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(photo by Brandon Wise)

SM BEACH — As the sun sinks over the horizon and darkness settles over the city, bursts of light dot the beach and Santa Monica Pier. On the corner of Colorado and Ocean avenues, smiley faces and abstract words are projected on the seven-story walls of the Holiday Inn. White balloons the size of a Smart car float in the air, lit up enough to serve as a guide for visitors and to reveal the number for an exhibit.

This year’s Glow, an art and cultural event organized by City Hall and the Santa Monica Art Foundation, made its return Saturday evening. However, the sequel to the 2008 inaugural event, which drew more than 200,000 people to the beach for an all-night music and art celebration, was scaled back this time a around.

Those expecting a truly dusk-to-dawn event were disappointed, as festivities closed at 3 a.m. instead of 7 a.m. This year, officials planned for about half the number of visitors to attend and a more subdued music scene, hoping to focus more on the art.

“I like how people are really here to look at the art. I thought it would be people drunk and stupid, but it’s not just about the party,” said Helen O’Neil, who attended two years ago, but left because of the crowds.

O’Neil, also known as “Pineapple,” dressed up to match the theme with her team from Burning Man, an annual event held in Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Her nickname — shortened from “Pineapple Princess” — originates from when she wore a pineapple hat every day at Burning Man this year.

With fluorescent dragonflies reflecting light off of her silver robe, O’Neil, 51, of Ventura County, arrived with her 14-member team, “Dragon Debris,” ready to participate in the art experience in person and from afar. After dressing up, O’Neil and her teammates left their hotel room with an illuminated blue light that could be seen from the beach.

“I just really wanted to see art in a very accessible public space, instead of going out to see it in a museum,” said O’Neil, as her outfit sparkled in the dark. “It’s great to bring art in a fun setting.”

The event consisted of 20 original installations by a group of local and international artists, including mediums such as video, music and acrobatic performances.

Klutch Stanaway, a participating Glow artist from Los Angeles, enjoyed interacting with the crowds, especially the children. His installation titled “Controlled Boulder” — located near the tunnel under the pier — consisted of a moving boulder controlled by a remote-control device.

“Children take a while to understand whether they’re controlling it or I’m controlling it,” said Stanaway, as children crowded around the boulder to take pictures.

“Everyone has been so positive and engaged,” said Stanaway, whose previous work is inspired from technology and pop culture. “There’s something just odd and funny about a moving boulder. I think it can relate to a lot of people.”

“I thought, ‘Oh my God!’ because it’s a pet rock. My first pet was a rock and I used to wash it in the sink. I named it Thommy, because I couldn’t pronounce Tommy,” said 30-year-old Eve Lahijani, a Santa Monica resident.

But not everyone was satisfied by the quality of the exhibitions. Difficulties in transportation and a few roped off exhibits caused Santa Monica resident May Otradovec to give the event a second thought.

“This is not what I expected. I thought it was going to be more interactive… Where are the real artists and their shows?,” said Otradovec, who decided to attend to celebrate her friend’s birthday after watching the promotional video.

For Nina Vargas, 35, of San Dimas, however, Glow was more than just an art show, it became a planned two-day family vacation. Along with her boyfriend, Vargas made her own installation, stuffing glow sticks in paper bags and placing them in a square formation beside her canopy tent.

“We got here in the morning and we spent the day at the beach. We couldn’t wait for the sun to go down… to glow with the festival and just to be a part of it,” Vargas said.

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