The origins of this dazzling celebration lie in the community spirit and appreciation of artistic expression; there is nothing like it anywhere else. Artist and mime Michael Gonzales, conceived the Parade in 1974, to celebrate his birthday. From its humble beginnings as a group of street artists, the Summer Solstice Celebration has evolved into a street carnival of more than 1,000 parade participants, complete with extravagant floats, whimsical costumes and creatively choreographed dancing ensembles. It is the largest single-day event in Santa Barbara County, drawing crowds from near and far of over 100,000 spectators. The festival ends with an after-parade celebration at Alameda Park.
The core of the celebration begins with a community arts workshop opening in early May through the end of June. Solstice provides a staff of professional artists-in-residence on hand to teach and assist community members as they become involved in this collaborative activity in the construction of floats, masks, costumes, giant puppet and banners for the Parade, as well as sets and stages for the Festival in Alameda Park.
In the workshop a diverse cross-section of our community work side by side on their magical creations. A special Children's Area was created with two artists-in-residence who worked with children and their parents in the creation of a "Dragon Ship." The majority of the staff is bilingual.They have people from all economic groups, able-bodied to disabled and they all derive joy in this communal project.
Participants parade up State Street from Cota to Micheltorena through the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, transforming the business district into a vibrant splash of color and creativity. The brilliant illusions and imagery of fantastic faces emerge at noon, masquerading as creations in keeping with the current year's theme, and are joined by people-powered floats, as they glitter, glide, whirl and rustle up the street filling hearts of all ages with gaiety and delight, inspiring the crowd to celebrate the beginning of Summer. Commercial elements, such as written words, advertisements, live animals, or motorized vehicles (except wheelchairs) are excluded from the Parade.
Today, the Summer Solstice Celebration is a nonprofit organization, 501C3, run by a Board of Directors, responsible for carrying on this delightful multi-cultural performing arts celebration for years to come. Solstice funds come from fund-raising events, business sponsorships of artists in residence, personal contributions, board contributions, grants, and the proceeds from the sale of Summer Solstice posters, t-shirts, hats and totes.