By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy
A year-round cultural arts venue, nudity in public art and the city’s role in fostering a creative environment were among the issues addressed by seven City Council candidates at a forum held last Saturday, Sept. 20.
The candidates all proclaimed their strong support for the arts in general, though their ideas differed over the tangible expression of that support in answers to questions posed by moderator Wayne Baglin, representing the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts.
Asked about representing the nude human body in public art – a reference to a ridiculed 2005 City Council ban on nude sculptures outside City Hall – none of the candidates expressed disapproval. Incumbent Kelly Boyd drew laughs by offering himself as a model.
“Do we really need to ask this today?” asked challenger Rob Zur Schmiede, adding “in terms of public art, we should be willing to take some more risks.”
Asked about the city’s role in fostering a creative arts environment, challenger Michele Hall proposed building a cultural theater for year-round art displays and events.
Incumbent Toni Iseman agreed, but proposed a multi-use building to serve as art center, visitors center and wedding venue. She later suggested the inland Aliso Beach parking lot as a possible venue location.
Challenger Jon Madison also expressed support for a cultural arts center and suggested city-owned tennis courts downtown as a possible site. Courts could be relocated to the roof, he said
Boyd, too, threw his hat in the ring for a cultural art center, but he thought refurbishing the privately owned movie theater downtown could serve as a starting point.
Zur Schmiede saw the city’s role in promoting the arts differently. He preferred developing a citywide cultural arts master plan, rather than a piecemeal approach involving one-off projects.
Paul Merritt eschewed brick and mortar solutions in favor of using technology to boost Laguna’s web presence and image.
Baglin’s query about how the candidates, if elected, would work to create an environment helpful to artists, including artists’ live/work facilities, further exposed their different approaches.
For Boyd, the answer was simple and came in the form of sculptor Louis Longi’s multi-unit artists’ work/live project that he approved as a member of the present City Council earlier this year.
Hall, who noted the economic impact of arts on the town, pointed out that just four artists’ live/work units have been built in 15 years. Longi’s effort is “fabulous,” and similar projects should be on the front burner, she said.
Zur Schmiede, who voted against Longi’s project on the planning commission, liked the concept, but not its size and its impact on the neighborhood. The project needed more planning and public consensus, he said. Alternatively, he proposed converting industrial space in the canyon to art studios and perhaps creating space by adding second stories to buildings downtown.
Iseman, also a dissenting vote on Longi’s project at the Council level, floated the idea of converting old motels into artist live-work spaces.
Eli Grossman believes in allotting a greater portion of city revenue to help the artists.
Rather than a 30-unit artist live/work facility, Madison called for creating spaces with two or three units around town, but sooner rather than later. “It’s time to ‘blank’ or get off the pot,” he said.
Merritt questioned the affordability of the units in Longi’s project and disagreed with “dumping” such a project in a rural canyon neighborhood. He said the Council needs to find “a new direction” in seeking solutions.
The candidates’ opinions on whether the civil arts district should be extended out to Laguna College of Art and Design followed similar trajectories.
Boyd and Hall said it should, while Zur Schmiede called for consensus and planning by the recently hired urban planning firm to examine the expansion with input from the community.
Iseman and Madison gave the expansion a “qualified yes,” but not without negotiations and consideration of canyon residents.
Merritt could endorse the expansion if discrepancies between the downtown specific plan and the Laguna Canyon Annexation specific plan could be ironed out first.
Grossman said he didn’t have enough knowledge to answer the question.