Art Scene Creates a Flash in 2016


Here’s a look back at what made news in Laguna’s art scene in the past year.

Photo by Mitch Ridder A temporary installation transforms the Main Beach coastline during the Laguna Art Museum Art & Nature symposium.

Wall Rises on Main Beach

Crowds flocked to Main Beach in November to experience Phillip K. Smith’s installation “1/4 Mile Arc,” also part of the Art and Nature symposium. Instead of the previous year’s spectacular light shows or human processions along the curving coastline, 10-foot tall stainless steel posts mirrored cloud banks, sunsets and the evening traffic, creating a spectacle for visitors who couldn’t resist touching the silvery sentries and taking selfies with them.

Nouveau-Prohibition Trips Up Art Walk

Grousers braying about First Thursday Art Walk participants trolling for free wine in the name of art seemed to have gotten their way in November when Laguna Beach cops surprised gallery owners by issuing citations for illicitly serving wine. Up ‘til then, Art Walk galleries offered patrons wine for 15 years without legal consequences.

Seven gallerists and merchants received misdemeanor citations carrying a $1,000 minimum fine. While two galleries hired lawyers and protests ensued, Laguna Beach city officials intervened with the Orange County district attorney to rescind the citations.

Galleries now may serve beer or wine after obtaining a single use permit. The new year will reveal whether galleries will pay the $25 monthly fee, stay dry or forego membership in First Thursday Art Walk.


A portrait of Anna Hills, probably in her home-studio, the subject of a Laguna Art Museum retrospective. Photo by George Hurrell
A portrait of Anna Hills, probably in her home-studio, the subject of a Laguna Art Museum retrospective.
Photo by George Hurrell

Early Arts Supporter as Last Gets Her Due

A retrospective exhibit titled “Miss Hills of Laguna Beach: Anna Althea Hills,” with a variety of paintings and objects d’art by Anna Hills, a significant plein-air painter, co-founder of the Laguna Beach Art Association and community activist, who had often been overlooked in favor of male contemporaries. Curated by Janet Blake, the show at the Laguna Art Museum was part of the 2016 Art and Nature symposium.



Auster at his easel.
Auster at his easel.

Aloha to a Local Icon

He was a Laguna Beach resident since the late 1960s and a regular exhibitor at the Sawdust Festival and the Festival of Arts until 2015. Renowned for his wit and sense of humor, Ken Auster, 66, was a prolific plain-air and studio painter as well as an arts commissioner, teacher and avid surfer. He died Jan. 29. He is survived by his wife, painter Paulette Martinson Auster.


Hey El Niño, You’re Late

Construction at the Festival of Arts grounds began in fall, after a year-long postponement due to forecasts predicting El Niño deluges. The wily weather phenom appear a year late. Board President Fred Sattler may yet need to make good on his promise to flee to Brazil should the remake of the grounds be unfinished for the scheduled July opening.

The now unrecognizable Festival of Arts’ grounds as construction got underway in fall.
The now unrecognizable Festival of Arts’ grounds as construction got underway in fall.

A new facade for the grounds designed by Bauer Architects, of Newport Beach, won an award from the Orange County chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Bauer Architects also created the redesign of the interior.


Pageant of the Masters Sets a Record

More than 204,000 people attended The Pageant of the Masters in summer and the Festival of Arts revenue reached $9.7 million, clearing $1.36 million in net profits, record figures, according to board President Fred Sattler.


Playhouse Hires Interim Director

The Laguna Playhouse hired Tony Award-winning producer Ellen Richard as its interim executive director to succeed Karen Wood.

Richard won six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre. She also supervised construction at other theaters, a selling point to Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, co-chairs of the theater’s board. The Playhouse is considering a similar pursuit.

The Playhouse also broke new ground with “Billy & Ray,” a poignant play based on the making of the 1944 film noir “Double Indemnity.” Mike Becivenaga wrote the script and Michael Matthews directed the hit.


Happy Half-Century, Sawdust Festival

Sawdust Art Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary this past summer, while its smaller offspring, the Winter Festival, turned 26.

The Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts renamed itself the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance and celebrated the 10th anniversary of its annual Art Stars Awards. Russel Pierce won this year’s $5,000 Seven-Degrees of Inspiration Award for his proposed multi-media series of portraits “Change Agents.” Laguna Dance Festival founder Jodie Gates accepted the “best arts program” award for the festival’s hosting of the Malpaso Dance Company, and Olivia Batchelder was chosen as “artist of the year” for her production of the 2015 “Wrap Festival.”


An example from an unusual exhibit by the Peter Blake Gallery, which spotlights the artistic design of mid-century modern furnishings.
An example from an unusual exhibit by the Peter Blake Gallery, which spotlights the artistic design of mid-century modern furnishings.

Blake Gallery Delves into a Novel Dimension

Gallery owner Peter Blake, long known for his affinity for minimalist painters, revealed his collection of mid-century modern furniture and related objects. In a first show of its kind, Blake showed off “The Tendency of the Moment, International Design…” in September, offering some of his meticulously restored trove for sale.


The most recent damage inflicted in March to the "Semper Memento" sculpture in Heisler Park.
The most recent damage inflicted in March to the “Semper Memento” sculpture in Heisler Park.


“Semper Memento” Again Hit by Vandals

The Heisler Park memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was damaged this summer for the third time. Created by Laguna Beach artist Jorg Dubin, it had been commissioned by the City Council in 2011 for the attack’s 10th anniversary. It was vandalized shortly after its installation and suffered a second vandalism in 2015, Police installed a security camera at the periphery of the installation following the third attack.

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