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Art Festivals Ready to Open

With Sawdust Festival artists allotted half as many tickets as the year before, visitors enjoyed breathing room during the preview night this week. Photo by Jody Tiongco

Two of Laguna Beach’s art festivals, the Sawdust Art Festival and Art-a-Fair, open for summer visitors today, Friday, June 29, while the Festival of Art opens its doors to the public on Sunday, July 1, after a major preview soiree planned for Saturday.

If the Sawdust Festival’s preview party this past Tuesday set the tone, visitors should enjoy the shows. Under orders from the fire department to reduce its crowd size, just 3,500 people attended the opening, down from last year’s crush of 4,143 where lines snaked for a block.

Usurious parking fees at neighboring lots (of up to $20) have remained unchanged.

The festival in a eucalyptus grove features 203 artists including 23 new ones. With its grounds at capacity, exhibitors were forced to double up in booths and build smaller ones to accommodate more artists, said Tom Klingenmeier. Even so, he said, “There’s nothing like a bad booth here.”

Cruising less crowded aisles appeared to lift spirits and buoy sales, said spokeswoman Cynthia Fung.

At the Sawdust, all work still has to be made exclusively by the artist. Otherwise nearly anything goes. Hedy Buzan’s exquisite small prints can be carried off at very reasonable prices and dancer Michelle Lance exhibits her talent as a water color painter. Bud Weir offers handmade frames to turn usually unglamorous doorbells into works of art. Sawdust president Gavin Heath continues to exhibit his African-themed blown glass sculptures, but is skipping exhibiting at the Festival of Arts to devote more time to his work and to keeping the Sawdust running smoothly, he said.

After a 21-year absence, Alexander Evans is again selling custom knives and neon art at his dragon-themed booth. Notoriously known as “Dr. Neon,” he left in 1991, dispelling gossip of his expulsion. He admits to a rapier tongue and getting in trouble for it. “I am older and mellower now, but still brutally honest,” he said.

Visitors can also stroll nearby to catch the opening of Art-A-Fair. “With the economy on an upswing, we expect increased attendance over last year,” said Michael Cahill, an exhibiting photographer and festival president.

While he declined to be specific, Cahill said increased advertising, addition of art classes and more entertainment might boost revenues this year. Alas, Art-a-Fair’s opening will be marred by the loss of Sarah Ross, a photographer and the fest’s marketing vice president, who died recently from a virus she reportedly contracted while on an African photo safari. She fell ill en route  from Johannesburg and died in a London hospital. Cahill described her as the heart and soul behind Art-a-Fair.

The Festival of Arts, opening Sunday, features 120 new and established artists such as portraitist Bradford Salamon, celebrating his eigtht year. “My emotional connection to the festival continues to inspire me toward new directions in my work,” he said.  His portrait of a sunlit blond “Bright Sun” graces festival brochures. The “Pageant of the Masters” titled “The Genius” opens on July 7.

On Friday nights, visitors can ditch work at TGIF@FOA, meaning beer and pretzels and live music and, also starting July 7. Or mosey across the street to Tivoli Too for $5.55 margaritas and entrees.

“There’s something for everyone this year,” said Sharbie Higuchi, FoA’s director of marketing. “Visitors can see and buy art, listen to an art tour, catch a demonstration or just sit back and enjoy a picnic accompanied by live music.”

The three festivals can be visited all season long with a Passport to the Arts that offers buyers unlimited admissions for $21.50. Passports are available at the Visitor’s Bureau, 381  Forest Ave.

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