UPDATED: Festival of the Arts Cancels Pageant of the Masters and Fine Art Show

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A Pageant of the Masters production employee directs actors during the 2018 Pageant of the Masters. Courtesy of the Festival of the Arts

The Festival of the Arts announced Monday that it has canceled the 2020 Fine Art Show and Pageant of the Masters in light of the state’s phased reopening plan.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement last week that the ban on mass gatherings would be extended for many weeks made it “simply not plausible” for pageant organizers to continue planning.

“This decision was not taken lightly,” Festival of the Arts President David Perry said in a prepared statement. “We had been hopeful and tried our best to open our doors this summer. We were determined to do everything possible to move ahead, but the insurmountable obstacles of this pandemic prohibited us from getting back into our offices and workshops to prepare for our traditional summer events.”

Festival leaders said last month that it was looking to raise $2 million through ticket pre-sales and donations by May 30 to continue production of summer programs amid the ongoing economic fallout. The coronavirus pandemic stalled ticket sales creating “unprecedented financial uncertainty” about whether festival organizers should continue planning the Fine Art Show and Pageant of the Masters.

The Festival of the Arts will now redirect its focus to planning for the future programs, including the 2021 Fine Art Show and Pageant of the Master, Perry said.

“As we move ahead, we will keep in touch and look forward to engaging with you throughout the summer,” Perry said. “We promise to continue to be here for you, our Pageant and Festival of Arts community… just as you have always been here for us.”

Monday’s grim announcement was met with sadness among Laguna Beach residents who consider patronizing the pageant as a family tradition or own businesses who benefit from the thousands of art lovers drawn who annually visit the festival grounds.

“It’s disappointing no matter how you look at it,” Councilmember Peter Blake said in a phone interview Monday. “Now we’re starting to cancel things in the summer and [understand] that this is going to last a lot longer than we thought.”

Blake doesn’t anticipate the festival’s decision will have any impact on his Ocean Avenue art gallery, partly because he does most of his business at high-end art fairs like The Armory Show in New York City, but also acknowledged the impact on most Laguna Beach galleries will be significant.

He doesn’t believe art gallery owners will see much benefit from Newsom’s latest order that allows curbside service at retail stores.

“You can’t bring a painting out to the curb,” Blake said.

This is the first time the pageant, which dates back to 1932, has been canceled since a break during World War II.

Michelle Pohl, a 14-year pageant cast member, said Monday’s announcement was expected by staffers and volunteers but still seen as a major blow.

“I think a lot of us were holding out hope that some big thing would change and it wouldn’t be canceled,” she said.

Pohl, her husband Adam, and their two children have all been cast in the pageant for the last three years. Pohl first appeared in the pageant in 1987. The cancellation is a double-blow for the Yorba Linda resident because she was recently hired by the Festival as a casting assistant, a position that is now furloughed.

Not being able to see her “summer family” this year is the most unsettling part of the break for Pohl.

“It’s disappointing for those of us who plan our vacations around this event,” Pohl said. “We see each other every single day during the summer and then we don’t see each other for the rest of the year. Summer is not going to be the same.”

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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