De COlores

Those who attend the 27th annual De Colores Art and Music Festival on Nov. 12 at the Agriculture Museum in Santa Paula will be embraced — in spirit — by two of Ventura County’s greatest champions of art, Latinx culture and social justice.

One would be the event’s hometown founder, Xavier “Big X” Montes, who nearly 30 years ago launched the De Colores Festival to promote social justice through Latinx art (visual and performing). The other would be Ventura County Supervisor Carmen Ramirez, who patronized and promoted artistic endeavors throughout the county.

Both are now gone: Montes died of an illness in February 2020, and Ramirez was killed while crossing the street in Oxnard in August. But their fervent belief in art as a means of education, peace and social justice lives on and will be commemorated at this Saturday’s festival.

“We are dedicating this year’s festival to Carmen Ramirez who was a big supporter of X and De Colores,” says Vanessa Acosta, Montes’ partner and now executive director of De Colores Multicultural Folk Arts Inc., the nonprofit organization that presents the festival. “X and Carmen both believed that art is a valuable and essential way in which we promote greater understanding and appreciation of culture and one another . . . So they’ll be featured in a photo on our altar at the event, not simply because they were so important in making the festival an annual celebration of art in the community, but as a reminder that we all need to work for justice for those who live in our community.”

The festival commences with a 10 a.m. Indigenous peoples-led blessing, followed by a procession led by Ventura County Poet Laureate Luzmaria Espinoza and Chinelo, Chumash and Tonantzin dancers to the courtyard in front of the Agriculture Museum a quarter mile away.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., the works of two dozen Los Angeles and Ventura County artists will be featured in Calavo Hall, as well as performances by the aforementioned dancers; music and dance by Inlakech, Alma Grande and Cali-Mex band Los Fabulocos; and poetry readings by Espinosa, Young Poet Laureate Angelina Leanos, and special guest Chicana Feminist Poet Dr. Naomi Quiñonez, who like Espinoza performed with Xavier Montes.

A product of Santa Paula public schools, Montes earned his bachelor’s in Studio Art and a teaching credential from University of California, Santa Barbara, and became an award-winning acrylic artist, exhibiting his works at museums throughout California. But he returned to Santa Paula, says Acosta, to improve arts education in the local schools.

“He wanted to do something for the Santa Paula community, which is 80 percent Latino, because he saw nothing representing the art of our culture,” she says. “X was also a musician who played the harp, and he wanted Santa Paula youth to be exposed to all kinds of music, including that of their heritage. And he fought for social justice and peace by utilizing music and art.”

His efforts led to the first De Colores Festival in 1993 at the Santa Paula train depot, assisted by friends at the Santa Paula Society for the Arts. Over time, the festival grew in scope and content to include art, music, dance and poetry from L.A., Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and throughout the state.

Then Montes died in 2020, followed by the pandemic, and the 26th festival was put on hold until 2021 when it was held at Blanchard Library on Oct. 23, which would have been Montes’ 69th birthday.

Admission to the 27th festival is free, and Acosta stresses that while its roots may be in Latinx art and culture, “this is very much a multicultural celebration, and everyone is invited.”

“The arts — music, poetry and dance as well as visual — emphasize the importance of cultures coming together to share their experiences, and understanding what it means to live together as a community. That’s what X and Carmen believed in, and that’s what we will celebrate at De Colores.”

The 27th annual De Colores Art and Music Festival takes place on Saturday, Nov. 12, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., at the Agriculture Museum, 926 Railroad Ave., Santa Paula. A procession to open the festival will begin at 10 a.m., in front of Poder Popular/Centro del Pueblo, 113 N. Mill Street, Santa Paula. More information at 805-525-3100 or 805-616-8272.