The Festival of Arts is a hive of activity with hardhat workers roaming the site on evenings and Saturdays, scrambling to make up for time lost due to El Nino induced rains.
Last weekend, the first of 140 artists that plan to exhibit during the show’s anticipated July 5 public opening and their helpers also filed onto the site to begin building their booths. “I’m so excited about the new venue,” enthused 24-year exhibitor Molly Hutchings, lugging supplies over cables and hoses.
Aside from the festival’s signature curving entry, the site of the town’s largest summer art extravaganza remains a bit of a mystery, behind curving walls and red construction tape. New sculptural steel beams that support Teflon rook triangles now jut above the perimeter wall.
When the $10.5 million project began last fall, Festival board president Fred Sattler cautioned that there were only seven or eight months for the entire project, after delaying it for an entire year in anticipation of rains that never came. Then, those rains hit with vengeance.
Overseen by Bauer Architects of Newport Beach, which also designed the $3.5 million award winning facade, the project called for demolition of the entire old grounds, 31,774 square feet in all, with most of its back row of trees escaping the axe. Turner Construction leads the army of concrete workers, electricians, pipe layers and others indispensable to the construction. The last major improvements had been done in the 1960s, said Sattler.
When finished, the area’s grade will be flattened and paths widened to meet demands of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the greens and main stage enlarged and moved closer to the entrance. Improvements include enlargement of restrooms and relocation of the wine bar to keep lines from snaking through artists’ areas, explained FoA operations director Gary Fowler.
Bauer rescinded an offer to tour the site last week and Fowler kept me at bay at the entrance later that day.
Susan Davis, the festival’s special events director, has had a front row seat to the entire construction process from her second story office. “It’s one thing to see architectural drawings, but quite another to see concepts unfolding in real life. What I can see is exciting, including the stage getting higher and larger and offering better sight lines to audiences,” she said.
She said new stadium seating and lighting systems will serve both the art and performances. “As I watch the project coming to fruition, it gets more exciting. There is so much going on in a small space.”
Spaces, though, posed concerns for some artists, none of whom agreed to be identified. Some complained about cramped space diminished to make room 12 artists originally slated to exhibit in areas known as Section D. Others questioned the lack of demarcation between artist’s booths and the lack of storage and electrical outlets in the display areas.
Ron Morrissette, the festival’s exhibit director, said spaces were allotted based on the artists replies to a questionnaire about their size and location needs. He said he factored in the nature of the work and its sensitivity to sun exposure.
Walls will not converge, with every artist’s booth independent, similarly to last year, he said.
“The last and smallest gallery space to be completed is the one near the stage,” Morrissette said. “Based on the timeline given to us by the construction company, we did not believe it was sufficient enough for some artists to build their booths. Rather than take a chance on that scenario, we arranged the other four galleries to accommodate 140 artists,” he said.
While artists are building their booths now, they will not bring in their art until the last minute, until 24-hour security is in place and also to stave off damage from dust or debris, added festival spokeswoman Sharbie Higuchi.
Some artists voluntarily settled for smaller spaces, said festival board member and photographer Tom Lamb whose booth measures 16 feet.
Photographer Mitch Ridder’s space is half that. He estimates that at least 40 others have similarly small exhibit spaces, while 84 artists will occupy 12-foot spaces and 16 received 16-foot booths. “Not everyone handles change with ease. With everything so new, it’s impossible to please everyone,” he said.
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