Museum of Make Believe invites art lovers to step into another world

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A fresh, creative interpretation of the conventional art gallery is coming to Laguna Beach in early 2024.

Museum of Make Believe’s Amy and Geoff Mitchell (left) stand with Azure (center) and Kelsey Irvin around the Tree of Make Believe. The group is in the process of transforming a former office space at Bluebird Canyon into an immersive enchanted forest exhibit, the future setting for the Museum of Make Believe nonprofit. Clara Beard/LB Indy

The Museum of Make Believe, the brainchild of Amy and Geoff Mitchell, steps far outside the box of the sterile world of gallery showrooms and enters a new world, one where whimsical art and storytelling blend together, creating an immersive, multi-sensory experience.

“When people come into our museum, we want them to feel like they’ve entered another world,” said Mitchell. “It should feel moody in here, where we open the door to a mysterious world with low light world with sound. We want the community to leave the museum inspired to create their own magic.”

The Mitchells began mulling over the idea of making their storytelling exhibits permanent in 2020. The nonprofit Museum of Make Believe was born – just in time for the pandemic to hit a few weeks later. It didn’t slow down the couple, however, who quickly gained exposure by hosting virtual storytelling events but still had dreams of making the museum a permanent fixture. 

But where?

Their friend, Kelsey Irvin of Kelsey Michaels Studio in North Laguna suggested right here in Laguna Beach. 

“I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if this space was in Laguna?’” said Irvin, who is helping the Mitchells accomplish their vision. “It’s so unique, and the outcome will be an immersive museum compared to a traditional one. That’s not something we have in Laguna, Orange County or even Southern California. It’s a unique artistic experience, and because Laguna is so artistic and focused on the arts, I thought it would be a perfect fit here.”

“In Laguna, the whole city is a fairytale,” Mitchell said. “Everything is unique. Every building seems like it has its own story.”

The future Museum of Make Believe, located at 1590 South Coast Highway, Suite 5, has become a goliath art project for the couple, who moved into the space a few weeks ago. They’ve already erected several life-size trees, made from corrugated garden tubing, PVC pipe, spray foam and a muslin fabric mache technique. Geoff even hand-painted each leaf. 

The Tree of Make Believe under mood lighting. The public can have their names carved on the tree by donating to the Museum of Make Believe, which will be open in early 2024. Photo/Museum of Make Believe

That’s just the beginning. The goal is to convert the former office building with its unsightly power outlets and ceiling fans into a never-ending enchanted forest. 

“We’re going to have actual paintings and fine art on the walls, sculptures, miniatures – so many different types of artwork to experience, so it’s like you’re going through a museum, but you’re in the middle of a forest,” Mitchell said.

The museum will also tie in a 30-minute radio show called “Starlight Park, produced and written by the Mitchells and Irvin. It’s fashioned after old-timey classics like The Shadow and Green Hornet and stars Irvin’s own six-grade son, Azure.

“He runs away through the forest, so it fits with the forest theme we have at the museum and finds this abandoned amusement park that comes to life at night with these strange characters,” said Amy, chief storyteller and director of operations. 

“The radio program is quite cinematic,” Mitchell said. “Even though it’s vintage-inspired, the outcome feels like a contemporary cinematic experience. It’s layered, like a piece of art or a movie. We want people to experience it in a way that’s not flat.”

Looking to the future, the Mitchells hope to offer apprentice programs and workshops for high school students interested in the arts once the museum is up and running. 

“We look forward to connecting with different aspects of the community,” Irvin said. “We have a lot we could offer that doesn’t take away from other museums and galleries in town. It would be a great way we could give back.”

Hospitality Night

The Museum of Make Believe will participate in Laguna Beach’s Hospitality Night this Friday, giving folks an opportunity to get to know the future museum before its official opening. The holiday-themed block party is from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., with festivities and local business booths centered around the Peppertree Lot downtown. 

The museum’s booth will have “Shooting Star” and “Stardust” puppets, a raffle for the ultimate package of Make Believe and even a gemstone hunt for a “tomorrow stone” headed by Irvin’s second son, Jasper and his Rock + Crystal Gift Shop. If treasure hunters find a glowing purple amethyst, they’ll win a copy of Mitchell’s “Ghost Stories & Fairy Tales” storybook.

For more information about the nonprofit museum or to donate, visit www.museumofmakebelieve.org.

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