More than 300 people filled Stevens Park Sunday afternoon to celebrate life as part of the Garden City Arts Sixth Annual Día de los Muertos celebration.
“Day of the dead — Día de los Muertos — is a Hispanic holiday,” said Katy Guthrie, executive director of GCA who has been leading the event for the past three years. “The holiday celebrates life and it memorializes loved ones that have passed away. I think it’s a celebration of culture and diversity.”
Día de los Muertos originated in Mexico from pre-Columbian cultures. Family members honor those who have died by creating an altar and decorating it with ofrendas, or offerings, such as skulls (calveras), flowers and favorite foods and beverages of the departed. The hope is that these offerings will persuade the dead to visit the living.
A community altar was set up in front of the bandshell for people to place items there to remember their loved ones. It was filled with candles and skulls, symbols of the holiday.
The skull represents death in a unique way. A booth was set up to decorate sugar skulls, a traditional activity of the celebration.
Emma Fine, 11, of Garden City, said decorating the sugar skull was her favorite part of the day.
“It was my first sugar skull ever,” she said.
Lupita Medrano, 45, of Garden City, said she made her own altar at her house, to remember her mother, father and brothers, because she didn’t want the items to get lost at the park. She decorated it with pictures, candles, sugar skulls and Mexican sweet bread.
“The belief is if you do all of that, they spend 24 to 72 hours with you,” she said. “I believe when people are gone, I think that there are things that come, you feel that connection.”
Food and art vendors, as well as activities for children, were set up throughout the park. Singers and dancers provided entertainment.
Nicole Dick, 36, of Garden City, brought her three girls, ages 7, 5 and 2, to the festival.
“My kids came last year, and they were really looking forward to coming this year,” she said. “We wanted to come again this year so they could get their face painted. That’s probably what they are looking forward to the most.”
“I really like that Garden City is so diverse, but it’s not forced on anybody,” Dick continued. "It’s just a way of life here. My kids don’t even realize they are learning about other cultures. It’s just the way it’s been for them.”
America Martinez, 16, of Garden City, came to the festival with the Garden City High School art club. She spent her time at the face painting booth.
“I feel like it gives people my art, not only for me to express through their faces, but for them to be able to show it off,” she said.
She painted several different designs on the children’s faces including a skeleton, a witch and a disco diva. This was her second time at the festival.
Sandra Naeve, 41, of Garden City, is an art teacher at the high school and facilitates the art club. She dressed up in a black dress with a colorful mask and hat with a purple skull on it.
“I think it’s a great way to celebrate loved ones that have passed on,” she said. “It’s like a happier version of Memorial Day.”
The Garden City Community College art club also had students volunteering at the event. Aubrey Cady, 18, of Garden City, is studying to be an art teacher.
“We’re just here to sell T-shirts and raise money for our trip to Kansas City,” she said. “We’re going to Kansas City to check out the art museums and talk to the artists and check out the art they have there.”
Cady said the art students created the T-shirts by putting their designs on linoleum blocks. They then cut them out and printed them on shirts. Most of the shirts featured pictures of skulls to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
Another part of the celebration was a pop-up art exhibit by the high school art students at the Garden City Arts gallery on Main Street.
Lisa Neeley, 53, of Dighton, and art teacher at the high school, organized the exhibit. She said her students learned both about art and another culture during the nine-week session it took to create the art.
“They learned about Día de los Muertos and its origins and what it was about, kind of remembering the lost loved ones and taking them offerings for the day,” she said.
Neeley said the students also learned about using different mediums, including clay, oil paint, pastels, colored pencil and acrylic.
She described the way the exhibit turned out as, “fabulous, excellent, awesome and wonderful.”
“I love it,” she said.
Emma Fine, 11, of Garden City, came to the celebration with her school, Bernadine Sitts Intermediate Center.
“I’m here for community service but also to have fun,” she said.
She created two artist trading cards that were on display at the gallery. She drew a blue skull and a waving skeleton with colorful flowers.
Guthrie’s hope is for the event to grow each year with more performers, more vendors and extended hours.
“I love Día de los Muertos because of how it embraces death and makes it less scary,” she said.