By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
A shade structure proposed for the Village Entrance resembles undulating mushrooms with white stalks and rainbow-colored caps that tower up to 26 feet tall. Some Laguna Beach residents argue it’s better suited for a magical world where Alice adventures with the Cheshire Cat than the gateway to the downtown.
On Monday, the Laguna Beach Arts Commission unanimously voted to recommend approval of the concept design proposed by internationally-renowned sculptor Marc Fornes after hearing comments from dozens of community members.
“I think we cannot continually dwell in the past,” Arts Commission Vice-Chairwoman Pat Kollenda said. “I sat on the Village Entrance Task Force 25 years ago for one year, so I was a part of that, and I was involved for a long time until I got tired because I got older.”
Kollenda added that she wants Fornes to come back to Laguna Beach so the Commission can talk with him about residents’ concerns about the size, the coloring, and the landscape planting.
Arts Commissioner Suzanne Mellor said she loved the sculpture’s design but wanted to see some tweaks.
“I personally have a problem with the coloring,” Mellor said. “I don’t like the white. I think if it was more of a bronze coloring, it would disappear into the hillside.”
Laguna Beach resident Marni Magda was one of a couple residents who said the shade structure’s wild design makes it a more compatible addition to Disneyland than the Village Entrance.
Harry Huggins, president of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, said he’s a fan of the life-sized manikins installed temporarily in front of City Hall this week, but was concerned that Fornes’ permanent proposed structure would unnecessarily dominate the transition between downtown Laguna and the canyon’s natural beauty.
“The Village Entrance represents a bit of what you’re going to see when you go into the city,” Huggins said. “I’m concerned with its relatively large size. It’s in competition with other things right there on that corner.”
Laguna Beach resident Priscilla Lloyd was among several residents who supported Fornes’ design but didn’t think the Village Entrance was an appropriate design.
“My concerns are scale and context,” Lloyd said. “This is a sculpture, under an expanded definition, but it pretty much dwarfs anything else in the Village Entrance.”
Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Manager Siân Poeschl noted that the Municipal Code directs city staffers to expand the opportunities for residents and visitors to experience public art.
The current Downtown Specific Plan outlines the creation of a Civic Arts District around the Village Entrance to create a focal point for community, social, cultural, artistic, and recreational activities. The city is required to provide public art, including sculptures, to execute the City Council-approved vision for the Civic Arts District.
When the City Council approved the Village Entrance Project Design in January 2018, it included $80,000 for public art and directed to the Arts Commission to develop and present a recommendation. The Arts Commission subsequently recommended the city should invite artists to design a bandstand-style space or pavilion where people could gather for outdoor art events.
On March 19, the City Council approved recommendations from a subcommittee and the Arts Commission suggesting Fornes create a conceptual design for an ornamental shade structure.
Shohreh Dupuis, assistant city manager and director of public works, said in a prepared statement that city staffers believed it was best to move forward with the landscaping improvements without a footprint for pubic art because a design was not finalized when construction started on the Village Entrance Project.
“We will be working closely with the artist to ensure that majority of the improvements can stay in place and the art piece footprint can be adjusted to maintain the planted trees and bike racks in place,” Dupuis wrote. “The area proposed for the art installation has no pavers and is made of decomposed granite.”
Laguna Beach resident Nia Evans, 27, said Fornes’ proposed sculpture was a bold and beautiful focal point for people to see on their way into a bold and beautiful community.
“We need more young people to speak about these things because we are the generation that will be enjoying them for years,” Evans said.
Arts Commissioner Suzi Chauvel said the Commission’s approval of the concept is just the beginning of discussions with Fornes, adding that all of the public comments will be duly noted to the artist.
The Arts Commission plans to hold another meeting to review Fornes’ refined design before it’s presented at a City Council meeting for final approval. Dates for both meetings haven’t been set.