Art Group Salutes Its Stars

The team of Gerard Stripling and Michele Taylor receive the Arts Alliance’s artist of the  year award for their police memorial sculpture. Photo by Jim Collins
The team of Gerard Stripling and Michele Taylor receive the Arts Alliance’s artist of the
year award for their police memorial sculpture.
Photo by Jim Collins

As a 16-year-old in Cicero, Ill., Joe Mantegna failed at an audition for a part in the high school version of “West Side Story.” Seduced away from baseball to acting nonetheless, he eventually forged a stellar career, including roles in theater and film and the television series “Criminal Minds.”

He revealed the not so auspicious start of his acting career as the keynote speaker of the ninth Art Star Awards ceremony on Sunday, April 19.

The event organized by the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts allows its 22 member organizations and the county’s art crowd to watch their best and brightest receive Laguna’s version of an Oscar, an original statuette created by local sculptor Louis Longi.

The highly anticipated artist of the year award went to the artist team Gerard Stripling and Michele Taylor, creators of “Eternal Legacy,” a sculptural memorial to Laguna Beach police officers Jon Couchie and Gordon French. Other nominees in the category included print maker and art educator Carla Meberg and sculptor Terry Thornsley, who completed “Grace,” the relief sculpture that embellishes the lifeguard headquarters on Main Beach.

“We were able to create a piece that honors the police community, the officers and their families and that gives the community a path to honor them,” Stripling told the audience at the venue Seven Degrees.

Taylor added that she was inspired by the strength and dignity of Couchie’s family.

Not all award recipients are necessarily artists themselves. The arts leadership award, for example, went to Fred Sattler, president of the Festival of Arts. “This is icing on the cake; I just hope the cake is ready,” he quipped.

The crowd was treated to a video about artist Cheryl Ekstrom’s making of “Setting Forth,” a sculptural installation at Seven Degrees offering allusions to ghost ships, broken and repaired sea vessels and a boat suitable to cross the river Styx. “Those who set forth in life, as in literature, find storms, monsters, love, treasure, magic and home. You don’t know where the journey will go, only that you must make it…,” explained Ekstrom, who left her longtime Laguna studio for Los Angeles last August.

Ekstrom’s installation resulted from her winning the $5,000 2014 Seven Degrees of Inspiration Grant, awarded by Mark and Dora Wexell Orgill at last year’s Art Star Awards.

This year’s winner, Laguna resident Delyér Anderson, founded The Assembly Dance Company, a troupe that combines contemporary dance with performance art and videography. The 35-year-old choreographer will bring her presentation to life a year hence at the next award presenation. “After being involved in a car crash at age 19 where I broke both feet, I switched from dance to modern choreography,” explained Anderson.

The best arts program honors went to Sunset Serenades and Music in the Parks, programs underwritten by the city’s cultural arts department.

The individual arts patron of the year honor went to Laguna College of Art and Design and Laguna Playhouse board member Ilona Martin, a painter and arts activist.

“If you are an arts ambassador, you speak to the entire community. Your job is to bring people together in your quest,” Martin said.

The corporate arts patron of the year went to the Ritz-Carlton of Laguna Niguel for its support of the arts.

“The Sock Thief,” the collaboration between the Laguna Concert Band and LCAD’s animation department, had been the 2013 recipient of the Seven Degrees of Inspiration grant. This year, the endearing production was honored as outstanding arts collaboration.

In a fitting finale, the lifetime achievement award went to music educator and arts activist Carol Reynolds, 80, who summed up her life’s work and guiding philosophy. “Music opens the mind and feeds the soul,” she concluded.

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  1. What a great night of celebration and community! Carol Reynolds is amazing, and to see her honored was so rewarding. The whole program was a tremendous success and should be a template for all communities when it comes to celebrating and honoring the arts!


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