Opinion: Who will carry the “art colony” torch into the future?

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By Jorg Dubin

I am writing to you today in regard to our well-established cultural heritage and a situation that has occurred to me over the weekend. As you all are very aware, we, Laguna Beach have a rich cultural past that has endured for a hundred years. In recent decades the ranks of well-established artists and creatives have dwindled due to many factors. Affordability, lack of studio spaces and death.  

When I came to Laguna in 1976, I was in my early twenties. I could afford a place to live, ($325 a month), and a nice studio in the canyon, ($175 per month) where I currently live and work, (rent is considerably higher). When most people, residents and visitors alike think of Laguna Beach they think mostly of two things. Our beautiful environment, our beaches and our physical beauty. The other is our cultural heritage, our museum, festivals and galleries. Our beautiful environment remains intact however it is our cultural heritage and its future that is in jeopardy of disappearing with every passing year. 

I was reminded of yet another loss over the weekend as I attended the memorial for our beloved Sukhi Dail, another long-time established artist here in town. It got me thinking about how many artists and creatives have left our world in recent years. Sukhi Dail, Ken Auster, Bruce Linder, Terry Thornsley, Mark Chamberlin, Jerry Burchfield, John Gardiner, and untold numbers of artists and crafts folk from the Sawdust and the FOA. There are many more. These were all long-time resident artists who carried the torch of our cultural heritage forward from those who preceded them. 

I came to Laguna because of its thriving art community and eclectic mix of interesting folks. There were thriving art and craft studios all over town. It seemed like every other home had a studio in their garage or backyard. Ceramics studios, wood shops, jewelers and much more were in abundance in every neighborhood. Those days are long gone due to new regulations and policies put in place by the powers that be in city hall past. Policies that drove the hard-working artists and crafts folk out of their homes with little or no consideration as to where they would go to create. Thankfully, there was a man who saw the need for affordable light industrial complexes in Laguna Canyon and created several artists enclaves that allowed some of us to stay to this day and continue the legacy of Laguna Beach as an art colony. Thank you, Mr. Burkhardt! 

The point of all this is the big question we all need to ask ourselves. What do we want Laguna Beach to be going forward? If we are to maintain the “Art Colony” moniker we need to recognize that the much-needed younger generation of artists can no longer afford to live and work in our town. There are no young artists filling the ranks as the older established artists are moving away or passing on. The Sawdust Festival is dying under the weight of its own rules about having to live in Laguna to be in the show. It is “aging out.” Students graduating from LCAD cannot afford to stay here and become part of the future of the art colony. 

Do we believe in our creative community enough to deem it as an invaluable asset to our hamlet? If your answer is yes, then it is high time to recognize that if we do not proactively change course then, in the next ten or twenty years, there will be no more full-time working artists left to maintain a thriving and healthy creative community who will carry the “art colony” torch into the future. 

I hope that we, as a community that prides itself on our environmental standing as well as our cultural heritage, will take this situation very seriously. The time is now to act before we lose more of our cherished creatives, and our great community becomes a hollow shell of its creative past that was established by the very artists that drew so many of us here in the first place. 

Based in Laguna Beach, Jorg has had an extensive career creating paintings, sculpture, ceramics and working in design for more than 45 years. Dubin studied painting at the Art Institute of Southern California with Stephen Douglas and sculpture and design with Kris Cox and Richard White. He has been the art director, set builder and production designer on seven films for O Entertainment. Jorg designed and fabricated the Sept. 11 Memorial for Laguna Beach titled “Semper Memento” (Never Forget), built from two I-beams from the World Trade Center. Jorg is also a member of the Laguna Beach Planning Commission. Jorg currently maintains a painting and sculpture studio in Laguna.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Laguna’s artfullness is a cheap thrill for a lot of locals who aren’t that talented. Let’s make room for some world class painters and begin an exchange program with Africa, France, England and Russia.

  2. When art is turned into a commodity it’s a self-propelling loss of its magic.

    Thank you Jorg. Your call for attention is another recognition of what seems an imminent death that has already settled in for over a decade. All artists here are well aware of it but we feel helpless, primarily because the PASSION about art as an intricate part of this Town has left the building.

    Laguna has made itself clueless about the power of art. Our hubris comes from believing art is just part of our landscape, of what’s naturally in our water. We focus on what the arts can do for Laguna instead of what art means for us outside of the economy.

    We don’t see art as an essential ingredient of humanity but as a luxury commodity that stopped what it once did for Laguna. Art is not a systemic-title that once you have it you can use it forever.

    Art’s element is fire. Even the potential fuel that artists and art-students could provide is doused because they are not really welcome to create or can’t afford to live here.
    Laguna’s current state of art is only better than no art. We revere creativity as art that’s used when a local enterprise creates a funky colorful product. Our control, relegates art to dead ornaments, whose major function is self-congratulation.

