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Highlights from an artsy-filled year
The Arts Landscape

Highlights from an artsy-filled year

  • Updated

The proliferation of arts performances, activities and experiences taking place in 2016 packed theaters, schools, sidewalks, galleries, restaurants, wineries and non-traditional spaces such as barns and porches!

Our unique arts landscape — integral to the fabric and quality of our lives – is dotted with eclectic music, immersive theater, multi-disciplinary festivals, poetry readings, authors and book signings, hands-on arts education projects, plus a wide selection of films and visual arts exhibits. And that’s just the tip of the valley’s burgeoning arts scene.

Kudos, hats off and standing ovations to a few of the many 2016 arts heroes listed below (in no particular order).

— At least a year to plan, a week or three to implement and consistently surprising us with new-to-Napa Valley artistry, annual festivals now thrive on solid footing. Congrats to: BottleRock (May), Festival Napa Valley (July), Robert Mondavi Winery/Summer Concert Series (July), Porchfest (July), Long Meadow Ranch/Summer Concert Series (July-September), Music in the Vineyards (August) and the Napa Valley Film Festival (November).

— A steady stream of theatrical offerings both enlightened and entertained a wide swath of audiences. NapaShakes’ celebrations of Shakespeare’s 400th birthday brought world-class acting with performances by New York’s acclaimed Fiasco Theater and the inimitable Derek Jacobi with Washington, D.C.’s Folger Consort.

Lucky Penny’s recent season of self-produced plays, collaborations and guest artists kept its community arts center humming with productions of inventive, intimate shows. Upstage Napa Valley (formerly Calistoga Theater Company), Sightglass Theater and Napa Valley College productions gave local actors opportunities to shine, while Cafeteria Kids Theater charmed over 4,000 attendees with its production of “Willy Wonka” featuring a robust cast of young thespians.

— Two established venues are now “repurposed” for expanded programming: Blue Note Napa settled in to the Napa Valley Opera House, and a $14.5 million makeover was completed with the unveiling of the St. Helena Performing Arts Center at St. Helena High School.

— Connect, advocate and lead: Arts Council Napa Valley worked diligently behind the scenes with its small staff and minuscule budget, yet two of the organization’s many accomplishments in 2016, under director Olivia Dodd’s leadership, are anticipated to deepen the impact of arts and culture throughout Napa County:

Last June, after four years in the making, the Napa Valley Unified School District Board of Education unanimously adopted an Arts Education Master plan – a five-year visual and performing arts initiative providing opportunity, access and equity to all students in K-12 classes;

Thanks to multi-year funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, small nonprofits and individual artists could apply, for the first time earlier this month, to compete for a Community Fund Grant. These new grants are intended to “elevate culturally relevant opportunities” for project support and placed the Arts Council on a much-needed, re-granting map.

— Enriching the valley’s visual environment, numerous public art projects deserve special mention. In downtown Napa, “Tuesday morning, 1720,” by artist/muralist Morgan Bricca now adorns a 14- by 60-foot wall of Shelton Cleaners on Second Street, and the brightly refurbished Napa Latino Heritage Mural returned to its home on the Carithers Building after a nine-month absence.

The Napa Art Walk, composed of 14 juried sculptures, never ceases to amaze and educate on closer inspection. To celebrate Arts in April, the American Canyon Arts Foundation invited visitors to walk through a cement factory shuttered for decades whose crumbling, weathered walls made a perfect canvas for imaginative graffiti art spray-painted by three pro street artists.

Looking forward to confirmed projects in 2017, a new mural, “The Memory of a Tree,” will enhance the twin concrete abutments of Highway 29 over California Drive in Yountville, installation of a “Quake Mosaic” will be a project of the collaborative Rail Arts District, and three new outdoor sculptures/commissions created by Gordon Huether will soon embellish the entryway to the recently re-opened CIA at Copia.

— Students of all ages dipped their hands —and feet — into a variety of remarkable art projects this past year. New Tech High School’s popular, annual La Strada Dell’Arte street art festival/fundraiser flaunted chalk “paintings” that enlivened the school’s concrete parking lot. Parent/volunteer Aaron Buoncristiani and a classroom teaching artist helped kids at Napa Valley Language Academy create of a 10-foot mosaic mural, called “Tesoro de la Vida” (Treasures of Life) consisting solely of recycled materials brought from their homes.

Talented drama students at Napa High wrote and produced their own one-act musical, “Voices in the Dark,” based on 500 peer responses to three questions. At Nimbus Arts in St. Helena, and thanks to an idea by volunteer Phil Lofaro, at-risk teens who attend Court and Community Schools participated in a six-week pilot program of art-making, experimenting with the techniques of painting, sculpture, metal working and cellphone photography, shepherded by professional instructors.

— And last, but not least, a shout-out in recognition and appreciation. The arts in Napa Valley would not have as strong a public and visible voice were it not for the weekly Thursday “Arts” section you are reading at this moment. The Register’s commitment to provide weekly coverage, over decades of publication, is a strong testimonial to the value and relevance they place on the arts as fundamental to our quality of life.

Best wishes for a happy, healthy and arts-fueled new year!

Evy Warshawski is a performing arts presenter and partner in E & M Presents, bringing The Amazing Bubble Man (March 25) and The Amazing Max (March 26). For information, visit

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