Painters Depart Museum for Canyon Venue

Michael Situ, an award-winning member of the Laguna Plein Air Association, found the Treasure Island beach arch a fitting subject during the organization’s 2010 contest.

Michael Situ, an award-winning member of the Laguna Plein Air Association, found the Treasure Island beach arch a fitting subject during the organization’s 2010 contest.

The Laguna Plein Air Painters Association will relocate its popular and well-respected annual painting invitational this fall to Laguna Beach’s Aliso Creek Inn, ending a 13-year collaboration with the Laguna Art Museum, the group’s president said this week.

Severing the alliance reflects the initiative of the museum’s newly hired executive director, Malcolm Warner, who is pushing the museum to add breadth to its California art focus by paying attention to other nature-based art.

“We’re not turning our back on celebrating landscape plein air painters; we want to open up to a celebration of art that engages natures,” said Warner, who sketched out a still evolving plan to replace the invitational with a conference or festival that involves scientists, environmentalists and artists that work with natural phenomenon. Hosting LPAPA’s fall invitational was “too much effort in support of one genre,” said Warner, whose decision was endorsed by the museum’s board on Jan. 8.

The museum, of course, owes its founding to the town’s early Impressionist landscape artists, such as Anna Hills and Edgar Payne. Even so, the Plein Air Painters Association intends to carry on that legacy independently and in a permanent venue that will display its members works, long-term goals of the art organization founded in 1996 by local landscape artists. Previously, the group held temporary exhibitions at various galleries.

Carrying out the upcoming 15th invitational, where 40 painters from across the country are invited for a week-long on-location painting competition, will be a challenge, said Greg Vail, the group’s president.  “I’m hoping supporters will help us,” he said, figuring catering, prize money, accounting, credit card processing and other miscellany at about $160,000. Previously, revenue from paintings sold at the contest was divvied up, with most going to the artist and the remainder between LPAPA and the museum, which provided support staff and the venue. “Now we will be sharing equally with the artist,” said Vail, who was promised use of the venue for the invitational without cost.

“It’s an ideal solution for LPAPA; they’ve done something impossible up to now,” said Jean Stern, executive director of the Irvine Museum, referring to the organization’s lack of a physical home. Though the event will lose some of its historical luster by decamping from its ancestral home, it continues to reinforce Laguna’s legacy as a city founded by artists, said Stern, who served as judge of LPAPA’s last invitational, a task he’s performed at similar events around the country.

“They see a real strategic value in having Laguna’s cultural legacy in their midst,” Vail said of the expected new owners of the 85-acre nine-hole golf course and 62 aging suites. He described a hand-shake deal with one of the principals involved in the pending transaction with Aliso Creek Properties LLC, which also owns the nearby Montage resort. Joan Gladstone, a spokeswoman for the owners, said she could not provide any projection as to when the sale will close.

The principal, who Vail declined to identify, described informal plans for updating and expanding the venue’s meeting space. “There’s a strong business case for doing this,” said Vail, who for two years previously worked for the Inn’s current owners on a redevelopment plan that was ultimately shelved.

The painters’ group isn’t the only cultural group to decide to take advantage of the Inn’s facilities as well as its majestic natural setting, which Vail describes as the “Yosemite” of Laguna Beach.

Trumpeter Bijon Watson’s Latin jazz group sold out the Inn’s 150-seat dining room last week, the first performance in the Laguna Beach Live! winter jazz series since relocated from downtown’s Hotel Laguna. The larger venue that could accommodate allowing a piano on the premises for several months and provides easier parking, said president Cindy Prewitt. “I hate turning people away,” said Prewitt, whose contract runs through April 17. “Our understanding is there wouldn’t be any changes to the facility through April,” she said of the expected ownership change.

Aliso Canyon includes one of the area’s original homesteads established by the Thurston family, ancestors of Laguna’s current mayor, Kelly Boyd.

Further information in LPAPA can be found at www.lpapa.org, or call (949) 376-3635.

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