So, How Did Our Sand Festival Work Out?

A tough slog financially, and for the 200 volunteers

The Baja Sand Festival, now a tradition on the weekend before Labor Day weekend in August, is a two day extravaganza on the beach in the shadow of the Rosarito Beach Hotel pier.  A free family-oriented event, it is an invitation for the whole community to come out to enjoy not only the ocean, the beach and the sculptures, but also non-stop music and dance performances from 10:00 am to midnight.

It should be emphasized that it is absolutely free. I have heard folks ask: does the festival make money?’ or ‘where does the money go? What money?  It is true that vendors do pay a fee.  There is a small allocation from the city, and a few fundraising attempts in the form of wateques (mixers) providing very limited funds to add to those of minor local sponsors.  The fees for activities on the eve of the festival -the vernissage or preview, and the dinner under the stars - barely cover the expenses. This meager revenue does not begin to adequately cover the cost of bringing in the artists and compensating them for 10 hour days under the beating sun for 12 days.

Myriad other expenses are involved in staging two days of continuous entertainment, even though all the performers donate their time. We can be grateful that luminaries such as Zebra Knight, Hola Soy Lola, Wild Pack, and JL Blues, to name a few, graciously agree to perform.   The corollary is that without funds, most responsibilities are shouldered by more than 200 volunteers. Just providing food and drink at the beach for some 25 people proved somewhat daunting and could not have happened without the participation of some local restaurants and many individual donations.

 The truth is this festival is severely underfunded.  Comparing it, for example, to what seems a lavish budget of$ 65,000 for the one day sand festival in our sister city of Imperial Beach, we have to face the reality that Baja Sand needs a major sponsor of national scope.

It all began on August 14 with the arrival of the sand sculptors hailing from far-flung places such as Peru, Colombia, various parts of Mexico, and Vancouver, Washington.  Waiting for them were 25 piles of sand, and a lot of lumber ready to morph into artistic creations.  

First hatched were the obligatory commissioned sculptures which represent local landmarks such as CECUT in Tijuana, the sunken ship Uribe, TJ’s zonkey, among others.  Aside from the priceless soulful expression of the Baja long horn sheep – our state animal – these are probably not the artists’ favorites as they do not allow much free rein for their creativity.  Is this really necessary to give the festival this character, lest visitors forget they are in Rosarito?

 In contrast, free-style designs are a delight. The Kiss, a very rough translation of Tryst of two volcanoes completely misses the legend of Popocatepelt, (he who smokes), and Ixtacihualt, (white woman), outside Mexico City.  Calixto Molina’s, astrologer was replete with symbolism.  The unfinished the 43 alluding to the abducted students of Ayotzinapa by Victor Amaya, reflects its author’s social conscience. Batman by Jairo Contreras is pure whimsy.  Each sculpture is deserving of a study which is not that easy to do with shoulder to shoulder crowds breathing down their necks or with some artists still scrambling to add finishing touches to their work.

  Leaving the site at the close of the second day, knowing that the sculptures will soon be gone with the wind and the waves, one is left to ponder what next year will bring to top this year’s efforts. The sky is the Limit. It may be that, contrary to popular belief, size does not matter and that we could improve on content.  Parenthetically, it is this writer’s hope that some women sand artists will be included in the roll.