Musings on the Coast

By Michael Ray
By Michael Ray

To: All Members of the Laguna Beach City Council

Re: Six-month moratorium on choosing or placing public art


For some time, activists have complained about the quality of public art in Laguna Beach. It is not worthy of us. It does not belong in Laguna Beach; it belongs in a city that does not pride itself for its Pageant of the Masters, College of Art, Sawdust Festival, Arts’ Walk and so on and on.

Laguna Beach does not just pride itself on art. It brands itself as the “City of the Arts.” That brand took generations to be earned. It is precious. Now the brand is under attack. That attack is coming from the selection process for choosing public art.

Our art should best-in-class. The public spirit of the city requires it. Anything less will damage, if not destroy, our reputation.

But our public art does not come close to best-in-class. Although I do not doubt the sincerity or intentions of the existing selection effort, it has produced mediocrity. There is no other appropriate word. Our public art is mediocre.

The question then becomes: how does one make it best-in-class?

The issue is the process by which our public art is selected. Mediocre public art is a result of a mediocre selection process. I have been a part of creating the public art selection process in other cities and I know there are many, better, alternatives to our process.

With this public request—this memo in the Laguna Indy—a group of public art enthusiasts are requesting of the City Council that the existing public art selection and placements of pieces be suspended during a six-month moratorium. During that time period, we request that the City Council direct staff to hire outside experts to help devise a system by which our public art will be best-in-class. We request that all relevant public-art-selection “models” (of which there are many) be evaluated for particular relevance to Laguna Beach, and that a new methodology for Laguna Beach be proposed.


Public Support For This Request:

This request of the City Council is not new but it never has been formalized. Rather, individual and influential citizens of Laguna Beach have approached (to my knowledge) every member of the City Council, and the primary answer has been: we support your idea but please let it arise from the citizenry, not a particularly council member.

Dear Council Members: please consider this memo such a public request.

If a citizen wishes to express his or her opinion to a City Council member or to the city manager, phone numbers and email addresses are listed in this paper and the city web site. However, for your convenience, I am listing our mayor and mayor pro tem: Mayor Steve Dicterow, [email protected], Mayor Pro Tem Toni Iseman: email address: [email protected]


Concerned local citizens (you know who you are) collectively have contacted all members of the City Council already on this subject.

I am aware that the Brown Act severely restricts how council members can discuss this issue with other council members in private. However, we know most of you, if not all, support a six-month moratorium on the selection and placement of public art.

We humbly request that you act and vote to create that moratorium at your next council meeting.

After all, this is about our legacy.

Thank you for your consideration.


Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and now lives in Laguna Beach.  He makes a living as a real estate entrepreneur and is involved in many non-profits.


Share this:
View Our User Comment Policy


  1. While I agree the subject of public art is important in a community such as Laguna Beach. The future has changed the face of art, since the home town appeal of themed structures that go through a review process should be entrusted to but a few chosen crafts persons.
    Such was a time perhaps in the towns first simple beggings where established criteria was less important because of universal social acceptance of mediums available.

    Now currently the path to artistic hierarchy is more complex and with many different mediums, cultural blendings, and schools, everything is art because now art is simply conceptual.
    Since art has these many forms and is conceptual everyone is a critic.

    With so many critics and forms the city council could spend a natural or in-natural amount of the budget on the concept of art in public places.
    Criteria for public art should be a priority, as a theme for the city to entrust to future generations the aesthetic appeal and functionality.

    A formula for creating public art works should be drawn up by an aestheticly consciencious structural engineer and designs or ideas could be submitted if needed. This would solve the consistency, theme and asthetic value and safety of community and visitors.

    We have had many great artist and crafts persons in our town, but we have since lost to time. I am sure with current resources through the local schools and colleges there will be others.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here