While still a student at the Laguna College of Art and Design, Andrea Harris worked at the Laguna Art Museum as an installer and as an assistant to local artist Bridget Hoff. She became the museum’s registrar, the first hired staffer after the dissolution of the museum’s merger with the Orange County Museum of Art.
“It feels like a big reunion, a homecoming,” said the alumna, now Harris-McGee, of her new role as the director of the college’s gallery, one of its most prominent showcases.
“LCAD introduced me to Laguna Beach and now I plan to build bridges between the students and the community, to help energize the arts and give young people a place to go,” said the former Bay Area resident who earned her undergraduate degree in painting and drawing at LCAD in 1996.
While plans for a dedicated gallery building have yet to be realized, the college already envisions a more ambitious exhibition schedule. “It was fortuitous when Andrea called us just as we were looking at the future of our gallery, which includes an expanded repertoire of exhibitions to reflect the college’s growing and increasingly diverse studio programs,” said college president Jonathan Burke.
Throughout the year, the gallery stages exhibitions focusing on individual departments such as illustration, game art, drawing, painting, sculpture and animation. Summers spotlight the diverse accomplishments of the entire student body and also works created during the summer European studies program. Graduate students showcase their work during the yearly master thesis exhibition.
Harris-McGee will collaborate with department heads to select featured guest artists and report to Hélène Garrison, vice president of academics. But she will enjoy curatorial autonomy based on her experience as an artist and administrator.
Prior to marrying Mike McGee, a professor of museum studies at Cal State Fullerton, Harris was the founding director in 1998 of CSUF’s Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, overseeing 300 exhibitions over 10 years.
There, she shook up the local art scene with exhibitions such as “100 Artists See Satan,” the works of Jeff Valance, the aptly titled “Villa Delirium” featuring über-ceramicist Charles Krafft, and the notorious “Heaven on Earth,” an exhibition centered on self-proclaimed painter of light, Thomas Kinkade.
In addition, she oversaw artist in residences and helped publish Grand Central Press publications, aided by her expertise in graphic design.
In 2008 she became the gallery director for the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion at Orange Coast College where she put her curatorial stamp on 11 major exhibitions including a compelling overview of John Paul Jones’ oeuvre.
After leaving OCC, she started work on her master’s degree in illustration at CSUF and considered pursuing art fulltime. “Maybe I was over the exhibition kind of life, of being an administrator,” she mused.
Even so, she also missed the gallery life. “After a while, I was itching to get back out and started making calls,” she said.
As they say, the planets aligned. “I got back in touch with people I value and can help the institution that gave me my start and bring their gallery shows up to full potential,” said Harris-McGee, who continues to live in Santa Ana with her husband and son Alexander.
She recognizes artists can endure a difficult life getting established. Now, she feels compelled to help them on their way. “I think I am meant to do what I am doing now,” she said.