Isle of Art

Share this:

Celebrating its 20th edition this May, Balboa Island Artwalk brings art, music and a convivial spirit to the waterfront community.

Section by Karlee Prazak


What began with a handful of talented artists gathering in an empty studio to show their work is now the largest art walk of its kind in Newport Beach. Currently in its 20th iteration, the Balboa Island Artwalk runs along South Bayfront from Marine Avenue clear past the ferry dock, populating the stretch with live music, art and family fun—a distance that co-founder Debra Huse never anticipated.

“We started the first art walk inside a vacant storefront with maybe 12 artists,” explains Debra, who, along with local artist Michelle Rudolph and supporter Jan Herrington, organized the inaugural event in May 1995 as a way to promote Newport’s talent.

The Balboa Island Artwalk, held each year in May, marks the unofficial start of summer.
The Balboa Island Artwalk, held each year in May, marks the unofficial start of summer.

“It’s not easy to have the opportunity to show your work and get involved with the community,” Debra continues. “[Balboa Island Artwalk is] a way to highlight the local artists and not be too strict, to let people just starting know what it’s like to show—[it’s] an opportunity to start their career or give established artists an opportunity to expand.”

This focus on community-to-artist interaction is what makes Balboa’s art walk unique and intriguing. “The artists are encouraged to demonstrate, … from watercolor to oil and sculptures to handcrafting and painting scarves on-site,” Debra says. “Often people don’t get the chance to meet the artists and interact with them. This changes that—it really is an all-around interactive day.”

By its second year, this method helped the art walk’s popularity grow in both artists and attendees, so Michelle and Debra orchestrated its move to the current bayfront location. Debra took the helm alone in 2000, introduced live music to the mix and opened the event to a handful of artists up and down the coast, from LA to Oceanside and Palm Springs, to participate alongside the locals.

Debra says that today there are five stages with live music—residents along the bayfront donate their patios for the event—with more than 100 artists and 4,000 attendees.

This year’s event is hailed by organizers as the 20th Annual Balboa Island Artwalk and takes place Sunday, May 18. Organization efforts began last year, and hopeful artists were required to submit entry requests six months in advance. This allowed ample time to select participants and put together the ever-growing event. That task is led by Debra, and aided by city coordinator Mary Beth Saucerman—who is fondly known as the “legwork person”—and primary sponsor Mary Hardesty, a local real estate agent.


“It touches my heart because I love Balboa Island and I’ve been here since 1969,” Mary says about her involvement. “People can come, stroll and enjoy the island, and support local artists. It’s just a highlight event.”

In honor of the 20th iteration, many artists are offering discounts on their work. Additionally, attendees who “like” the Balboa Island Artwalk’s Facebook page will be entered to receive a free collector T-shirt commemorating the event.

Apart from these perks, attendees can expect this year’s art walk, which runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., to be similar to the last, with a lively atmosphere inviting all to enjoy the roughly 100 artists and live bands that spread the length of the boardwalk. A map showing exact participant information is available on the art walk website.


Debra says a private resident or business may host a food truck, but local restaurants will be welcoming hungry art connoisseurs during their regular hours. The OC Cruiser will provide complimentary shuttle service to and from the parking lot at Bayside Drive and Pacific Coast Highway.

This year also marks the art walk’s first photo contest. Debra says participants will be asked to send in their best photographs taken at the Balboa Island Artwalk for a chance to be featured on the website. It’s a way to get everyone involved while also showcasing the beauty and excitement surrounding the event—which is one that many see as the unofficial kickoff to the summer.

“It brings the community together,” Debra explains. “Everybody looks forward to emerging out of winter into spring and summertime together, listening to music and enjoying the beautiful weather, view and art.”

Share this:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here