When I moved to Laguna, I was pleased to see a museum downtown, and subsequently disheartened by the collection’s limited scope. I also felt the facility had set itself up as a landmark more than a community art center and I more often attended as an afterthought than a destination.
These days, Laguna Art Museum has experienced a renaissance and last week’s first three-day “Art & Nature” program is the latest sign. A sold-out lecture with historian Kevin Starr, a unique art installation on the beach, and activities for children, were well attended, and the event concluded with a party at One Laguna, a new exhibit space in conjunction with LCAD.
A&N was a smash; however the extravaganza is only one of many changes that have taken place at the museum since Executive Director Malcolm Warner took the helm almost two years ago, and likely many changes yet to come.
A slew of new programs and a new attitude have brought the community into the museum and, more importantly, have brought the museum into the community. Less the art icon on the hill, the museum is integral to the arts culture and a product of good business practices.
One of the first things Warner initiated was opening the museum Thursday evenings, with a dictate there must be programming in place every week, according to communications director Marni Farmer. Warner reached out to Laguna Live for music events once a month and has attracted a wide range of speakers for the “Conversations” series in conjunction with ArtWalk. In the last year, Farmer says, roughly 10,000 seats were filled Thursday nights. In the next year, the museum will collaborate with Laguna’s music and dance festivals for a one-of-a-kind happening in the fall.
Success is in the numbers. Attendance is up 13% in the year ended October, and membership up 18%. Warner also implemented free student membership, yielding 350 young art-lovers this year, and 1,200 kids annually attend tours and workshops.
Every successful business requires the right professional and support staff, and this too is part of the new model. Warner staffed the development office and filled the curator of education slot. He also added a registrar to manage the collection for loans and special programs, so the curators, Farmer said, are free to focus on curating.
Board President Robert Hayden has done his part by bringing the trustee count to 22 from 15 and reaching out to the community for enthusiastic advisors and volunteers.
And, yes, several new works have been added to the permanent collection, including paintings by Wendt and a painting and six prints by Wayne Thiebaud. In addition, seven works have been restored, financed by a special fund.
These days, LAM is as much a part of the community as festivals, galleries and LCAD. Given its many changes, it is also a good case study on the revival of an institution. Art or otherwise.
Randy Kraft is a freelance writer who previously covered the city for the Indy and pens the OC BookBlog for www.ocinsite.com or @ocbookblogger for Twitter.