Members of Laguna Beach’s Festival of Arts begin casting ballots next week to elect three leaders to the board of one of Laguna Beach’s most influential arts organizations. Candidates include three incumbent members, one newcomer and a former board member.
Ballots and candidates’ statements will be mailed out on Oct. 8 to about a third of the Festival’s 3,700 members, who pay fees ranging from $ 40 to $8,000 to join. Just 1,200 members that are also county residents are entitled to cast votes in the election of board members, who preside over Laguna’s biggest tourist attraction.
Incumbents include the current board’s president, Fred Sattler, as well as board members David Perry and Anne Webster. Challengers include John Hoover, who is re-entering the fray after leaving the board in 2008, and John J. Veth, a 24-year member making a second run for election.
“It’s not easy to unseat incumbents,” Veth said.
Currently there are no term limits on board members, who meet monthly and are elected to unpaid, three-year terms. The positions are coveted for more than the perk of attending arts events or adulation for putting on the town’s biggest summer tourist draw. Festival leaders shoulder responsibility for sustaining an 80-year tradition in perpetuity as well as divvying up hefty proceeds from the nearly all-volunteer summer Pageant of the Masters production, which is distributed to the community as grants to local non-profits as well as highly prized college scholarships.
The remainder of the board, members Tammie Arnold, Wayne Baglin, Pat Kollenda, Tom Lamb, Anita Mangels and Bob Moffett, are not up for re-election.
Though Webster, an 11-year board member, did not return calls seeking comment, the other four candidates all mention the need to press for upgrading the festival’s leased grounds, with its facade as a prime concern.
Even so, the facade may have to take a backseat to immediate repairs needed at the Festival of Arts’ Forum Theater, discovered this week to be harboring mold in offices adjacent to the performance space. The discovery forced the immediate postponement of “Lagunatics,” scheduled to open Saturday, Oct. 5, until test results affirm or deny the presence of toxic mold.
A subject bedeviling board members and exhibitors alike is the so-called exhibition or grace card, which allows an exhibitor of at least 10 years a second chance to gain entry should a jury rejected them. “We jury out artists to keep the number at 140 while giving new talent a chance and keep the show fresh,” said Sattler, a Laguna Beach resident since 1996.
Some artists, however, object to the jury system and its lack of transparency.
Sattler believes the festival’s summer music programs, drawing a secondary crowd aside from the Pageant of the Masters’
audience, underscore the need for better infrastructure throughout the grounds. “We have to make every year better since the entertainment environment keeps changing. We have to be an all-around attractive destination for people,” he said.
Veth’s platform reveals that dissatisfaction runs beyond maintenance of the grounds and includes questions about corporate governance. He calls for limiting board members’ terms to nine years, greater transparency regarding their voting records and attendance as well as a revision of the artist jurying process including scaling back the grace card earning years to five from 10.
“The entire process should be more democratic, starting with a kept up website that informs all festival members of what’s going on,” Veth said.
Veth is less enthusiastic than Sattler about the music program. “People should primarily interact with the art and artists and not just come for music and a picnic,” he said. Even so, he agreed that audiences at the Festival and the Pageant are complimentary rather than competitive. “Attendance increased at both events and that benefits all of Laguna Beach,” he said.
He supports more effective communications between board members and artists, and allowing the latter to establish select committees that will present ideas and concerns to the board.
While Sattler is a retired business executive, Hoover describes himself as an entrepreneur uniquely qualified for the task due to his near-ubiquitous appearances at Laguna art events. Perry, an attorney, got involved with the festival first as a cast member of the Pageant. Veth, too, is a lawyer as well as a retired Air Force fighter pilot. He also teaches aviation safety at USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
“After managing an entire Air Force wing, the festival is not all that complex,” said Veth, married to a Festival exhibitor, photographer Nancy Holly.
In what could be seen as a straw poll, artists have already cast an informal early vote. Candidates need at least 15 endorsements to earn a place on the ballot. Both Hoover and Veth received enough to make the first cut.