By Bonnie Carroll

An enthusiastic crowd of Santa Barbara Sister Cities board members, friends, young artists, and poets gathered at the home of Gil and Marti Garcia, long-time board members of the Santa Barbara – Puerto Vallarta Sister City Committee, to participate in the reception, viewing and awards presentation of the Sister Cities 2023 Young Artist & Authors Showcase. The Theme for the competition ­­­­­­­­­ “Peace by Piece Food Security in my Community” included students ages 13-18, who submitted art with written descriptions for consideration. The Children’s Creative Project (CCP) assisted with this year’s event.

Winning artists included 1st place, Leighton Willow Smith, $250 prize, 2nd place April Harper, $150, 3rd place Sebatian Cadwell $100 prize. A collection of submissions came from Puerto Vallarta and those winners included 1st place Melany Nicole Joya Rodriguez $250, 2nd Place Viviana Vasquez Romero $150, 3rd Place Amara Estefania Coria Garcia $100.  Our official Judge for this year’s art competition was Michael Long, local Santa Barbara artist, art teacher and arts coordinator with Studio 121 in Santa Barbara.

2023 Winning Poets included 1st place Peace in the Garden by Ryan Calkins $250, I am an Oak Tree by Brock Mitchell 2nd Place $150.00, and Counting Pennies by Penelope Welsh $100 3rd Place. Judges for the poetry competition included the newly installed 2023 City of Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Melinda Palacio, renowned author, and award-winning poet, and Santa Barbara Puerto Vallarta Board Member Alicia Sorkin, retired Santa Barbara High School teacher. 2023 area winners are encouraged to participate in the Sister Cities International competition later this year.

Art – 1st Place Winner, Leighton Willow Smith

Enjoying the youth art, poetry and reception were members of the Sister City committees including Kotor, Montenegro, Patras, Greece, Toba, Japan, Weihai, China, Mira Flores, Peru, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and a new member Mayor Roberto Martinez, of Port Hueneme. Also in attendance were Santa Barbara City Councilman Oscar Gutierrez representing Mayor Randy Rowse, Pat Fallin, Past Board Chairman, and Linda Gunther, ex-officio. Sponsors for the winning prizes included Pacific Premier Bank and Duran Capital Management. The Children’s Creative Project (CCP) assisted with this year’s event.

Local judges Michael Long, Alicia Sorkin and Santa Barbara Poet Laureate 2023 Melinda Palacio, all agreed it was challenging to reach the final selections due to the outstanding submissions this year and the insightful representation of the theme created by all students. Guests reviewed the art works and poetry submissions following the judging and relaxed on the verandah to enjoy a buffet filled with delicious international bites provided by sister city members in attendance. The 2023 Young Artists & Authors winners will also qualify for participation in the international competition.

The 2023 Young Artists Showcase theme selected was food sustainability, which has become an undeniably harsh reality in all our lives. As world challenges find our food sustainability are disrupted, ecosystems are disturbed, cultures are affected, and resources are proven to be unsustainable for long-term use, as well cost-effective issues on a small and large scale. These ongoing changes impact our local and global communities on every aspect, and youth are the key to tackling this global reality. Art students represented a bevy of Santa Barbara area schools, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Nine art submissions from Puerto Vallarta

Event hosts Marti and Gil Garcia commended and thanked all, especially the judges who assisted in selecting the young artists & authors. Gil also shared that The Sister City Program is a living legacy left by the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower. He conceived the program and initiated it in 1956. The Sister City Program is a dedication of friendship and understanding between peoples of different cultures and attitudes to those of us engaged in the program it is discovery, it is adventure, it is a new dimension of self-awareness, and awareness of others and it is fun! Due to the unexpected absence of Chairwoman Margaret Saavedra, Sister Cities Board Vice-Chair Lucile Via, whose daughter Aria entered her artwork in this year’s competition, shared her congratulations to the winners and gave a brief history on the importance of Santa Barbara Sister Cities participation.

For information Visit:, Sister Cities International, @SisterCitiesInt.


Written by Bonnie Carroll

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