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Summer Solstice Festival

by Joseph Montebello

The event everyone anticipates is almost upon us – the prelude to summer and a major celebration for the Washington Art Association. The annual Summer Solstice Festival will be held Saturday, June 17th, from 6-9 PM.

Now in its ninth year, it is a celebration of art and community and one of the most popular social gatherings of the season. This year Christine Baranski is its honorary chairperson.

“People love it,” says WAA Executive Director Barbara von Schreiber. “It’s very festive with great food and drink and dancing. Everyone has a wonderful time.”

Of course, every great event has a genius behind it and in this case that would be the “Mojito King” himself, Abdo Ballester, also known as the “Soul of Solstice.” Cuban by birth, he has lived in Litchfield County for more than 20 years and has done much to bring that country’s culture to the locals.

“I have been involved in the arts all my life,” Ballester explains. “I love the Washington Art Association and that’s why I want to help them in any way I can. I believe that everyone should give back to their community.”

He has another goal, as well. “I am also on the board of the Cuban Artists Fund in New York and we have been helping Cuban artists for the past 20 years. I was the first one to bring these artists to the WAA for an exhibition and a lecture. The Cubans have been isolated from all forms of art and having had a policy of restricted travel for so many years, they have not been exposed to the kind of artistic talent we have here in the United States.”

By the same token, thanks to Ballester, the Mojito is now the drink with which to welcome the summer and to help celebrate the accomplishments of WAA. Since its inception 65 years ago the organization has hosted more than 500 exhibitions showcasing both emerging and established artists in the area. It mounts 10 exhibitions a year, showing the works of its members, both students and teachers. WAA offers 15 classes a year in painting, ceramics, drawing, sculpture and printmaking on a semester basis. Two open studios in life drawing and workshops are also offered throughout the year.

But back to the celebration. Ballester pulls out all the stops. Local designers lend their talent to decorate WAA’s galleries and turn the terrace into a Caribbean wonderland. Besides the Cuban drink, many of the local restaurants prepare the food. “The chef at the Mayflower Grace makes the best Cuban sandwich outside of Cuba,” Balleter insists. “It is a major hit and is the perfect food to complement the Mojito.”

And, as for the Mojito, he has his own special touch. “I make mine with fresh mint, mashed with a little sugar and club soda to get the oil out of the mint,” he said. “Then you add the juice and the rum. Delicious!”

Ballester says many come together to create the annual event. “Everyone is very generous and helps to make this event so special,” he said. “We also construct a dance floor and the minute the first note is struck I am on the floor.

“We have amazing dancers and musicians who come from Brazil. Gionga Brasileira will perform their unique blend of Samba; Capoeira and Ochun will supply live Cuban music. When I was growing up, Cuba was famous for its carnival. It went on for days, rich and poor alike dancing in the streets and in clubs. I love the idea of bringing different cultures and different forms of art to our community.”

More than 250 people attend and, needless to say, a good time is had by all. It is a place to celebrate the solstice, welcome the beginning of summer, see old friends, make new friends, enjoy food and drink (those Mojitos again–but other libations as well,) have a twirl on the dance floor, and perhaps buy a piece of art. The WAA Atelier Sale will be open with art work for sale.

For tickets and more information, contact Washington Art Association, 4 Bryan Plaza, Washington Depot, 860-868-2878;