Wednesday, Dec 26 2012 03:06 PM

The Californian's breakout talents of 2012

By The Bakersfield Californian

When it comes to standout moments, it's often an actor or musician up on stage that comes to mind. But our local visual arts scene proved its might in 2012, producing The Californian's pick for the year's breakout talent, Christina Sweet.

Colorful and often whimsical, Sweet's work was hard to miss this year. From Mercy Hospital's Art and Spirituality Center for the Autumn Art Fest to the Festival of Beers at Stramler Park and the Padre Hotel's Farmacy Cafe for her "Hooves and Horns" exhibit, Sweet shared her art in a variety of community venues.

Of course, she made the biggest splash at local galleries. After being named best new artist in 2011 for "Latination" at Metro Galleries, she was awarded first place this year in the popular exhibit, the centerpiece of the biggest First Friday event of the year. Along with the show at the Padre in October, she also mounted a second solo show, "Other Side of the Rainbow," at The Empty Space Gallery in June.

Discussing the "Rainbow" show, she described her painting process, honed over 23 years, as transportive: "When I paint, I can be in my own world."

For the full-time insurance broker, that world's physical location is on 19th Street above The Foundry gallery, which she started with four other artists in 2010. Along with developing her own art, Sweet has helped encourage the careers of The Foundry's 80-plus members through solo and group exhibits, and small art shows throughout the year.

Those members rallied in February when the gallery, then located one block over on 20th Street, was vandalized. Sweet worked with members Jesus Fidel and Jen Raven on a fundraiser to replace the damaged front windows.

Of the fundraising, Sweet said, "I am humbled by their efforts and appreciation for what The Foundry does for our local artists."

This year was a big one for Sweet, but that's bound to continue into 2013 and beyond as one of her passions is supporting the local arts community.

"Having the ability to surround myself with beautiful art and wonderful artists is far more rewarding than I ever dreamed."

-- Stefani Dias, assistant lifestyles editor

Theater: Michelle Guerrero

From writing to directing to art, Michelle Guerrero was all over the local arts scene. It's no wonder that the marketing director for The Empty Space started the year being named the most valuable person at the theater's annual awards show. As a director, she took on "Herstory," a collection of monologues by local women for V-Day in February, and teamed on late-night shows "Marat/Sade" in March and "The Unexpected Man" in November. Artistically, she held "Arboresque," a solo show of paintings and tiny terrariums, and worked with husband, Eric Tolley, on a collection of light fixtures and home furnishings for "Light Living" in November, both at the theater's gallery. As a writer she was equally prolific, taking on a hot topic in "The Bullied" in August, penning comedy sketches for "Stripped" with her group The Tuesdays in September, and paying homage to Poe in "Once Upon a Midnight Dreary" at Bakersfield Community Theatre in October.

-- Stefani Dias

Other theater standouts

Bethany Rowlee is one of those all-round performers who brings energy to everything she does. Her ability to sing, dance and act was expecially memorable in two decidedly different roles at Stars this year -- as a 19th century con artist in "Oliver" in August and as a versatile 1960s-era rock-and-roll star in "Shout!"

-- Camille Gavin, arts columnist

With her full-bodied voice, Detreice Palmer was dynamic as the Lady in Brown in "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf" at Bakersfield Community Theatre.

-- Camille Gavin

Zachary Gonzales as Che in "Evita" was effective in carrying out the complex story line, giving a solid performance as the narrator/troubador in Stars' production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

-- Camille Gavin

Actress Libby Letlow took a real hands-on approach to her career in 2012. After a turn as Madame de Volaneges in "Dangerous Liaisons" at the Spotlight Theatre, she stepped into her big local role at The Empty Space in May. As a creative force behind the theater's spirited production of "Avenue Q," Letlow made all the puppets and coached the puppeteers. The actress moved to Los Angeles in August, continuing her puppetry work, teaching classes at the Puppet School and in the cast of the Doma Theatre's critically acclaimed production of "Avenue Q," which runs through February.

-- Stefani Dias

Music: Dub Seeds

Bakersfield reggae rock trio Dub Seeds were on a creative roll this year, with more than 100 live shows across the state and along the coast, not to mention the release of their second full-length CD, "Skunk Face," just in time for summer. In addition to those milestones, band members Chris Taylor, Gary Rink and Anthony "Gizmo" Rodriguez dedicated themselves to expanding their presence on the Web, winning fan-voted slots on both the Sacramento Hemp Fest in August and the massive Cali Roots Festival in Monterey coming this spring with some of the biggest names in the genre. Capping off a stellar year, Taylor also just married his longtime girlfriend, Cynthia, and welcomed a new baby son, Elijah Robert.

-- Matt Munoz, entertainment writer

Other music standouts

A multi-talented violinist, guitarist, trombonist and vocalist, 31-year-old Bakersfield native Paul Cartwright has been building his name in Hollywood circles for a few years now, scoring soundtrack work on hit shows like "The Walking Dead" and on Broadway. This year, he was seen on the road with Los Angeles pop burlesque troupe Totsy, as the opening act on guitarist Brian Setzer's Christmas extravaganza. True to his roots, he made frequent trips back to Bakersfield to share his artistry with the hometown crowd, performing onstage with local Beatles tribute band The Abbey Roadies, among others.

-- Matt Munoz

After years of commuting between Bakersfield and Los Angeles, percussionist Louie Cruz Beltran had one of the biggest years of his career after releasing his star-studded new Latin jazz CD, "Paint the Rhythm," which helped propel him onto the playlists of jazz enthusiasts around the globe. That recognition also brought him to the attention of the prestigious Playboy Jazz Festival, which booked him to bring the sold-out Hollywood Bowl audience to their dancing feet.

-- Matt Munoz

Dance: Ephraim Penn

Longtime Bakersfield dancer and instructor Ephraim Penn stepped into the national spotlight this year with an appearance on the "Today" show in October. Penn, who owns PennPoint Dance Academy in downtown Bakersfield, went on to win the "Show Us Your Moves" contest with his hip-hop freestyle dance explosion, in front of his biggest fan: son Devin, who was pulled from the crowd to do some poppin' and lockin' of his own. In an interview with The Californian in October, an exhilarated Penn, 35, said he was hoping the exposure would lead to other opportunities, but no matter what comes of it, students at his dance studio now know to listen up: their instructor's still got it.

-- Jennifer Self, lifestyles editor

Another dance standout

While it's true that ballerina Tiler Peck hasn't lived in Bakersfield in years, we proudly claim her as one of our own, largely because she's never drifted far -- in spirit, at least -- from the town that shaped her. Each year seems to bring a new success for Peck, a principle dancer with the New York City Ballet, but she ended 2012 with her biggest honor yet: dancing a tribute to Russian-born ballerina Natalia Makarova at the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors and meeting the president, first lady and a slew of A-list celebrities, like David Letterman.

-- Jennifer Self

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