Pennywise, the Joker and the killer clown epidemic of 2016: the beginnings of the misconstrued portrayal of the “evil clown” who scares, kidnaps and murders. Jesterfest, a clown-themed art show in Los Osos on May 27, challenged this notion and brought clownery back to its roots of entertainment, joy and laughter.
“Are we still trying to make people laugh as a society? Not really. Everyone looks pretty sad when they’re walking down the street, except the few golden people who keep it together,” vendor Touloula Ritter said.
Lit by only natural light streaming through the tall windows in the Los Osos Schoolhouse — a small room walled with chalkboard — the event setting was immediately inviting. Colorful and whimsical banners, ceiling hangings and wallpapers added life to the space.
Beyond the physical set-up of the venue, vendors brought warmth to Jesterfest with eclectic outfits and accessories, elaborate makeup and authentically beautiful art — all on theme with clown culture.
Vendors showcased various styles of jester creations including crocheted works, screen-printed and hand-painted clothing, art prints, stickers, needle-felted creatures and resin art. Activities such as tarot readings, face painting, photo opportunities and free snacks helped make the event interactive.
Kandarian handpicked the vendors for Jesterfest, already having several in mind after running and attending local art shows in the past. He notified vendors of the show and its theme two months in advance, and since then vendors worked to create art in their own individual style with a jester-themed twist.
Ritter explained the freedom that comes with jesterwear and the mixing of patterns and textures — “stuff that nobody does anymore.”
Vendor Isaac Capp also joked about reversing the creepy clown stigma with this art show.
“It’s nice to see more people like scary clowns and cute clowns. Clowns of all shapes and sizes,” Capp said.
Above all, though, Jesterfest was created to offer a sense of community and acceptance for both vendors and event attendees.
“The vibe of being a freak and being usually rejected from society and making a place where freak is the norm, so we can just get weird in here and have fun and feel comfortable being as outlandish as we want to — that’s where the inspiration came from,” Jesterfest creator Alex Kandarian said. “It’s geared towards queer people, too, and just giving queer people a space to be comfortable for once.”
Ritter added that Jesterfest allowed people to let go of their idea of who they need to be and to bring silliness into their life, “because why not?”
Each artist gushed about the kindness and support of those around them in the room, noting that a key reason for their involvement in Jesterfest was the aspect of community.
“I don’t end up making a ton of money, but it’s so worth it just to be surrounded by all these sweet, creative people,” vendor Edie Irving said.
Ritter echoed this idea, explaining how being surrounded by like-minded individuals motivates her to get creative.
“Intermixing with everyone else’s creative force, it lights your fire even for upcoming weeks when you need inspiration. I’m always looking for that extra inspiration for my art,” Ritter said.
Kandarian hoped that the event would inspire creativity in event attendees, as well.
“I like the idea that something like this could inspire someone to expand their life a little bit — to get a little weirder and start trying to make things. There’s such a variety of people here making their own stuff that it’s great to see it inspire people,” Kandarian said. “And maybe next time, we’ll have a vendor that was just a customer before and is now making their own stuff.”
Ritter noted that Jesterfest’s location in a smaller coastal region such as San Luis Obispo County makes the event unique.
“There’s a really interactive art community that you wouldn’t expect. Because it’s a small town, it makes it so much richer and there’s so much more to draw from because we’re in such beauty,” Ritter said. “When you’re not being pulled in so many directions, like [when] you would be in a big city where you’re looking at so much … here, you can really kind of be in your mind.”
Kandarian plans to continue his efforts to create safe spaces for self-expression by hosting a Fairy Fest on July 22 from 2-6 p.m. at 880 Laureate Lane in San Luis Obispo. The event will feature over 15 vendors, alongside tarot readings, face painting, potion making and more. Additional information about the event can be found on Kandarian’s Instagram @lizard_muse.