Laguna Beach festival artists see fruitful summer despite COVID-19 surge

Festival of Arts Exhibitor Janine Salzman paints at the festival grounds in August. Photo
by Mitch Ridder

Not even COVID-19 could stomp out the magical fairy dust at the Sawdust Art Festival.

Toddlers, teenagers, and even some adults made their annual pilgrimage this summer to get a pinch of sparkle and borrow a pair of wings from the Fairy Booth, currently manned by Sawdust newcomers Kate Cleaves and Nick Flores.

Melissa Belland, a 40-year exhibitor also known as Missy Beehive, took a sabbatical from this year’s festival, a festival spokesperson said. Cleaves and Flores moved to Laguna Beach in 2019 after visiting the festival and almost instantly decided they wanted to join this artist community.

It’s been an exhausting first season, Cleaves said, but the children who come to visit the Fairy Booth make the long days of crafting mixed-media fairies worth it.

“These little faces come in and they’re excited to see you. That’s the fuel that keeps us all going,” she said.

Despite the pandemic’s uncertainty, Cleaves’ experience of being surrounded by fellow artists and art lovers has exceeded all expectations, she said.

“The art community that I’ve been looking for over the last 10 years, I feel like I’ve finally found it,” she said

The 2021 Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters are set to end their summer season Friday. Sawdust Art Festival will close its doors Sunday, marking the end of summer for art festivals still recovering from closures forced by the pandemic’s outbreak last year.

Despite shortening the hours from the usual 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sawdust has seen more attendance this year compared to 2019, festival spokesperson Franky Duschane said. The Festival of Arts couldn’t provide ticket sales data by the Independent’s press deadline.

Even though foot traffic was slightly down this year compared to 2019, the patrons that did show up bought plenty of artwork to refresh their homes after a long quarantine and sustain artists, said Paul Bond, an 11-year Festival of Arts exhibitor.

The San Clemente resident’s paintings featuring colorful scenes of magical realism were a hit among many visitors seeking an escape from the pandemic’s shadow.

“My work. in particular, has an uplifting emotional quality so I get to watch people approach it and light up,” Bond said. “People read the story and for me, there’s an obvious emotional reaction that is very inspiring me to keep going at this.”

On the business front, Bond said he’s sustained by a host of past clients and whatever new clients come through the gate. Overall, his experience this season has been a good one and he’s heard similar reviews from a lot of the exhibiting artists. He’s also noticed both artists and visitors show a real craving for the festival’s live music after the year-long hiatus.

“I’m grateful to have this opportunity to play that role a little bit and bring some joy into the world,” Bond said.

Festival of Arts exhibitor Anthony Salvo of Costa Mesa said his sales this year were better than he’s ever done. After an isolating year at home, Salvo was thrilled to have one of his paintings of Main Beach was selected as the 2021 Festival of Arts Poster. American Art Collector Magazine also recognized him with an Award of Excellence.

“It was very uplifting considering I had some health issues earlier in the year that were pretty overwhelming,” Salvo said. “So to have all of these things happen made my year.”

Even though he’s fully vaccinated and wears a mask, he still gets anxious about getting infected by COVID-19 with an underlying health condition. Social distancing is next to impossible, he said.

“The last two weeks I’ve seen more artists wearing masks,” he said. “There are more people doing it so you don’t feel as much like you’re standing out.”

Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy holiday art and craft festival will return on Saturdays and Sundays from Nov. 20 to Dec. 19.


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