Honoring Their Best and Brightest

Laguna Beach’s arts organizations celebrated their endeavors and their leaders at the sixth Arts Stars Awards on Sunday.

Exhibitor Jorg Dubin found himself unceremoniously ejected from Laguna Beach’s Festival of Arts in 1989 for a rules infraction over hosting an overly raucous party honoring his musical idol, Elvis Presley. He was similarly banned from the Sawdust Festival too. In a measure of vindication, on Sunday Dubin’s peers honored him as artist of the year for his role in creating a public art memorial in Laguna’s Heisler Park in time for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack.

Perhaps the ejection should be reconsidered, said Wayne Baglin, a Festival of Arts board member and former president, who presided over Laguna’s version of the Academy Awards.

The sixth annual Art Star Awards, spearheaded by the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts, handed out its version of the Oscars in seven categories.

More than 250 guests swarmed the Seven Degrees event space and appreciatively cheered the admonition of the evening’s keynote speaker. Poet Dana Gioia, the former chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, described his hometown of Hawthorne as devoid of any arts institutions save the public library. While his mother’s practice of reciting poetry piqued his love for arts, Gioia urged the audience to create economically vital communities by supporting artistic pursuits.

The arts leadership award went to Robert Hayden III, the president of the Laguna Art Museum, for overseeing operations in the wake of resignations by top staff and pursuing a search that resulted in the hiring of new executive director Malcolm Warner.

Seven-Degrees owners Mark Orgill and Dora Wexell issued their second Inspiration grant, awarding $5,000 to glass artist John Barber to fulfill his proposal, “Feeding Frenzy,” an indoor sculpture composed of 100 illuminated glass fishtails suspended from the ceiling. Barber intends to install the work in time for next year’s award ceremony.

Roark Gourley, who received the first Inspiration award, showcased its result with the premiere of “Liquescent,” a visually arresting film intended to evoke man’s symbiotic relationship with water.

The Sawdust Festival’s studio art classes, co-sponsored by the Laguna Beach Visitors and Conference Bureau, won distinction as the year’s best new arts program.

Bobbi Cox, who underwrote the Susi Q Senior Center’s dance studio as well as donating to the Community Arts Project, Laguna Art Museum, and Gallimaufry Performing Arts, was honored as individual arts patron of the year.

Bank of America won as corporate arts patron of the year for issuing $60,000 in grants to Laguna’s five most-established arts organizations.

Predictably, the award for most outstanding arts collaboration went to the team that brought two steel girders, extracted from the rubble of New York’s World Trade Center, to Laguna Beach. The initiative of Laguna fire Capt. Andrew Hill, who contacted the New York/New Jersey Port Authority, eventually included city arts manager Sian Poeschl, the $25,000 financial contribution by arts patron and local resident Mark Porterfield, artist Dubin to execute the memorial and approvals by the arts commission and city council.

The evening culminated with a lifetime achievement award bestowed on longtime resident Paul Darrow. “Art is not a career; it’s a way of life,” he said in accepting the award. Afterward, he offered his definition of a Renaissance man as “someone who is either enormously talented or just someone who can’t make up his damn mind.”

Rather than a golden statuette, winners walked off with weighty Longis, abstract bronze statuettes designed and crafted by local sculptor Louis Longi. The audience was treated to music by the Laguna Concert Band’s Swing Set and Spanish guitarist Miguel de Alonso.

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