NEA Grant Underwrites Arts Planning for Laguna Beach



Sculptor Elaine Cohen demonstrates her technique at the Festival of Arts.  Analysis of the town’s cultural assets is expected to yield an arts master plan by 2016.
Sculptor Elaine Cohen demonstrates her technique at the Festival of Arts. Analysis of the town’s cultural assets is expected to yield an arts master plan by 2016.

The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Laguna Beach a $25,000 grant to develop a citywide cultural arts plan to further insure the city’s cultural and economic growth.

Laguna Beach is far from alone in branding themselves as an art colony, nor is it an exception in recognizing the inherent economic value in fostering cultural arts. Now, the town’s art leaders also realize that nurturing cultural-arts growth can no longer occur piecemeal, but calls for inclusive involvement of arts organizations, artists and art lovers.

In Santa Monica, a search for “creative capital” found that four in 10 residents made their living in the arts. Consultant Co. Cultural Planning Group, of San Diego, which conducted the search, helped Santa Monica devise free shows and events to showcase commissioned innovative contemporary art.

In San Antonio, Tex., the firm developed economic development strategies to support artists, arts-related businesses and arts education.

Laguna Beach has turned to the same firm, approved by the City Council this past Tuesday, to develop its cultural master plan. The study underwritten by the NEA grant is expected to conclude in 16 months.

“Laguna Beach has a special identity as an arts colony and we have to make sure it stays that way,” said Arts Commission chair Lisa Mansour. “The grant will allow us to optimize all of our cultural assets,” she said.

Last year, the city’s Arts Commission spent $172,000 on its public programs, which include commissioning new works of public art as well as exhibitions. But citywide, audiences and non-profit arts presenters generated $49.1 million in annual tickets and 1,300 jobs in Laguna Beach, a per capita figure that corresponds with better-known culture-capitals such as New York and Chicago, says a report by Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C., based arts advocate. By comparison, the national average among communities with populations under 50,000 is just $9,053 a year, says the 2012 report, the most recent available.

Mansour said planning will include enabling artists to continue to live in town and attracting personnel to the town’s creative industries.

“The study is going hand in glove with our planning for Laguna Beach,” said fellow Arts Commission member Mary Ferguson, who will work on the NEA-funded project as a member of a sub-committee. “Formulating such a plan has been long overdue since we have not had one since 1994-95. Until we lay it out, we really cannot embrace the entire community,” said Ferguson.

The earlier 20-year plan lapsed in 2010, though the commission pressed on with smaller individual projects in the absence of a master plan. “Sometimes you don’t see the forest for the trees, but now we can look at the issues from 40,000 feet up,” Ferguson said.

In addition to the NEA award, the Arts Commission has set aside $448,800 for special programs, such as an overarching cultural plan, said cultural arts manager Sîan Poeschl, who applied for the grant.

The city’s willingness to hire the highly regarded San Diego arts consultants helped secure the NEA grant, said Mansour.

“Actually we have been undergoing the process for a couple of years, but one of the NEA’s reservations was that we had operated as a single entity. Having a group like CPG behind us helped.” she said.

As with previous Arts Commission projects, the final plan will be subject to City Council approval.


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  1. That’s wonderful news. Lisa is an artist and a wonderful advocate for all of us. I hope Laguna can also to support film and multimedia artists. The museum has a good film series but they need better equipment and a room dedicated to screenings.


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