A broad 10-year cultural arts “master plan” recommending more affordable space and global connection for the arts and artists in Laguna Beach, and ultimately requiring more money, was approved by the City Council Tuesday.
Council member Toni Iseman also asked for a more immediate increase in public funds for art projects in next year’s city budget. “Maybe it’s to suggest a doubling or tripling of the money usually available,” she said.
Even though the plan recommended an initial feasibility study for a cultural arts center, the mere idea has already ignited an ongoing stream of debate. The council chambers were near capacity as members of the audience voiced both support and complaints about the arts plan.
“…there are people who think their hair’s on fire because we’re going to build some kind of structure in town,” said guitarist and singer Jason Feddy, “but this really isn’t about 2016. This is not about what’s happening this week. It’s about what will happen 10, 15, 20, 30 years from now.”
Supporters suggest a center will keep the city vital, current and prepared for future generations. Opponents want to preserve the town’s relaxed, quaint character rather than allow it to become a tourist-trampled remnant of itself.
Several residents associated with Village Laguna, which supports preservation, opposed the idea of attracting any more tourists, especially year-round, to a town of 23,000 residents that police say draws 6 million visitors seeking endless summer days at the beach all year-round.
“Laguna already has more visitors than Yosemite National Park,” commented resident John Thomas, one of four editors of the city’s last arts plan, known as Vision 2030, and written in 2001.
There are already available facilities in town that are underused and even possible pop-up venues in empty storefronts, he said. “Rather than focus on a new facility, why not use the creative talents of our arts community to focus on making better use of existing facilities,” Thomas suggested.
The plan is not a specific blueprint but a framework supporting the idea of fostering all forms of talent and cultural arts activities available in town, assured the plan’s author, consultant David Plettner-Saunders of Cultural Planning Group of San Diego.
The 41-page “vision” plan laid out four general goals: support thriving careers for artists, offer more arts activities, expand Laguna’s reach as an arts community globally and strengthen cultural leadership in Laguna by establishing a civic leadership group and providing local funds to implement the plan.
The plan also recommended a second feasibility study on affordable artist live-work space to strengthen the arts community by keeping artists in town.
Critics say the plan presented the obvious, asked for too much money from the city and did not reflect Vision 2030, a plan developed by local professionals that recommended 85 ways to enhance Laguna’s art community without city funds.
“It read to me like a 41-page request for virtually unlimited funds to come almost entirely from the city,” said Thomas. He said a cultural arts center was not the main theme of the Vision 2030 report nor was the city asked to fund it.
Titled “Arts Evolution,” Plettner-Saunders credited council member Bob Whalen for initiating the new arts plan by calling for an “arts renaissance” in Laguna Beach. Council members Rob Zur Schmiede and Kelly Boyd served on the steering committee for the arts plan. Boyd was absent from the council meeting.
“You can’t declare a renaissance,” countered writer Arnold Hano, one of 40 people commenting on the plan. “A renaissance grows or it doesn’t grow. You can’t evolve art. It either evolves or it doesn’t evolve. The artists themselves will do whatever they’re going to do, no matter what you say.”
Noting that many master plans end up collecting dust, Mayor Steve Dicterow assured the audience that this plan will be utilized.
The first recommendation implemented Tuesday was to consider adding a staff member to the city’s cultural arts department, now singularly staffed by Sian Poeschl, for up to $83,000 annually.
Cultural centers offering common ground for the intersection of all art forms are successful in other cities, including Fayetteville, Ark., Scottsdale, Ariz., Huntington Beach, Brea and Santa Ana, said Pat Kollenda, an arts commissioner who co-authored the city’s first cultural arts plan in 1995. “They’re all different and fabulous,” she said.
Impacts to the community, including traffic, parking and lodging, need to be vetted out, said Dicterow, who, along with Whalen, is running for re-election in November.
“Laguna Beach is still about the residents,” Dicterow said, “and, yes, we want to be an arts community and we want artists here, but it’s also primarily about the people who live here.”
Dicterow said he’d like to avoid any polarizing effect of the plan, which could shelve the entire idea for years, as it did with plans to design a village entrance and parking structure. He acknowledged businessman Allan Simon’s suggestion to address the cultural arts center separately to prevent the stagnation of opposing opinions and ensure the plan’s progress.
Michaell Magrutsche, a member of a now-defunct committee for an arts plan and center in Newport Beach, said Laguna is heading for similar disappointment. “I don’t want to be the Grinch,” said Magrutsche, “but we had the same problem you have here, too many projects in one.”
Plettner-Saunders said several approaches were used to compile the information for the plan, including interviews, a survey of 700 people and town-hall meetings.
Rick Balzer, a former Laguna Art Museum board member interviewed as part of the research, said he has been frequently asked why Laguna doesn’t provide a cultural arts center. “I couldn’t give a good answer to that question ever,” he told the council.
The $100,000 plan was partially funded with a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The remaining cost was covered by the Business Improvement District, a hotel bed tax fund that annually generates $1 million for arts organizations and public art projects.