time art event and get that kind of crowd,” says Jessica Cusick, cultural affairs manager for the city, the event’s organizer. “We’re estimating maybe half of that this year, about 100,000.”

With the poor economy lingering, there are fewer projects in this year’s Glow — 20, down from 27. Some participants were invited, and others were chosen by a jury in an open competition.

“I think the first rule was to find artists who have original vision and something that is compelling to say,” says Marc Pally, artistic director of Glow. “We’re looking for artwork that has an engaging aspect, promotes a social environment as opposed to something quiet and contemplative, something that helps to energize our common spaces and to rethink how art plays a role in our social behavior.”



Thinking, however, may be optional, as many of the projects are geared toward fun and entertainment, offering music and sound and inviting audience participation. That includes the opening program, “Howling at the Sun,” a whimsical reenactment of a Tongva Gabrielino myth co-produced by LA Commons and the 18th Street Art Center.

The story “pits the Sun against Sky Coyote in a battle to determine the fate of the Earth,” says Karen Mack, executive director of LA Commons. “When we were discussing ideas, it really resonated with all of us — ancient implications and modern implications, the challenges we face on this planet with global warming and everything.”

In their version, Najite Agindotan will represent Sun and Angel-Luís Figueroa will represent Coyote. Both percussionists are steeped in musical traditions that maintain a friendly rivalry — African and Afro-Cuban music, respectively. They will lead teams in processions that will meet at Ocean and Colorado avenues at 7 p.m., launching the evening’s festivities. Afterward, the two groups will head down to the beach, where they will invite visitors to join in mask- and headgear-making as well as in singing and drumming.

The action culminates at midnight with a “musical battle,” with storyteller Michael McCarty judging the winner.

On a more intimate scale will be Anne Herlihy’s “La Bella Luna,” which blends nostalgia with karaoke. A sign with the words “Luna Park” lighted marquee-style will be next to a tent she has sewn together from fabrics of many colors in the form of a 12-foot-tall octagon. “It’ll be a bit of Fellini on the beach, or like a mirage,” says Herlihy, a painter and designer.

Individuals will enter and select from a playlist of songs that have the word “moon” in their titles, then will sing into a microphone. The singer’s voice will be broadcast outside via two speakers, while his or her face will be projected onto a sphere floating over the tent. “They’ll be the moon singing to the crowd,” says the artist. “They’ll be like the man in the moon.”

Three projects organized by Machine Project employ music — one is “Wandering Musicians: Killsonic,” and two are stationary, the presentation of sea chanties, traditional and pirate songs in “Nautical Music Encampment” and of musical sets by the Santa Monica Pier carousel in “Carousel Concerts.”

For “Muscle Beach Glow,” music from the 1930s to the present will accompany acrobats in phosphorescent costumes performing on the equipment at Muscle Beach — with free lessons offered to passersby.

The fees awarded for the projects ranged from $2,500 to $70,000, says Pally, with the top fee going to Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a Canadian-Mexican artist based in Montreal. His public installations have been shown around the world, and he represented Mexico at the 2007 Venice Biennale. For Glow, his installation piece “Sandbox” makes ample use of electronic technology to explore and amplify one of life’s enduring pleasures, playing in the sand, while suggesting one of life’s creepy modern realities, public surveillance.

Some big hands

Miniaturized video images of people at the festival will be projected into two small sandboxes — each 3 by 3 feet. Meanwhile, visitors can place their hand in those boxes and play. Those hands, in turn, will be projected in gargantuan proportions on a much bigger “sandbox” elsewhere on the beach.

“Beaches in California feature people walking around with metal detectors, kids making sand castles, illegal Mexicans hoping the migra will not catch them and people expanding their bodies,” writes Lozano-Hemme via e-mail. " I wanted to make a piece with these themes that was playful and ominous at the same time.”

There will also be offerings to the taste buds. There will be two areas with food trucks, one north and one south of the pier. And, in fact, one art project is a food truck: Pentti Monkkonen’s “Barbecue Train,” a replica of a classic locomotive engine, from which Border Grill will be grilling and selling food.

The festival runs from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. For more information go to