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A ‘Circuitous’ Path Leads to Arts Commission

By Kellie Hall, Special to the Independent

Carmen Salazar at work.

Carmen Salazar at work.

As a metalworker, glassblower, landscape architect and lighting designer, Carmen Salazar’s experiences as an artist span across varied terrain.

Describing her career path as “circuitous,” Salazar’s pursuit of many different art forms all seem relevant to her newest role on the Laguna Beach Arts Commission, which provides advisory recommendations over public art commissions to the City Council.

These recommendations frequently involve public arts projects, competitions often open only to local artists. The city’s collection of public artworks now numbers over 65 pieces. Past projects include “The People’s Council” sculpture by Linda Brunker near City Hall and “Canyon Chess and Checkers” by Marlo Bartels on Main Beach.

At the meeting to appoint new commissioners, the council considered but rejected reducing the number of arts commission members to seven from nine. The terms of four commissioners were expiring. Ultimately, three arts commissioners were re-elected, including architect Donna Olsen Ballard, artist and owner of a marketing company Suzi Chauvel, and retired marketing executive Mary Ferguson. The fourth seat was occupied by Nicholas Hernandez, who served four years on the commission but failed to turn in his application for reappointment on time. That provided the opportunity for a new appointment, hence Salazar.

Salazar’s selection comes a month after artist Jorg Dubin publicly criticized the arts commission for failing to compensate artists adequately, rushing installations and for aesthetic choices he deemed “provincial” and “safe.”

Salazar’s connections to an arts community in Santa Ana, her interest in boundary-breaking art and her young age perhaps reflect that Dubin’s concerns struck home.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1975, Salazar’s frequent trips to the National Mall developed her interest in public art, she said in interview following the City Council appointment on June 3.

These trips and subsequent experiences with made her question “the boundaries of what art is,” Salazar remembers. By breaking these boundaries, public art, in particular, can make a person take “unexpected pause” in their day, Salazar wrote in her the application for the post, which pays a nominal $80-per-month stipend.

Salazar pursued her interest in art at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, focusing in metalworking and glassblowing. After her graduation she went on become an assistant to an environmental artist in San Francisco.

She further developed her interest in art’s relationship to the environment after moving to Southern California in 1999 and studying landscape architecture at the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles. Combining her interests of environmental art, landscape architecture, and “derelict post-industrial sites,” she became a designer for the Orange County Great Park from 2006 to 2008, Salazar said.

After gaining experience in designing for a municipal authority, Salazar turned her focus to “functional” art. Joining her husband, Caleb Siemon, they formed their studio, Siemon and Salazar in Santa Ana, in 2008. Siemon is an accomplished glassblower, who made honey pots for First Lady Michelle Obama to give as gifts to foreign dignitaries. Salazar continues to dedicate most of her attention to her work at their shared studio. Her main focus is lighting fixtures, inspired by Scandinavian design and “living things,” which are frequently included in her work.

As reflected by her background and her artwork, Salazar frequently draws inspiration from the natural environment. The waters and landscape first piqued Siemon and Salazar’s interest in Laguna Beach. As a child, Salazar took frequent trips to West Virginia and, referring to the hilly scenery, called Laguna Beach “the mini-West Virginia of Orange County.”

A 12-year resident, Salazar hoped to combine her interests in environmental art, public art, and architecture by becoming an arts commissioner. Her parents instilled in her the importance of civic involvement, Salazar said, and she saw it as a crucial time to become a part of city leadership. As a canyon resident, recently “there’s been a lot of potential for change,” Salazar noted. She wanted to be a part of Laguna’s future and hoped to become more familiar with the local arts scene.

She did not yet have any specific objectives in mind for her role on the commission, though she expressed a preference for art pieces with educational, interactive and unexpected components, said Salazar.

At the beginning of her tenure as arts commissioner, she felt “very inspired and very passionate,” said Salazar. She will soon have an opportunity to have her voice heard when the arts commission considers public art projects at Ocean Avenue and Beach Street, another art component for the lifeguard headquarters, and other programs such as the juried fine art competition and music in the park.

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