New Leaders Remake Art Scene



College president Jonathan Burke, seen here at the Rodin sculpture exhibit, is among the new leaders named to local arts organizations this year.

A retrospective of Laguna Beach’s art scene in 2011 shows that high watermarks are likely to leave an indelible impression in the years to come, especially concerning major changes in the leadership of the art community.

After 14 years at the helm of the Laguna Art Museum, longtime executive director, Bolton Colburn, abruptly resigned in May. In November, Malcolm Warner, a former deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Tex., was selected as Colburn’s successor. President Robert Hayden III stood in as an interim chief executive.

As the Laguna College of Art and Design turned 50, Dennis Power retired as president of the private art school in June. After a nation-wide candidate search, the college’s board appointed Jonathan Burke, vice president of academic affairs and dean of fine arts, who had helped establish the school’s emphasis on “traditional” art.

Laguna Playhouse artistic director Andrew Barnicle resigned after 20 years to seek new challenges that include acting and directing. Chief executive Karen Wood and trustees in September hired Ann E. Wareham, formerly of the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles, to succeed him.

One of the city’s most expensive and long-delayed public arts commissions found a home in Heisler Park.

The town’s gallery community shriveled by several storefronts, draining activist leaders from the pool of local gallerists, who contoured the contemporary character of the art colony. The Esther Wells Collection, Studio Arts Gallery and Marion Meyer Contemporary Art all called it quits in the last year. Mandarin Fine Art, exhibiting works by contemporary Chinese artists, also closed.

Among towns across the nation that established Sept. 11, 2001, memorials, Laguna Beach received two World Trade Center girders at the instigation of local firefighter Andrew Hill. Arts patron Mark Porterfield helped underwrite Jorg Dubin’s design of “Semper Memento” (always remember), unveiled to a huge crowd in Heisler Park on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Art and commerce clashed when Laguna Canyon Winery proprietor Marlowe J. Huber in March painted over a landmark mural in violation of a city ordinance protecting public art. Huber had hoped to replace it with winery-oriented signage. College art instructor Mia Tavonatti and students will begin work on a new mural in 2012.

Annie Wareham’s artistic direction adds a fresh sensibility to Laguna Playhouse, one of the town’s early arts organizations.

Jon Seeman’s “Breached Whale,” a sculpture rejected as too large for the frontage of the Susi Q Senior Center that had languished in storage, found a home. The whale anchors a newly built amphitheater in Heisler Park.

The Laguna Art Museum shed light on a little known aspect of Orange County’s art history by staging “Best Kept Secret: UCI and the Development of Contemporary Art in Southern California, 1964-1971” as part of the greater Los Angeles area Pacific Standard Time series of art exhibitions.

Laguna Beach Live co-founder Samuel Goldstein underwrote the filming of a September concert by jazz pianist Billy Childs for broadcast on public television station PBS-SoCal. Goldstein hopes the program is good enough to receive national distribution.

Laguna Canyon artists started the year without celebration. Instead, they were digging out muck from record flooding the month before that destroyed homes and studios. The 18 artists received immediate aid from arts organizations, including $25,000 from the Festival of Arts and $1,000 lifelines per applicant from the Sawdust Festival, as well as additional help from community relief organizers.

The art college scored both coup and controversy in July by staging an exhibit of maquette-sized sculptures by Auguste Rodin, criticized by self-described art fraud sleuth Gary Arseneau of Florida as “fakes.”










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