Expansion of civic arts district, festival upgrades included in plan
By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach now has a blueprint for how cultural arts will be supported and showcased, following the City Council’s approval Tuesday of its creative placemaking assessment.
After conducting more than 47 in-person interviews with local stakeholders and holding town hall meetings, AEA Consulting advised the City Council against developing a $20 million mixed-use cultural facility. The consultants estimated that such a facility would experience an annual $1.5 million operating deficit and it would be unlikely for any local entity besides the city to take on this venture.
“What we heard consistently was anything we do should be about enhancing the quality of life for residents here, in other words, this was not a tourism strategy,” said Libby Ellis, principal of AEA Consulting.
Instead of a mixed-used cultural facility, the city’s consultants suggest expanding the civic arts district from the Sawdust Festival down Forest Avenue to the Main Beach Cobblestones and up Pacific Coast Highway to the Laguna Art Museum. This could entail closing Forest Avenue to vehicle traffic for certain hours or days of the week to allow more creative events like sketch artists, art fairs, and food festivals.
AEA Consulting also recommended some upgrades to the Festival of the Arts site to make it more versatile for a variety of events. Among the suggested improvements are removable seating, acoustical retrofits to the Irvine Bowl, outdoor film screens, a retractable canopy, and modular stage elements.
Even though the Sawdust Arts Festival is a private organization, the city’s consultants suggested working with festival staffers to open some of its smaller classrooms for meetings and cultural activities during the off-season.
The creative placemaking assessment also talks about how the Village Entrance Pavilion at Laguna Canyon Road and Forest Avenue could serve as a cultural gathering space for farmers’ markets, arts and crafts fairs, and public art installations. It also envisions a small dedicated performance area and built-in seating.
AEA Consulting also suggested an Artist-in-Residence program to attract celebrated artists to nurture new talent. These mentoring artists would be paid a daily stipend by the city and be provided with housing by Laguna Beach residents. In return, the Artist-in-Residence would host public artist talks and display their artwork to the public at the end of their residency.
The council members were very receptive to the thoughtfulness of AEA Consulting’s recommendations that were backed up by a lot of time listening to the community.
“I think the recommendations are tangible and manageable, which is nice for a change in the sense that we can actually implement some of these, which looks like it’s the next part of this recommendation,” Councilman Bob Whalen said.
Mayor Kelly Boyd also praised AEA consulting for bringing the City Council recommendations that it could reasonably pursue.
Pat Kollenda, treasurer of the arts commission, stepped up to the podium to read a statement on behalf of Michael Ervin, chairman of the arts commission, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s council meeting.
“In the end, we see better utilization of existing sites and potential development of designated sites all with the goal of expanding the civic arts district to provide walkable, useful cultural arts sites,” Ervin wrote in a statement.
Penelope Milne, president of Laguna Beach Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization, was among the Laguna Beach residents who said they felt their opinions on the city’s cultural arts needs were listened to and incorporated into the creative placemaking assessment.
“In this project, I do think the community was listed to and the idea of additional ways for us to connect with one another I think is both necessary and reflective of who we really are,” Milne said.
The $121,000 worth of research conducted by AEA Consulting was underwritten by Business Improvement District revenue, which is included in the city Arts Commission budget. BID revenue, generated by a 2 percent portion of the city’s bed tax, is distributed to arts organizations and the city’s promotion branch.