    We have become unconscious about the fact that systemically implementing art extinguishes its fire by bending art’s energy to rules and regulations. Consequently, humans react.
    So go our emotions for the arts that Laguna has long lost because there was no more way where to go with this passion-killing attitude. To confirm this, the nail in the artists’ coffin was the removal of Art from the City-seal.

    We are disconnected from Art’s essence because we forgot that art wants nothing more than to be created and exposed.

    If Laguna wants to have an inkling of a chance to reunite with the arts, its focus has to be on the humans that create art and the power that lies in art-creation instead of just finding value in the art-product. We have to try new things to find relevant art-projects that the public loves to engage with.

    Art does not do what it can if humans don’t understand its function and therefore refuse to celebrate its endless value. If there is passion left, let’s do a cultural vision. Michaell Magrutsche https://MICHAELLM.com

  3. Because an art scene is not just allowing a few local artists to perform repeatedly and put art everywhere. It’s welcoming artists that are drawn to our City, giving the space to nurture our natural curiosity of art’s magic. Art is dead, long live the arts. Michaell Magrutsche Artist, former Newport Beach Arts Commissioner, strategist, author, podcaster, https://MICHAELLM.com #TheSmartofArt #Lagunabeach #artcity #humanabilities

  4. You asked “What do we want Laguna to be going forward”? How do we sustain the “Art Colony”? How do we protect our coastline and “environmental standing”. You restated Laguna’s concerns but willfully neglect the solutions produced 22-years ago.

    In the Spring of 1999 the Laguna Beach City Council responded to Laguna’s concerns, they appointed a ten-member steering committee to carry-out a community visioning and strategic planning process. Back then we residents pondered “what will Laguna Beach be like in thirty years from now. Will we congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved, or lament on what we have lost?”

    In a collaboration between the steering committee and residents your questions were answered. The steering committee published their final recommendations in seven themes called the Vision Laguna 2030 Final Report and Strategic Plan in 2001.

    Today the Vision Plan from 2001 is in poor condition and obsolete. The document was revised and a copy delivered for comment to you and all LB Planning Commissioners in May, no comments were returned. A copy was also sent to all LB Council members in April, no comments were returned.

    The LB General Plan and Vision 2030 are our governing guidelines for city policy; the GP is our city contract with the California Governor’s Office of Research. The job of the LB Planning Commission is to update the General Plan (in ten volumes) for relevancy today but your column does not even mention these documents. Dead artists may carry torches forward, but written city guidelines carry community policy with city commitment.

    What role do Planning Commissioners serve if not to update the General Plan with policy to address concerns stated here? Who will update our LB General Plan? Hopefully not you Mr. Dubin, your ignorance of the topic shows you are not qualified for the task.

  5. Thank you Mr. Miklosy for your intelligent and well thought out comments. It is clear that you should take on the role of updating the general plan for the city as you are obviously the only one qualified to do so. And thank you for letting me know personally how truly ignorant I am and that I am well above my pay grade in regards to planning. I hope you will take time out of your busy day as the knower of all things and jump in the deep end and get involved with guiding our city forward in a positive way. I look forward to seeing you at the next planning commission meeting with your positive input and expertise. You are truly a force for change!

  6. MM:
    Thank you for sharing your personal thoughts and efforts, worthy of community consideration, I’ll go to your site after a morning business meeting, you got my attention via your rational approach……and to LM, my NGO, Clean Water Now, dedicated 3 Board members, sometimes 4, in attendance to the Environmental Sub-Committee for the Vision 2030 effort.
    We came away hopeful, even though our CM had an iron grip on our City Council. So CWN feels betrayed as you do…in fact hundreds of us who volunteered thousands of hours of our time must feel the same way.
    Now, in retrospect, it was just glorified therapy, an intentional distraction, and yes, it kept many activists out of CC Chambers because we felt empowered. We were suckered, it must have been a ruse?
    Like you, nearing some 22+ years after we all reported to our CC (the room was packed and overflowing btw, truly a community effort), its depressing to see that all of those volunteer hours and nothing came of it.
    CC members served as sub-committee chairs, ours was Kathleen Blackburn (now deceased).
    She gave me a ride home in her Porsche & we discovered that we had a lot more in common than we thought beforehand….Mutual respect emerged.
    As for Dubin, the first thing I thought of was the obviously posed photo.
    And look how glum or borderline angry he looks. Unhappy person, and instead of just a head shot he’s very carefully marketing his image. That’s subtle self-commodification.
    And why the insistence on having a total resumé/CV at the end, “I’m everything, I’m everywhere, all at once!”
    He transmits “Remember, I’m an edgy, controversial artist, especially with my grotty nude paintings, I’m a drummer, and everybody should VOGUE like me, a la Madonna.”
    “Adam-12? See the poseur. Pose, poseur, strike a pose. Yo, like totally vogue.”

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