Dream of a Cultural Arts Center Becomes a Reality


Mark Chamberlain’s legacy is about to become a little richer as his vision for the next phase in the life of the gallery he opened in 1973 with Jerry Burchfield nears completion. His goal was that the 2,400-square-foot space become more than an art gallery or music venue. Chamberlain hoped it could be a place where residents and visitors could learn about or reflect on Laguna’s history, preview films, take classes, and attend dance performances, poetry readings and artists’ talks.

Rick Conkey talks with guests at the fundraiser. Pho courtesy of Rick Conkey.

Although Chamberlain passed away last year his dream has not died. Local music promoter and tennis pro Rick Conkey, his friend of two decades has stepped in to bring the cultural arts center to life. Soon after Conkey met Chamberlain on the courts he realized they shared a similar vision about the arts. Together they brought talented artists from all over Southern California to BC Space Gallery.

Last month close to 100 supporters came together to make the cultural arts center a reality. “I was fortunate enough to spend quality time with Mark and his family in his final days and promised him I would carry on the dream,” Conkey said. Jason Feddy provided entertainment, Rock Martin Jewelers, Diane Reed Chiropractic Laguna Canyon Spa, and other local businesses donated silent auction items. And local artists Mark Timothy, Misha Von Doring and G. Ray Kerciu among others added their works for the auction. “As an initial awareness fundraiser, we feel it was a success. We were able to raise approximately $10,000,” said Mihae Park a volunteer organizer.

Jason Feddy provided entertainment. Photo courtesy of Rick Conkey.

Chamberlain and Burchfield are well known for creating a photographic mural over 6oo feet long, which was called ‘The Tell’ and became the rallying point of a 1989 protest against  proposed housing developments slated for Laguna Canyon. They initially started photographing the canyon for posterity’s sake assuming that development was inevitable. But, the 8,000 protesters caught the attention of the Irvine Co. and in 1990 Laguna’s citizens voted to tax themselves to help pay for the purchase of the land and keep it as preserved, open space.

Chamberlain picked up photography as a creative outlet while serving in the military. After finishing his service he settled in Laguna Beach and met Burchfield when both were making inquiries about submissions for the Laguna Beach Winter Festival of Arts. The two, who became friends, were the first photographers to submit their work to the festival.

To date demolition work has been completed and new plumbing, electrical, drywall and carpeting have been installed in the gallery. The bathrooms and shower area have been restored to their 1920s vintage. Original brick walls are once again exposed.“A conference room now exists where the cibachrome film developing darkroom used to be,” Park said. “Some finish work remains to improve the appearance of the main gallery and we are still waiting for the air conditioning to be installed, the delivery of new furniture and for improvements to the existing fire escape,” she added.

To honor Chamberlain’s tradition of celebrating the fall equinox, a formal opening and ribbon cutting of the BC Cultural Arts Center is being planned. In addition to the funds raised by what Chamberlain would call “artivists,” the building’s owner has put $80,000 toward the renovation and a GoFundMe page has been set up to receive additional donations.


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