Power of Words Transforms Defaced Canyon Wall

Muralist Mia Tavonatti’s latest project will replace an eradicated Laguna Canyon mural. Photo by Ted Reckas

“Affirmation,” “Wisdom,” “Forgiven” and even “Levitation.” These words passersby, students and friends of Mia Tavonatti chalked onto a gray wall of the Laguna Canyon Winery, 2133 Laguna Canyon Road, this past Monday.

After filling the entire wall, Tavonatti hosed off the evidence two days later at the urging of the city code enforcement’s officer in order to avoid confusion between an art project and common graffiti.  “The best thing is that we got community attention,” said Tavonatti, a mosaic muralist, painter and instructor at the Laguna College of Art and Design.

The award-winning artist envisions the words scribbled by community contributors as the source of artistic inspiration for Laguna’s newest mural and a springboard for similar projects elsewhere.

The shiny gray canvas that will become one of the largest mural walls in the county came courtesy of Marlowe J. Huber, the winery’s co-owner. In March, he eradicated a brightly colored student-made mural depicting canyon flora and fauna, hoping to replace it with commercial signage or a wine-related work of art.

He was unprepared for the backlash. To defuse community ire over defacing a public work or art, college officials, Huber and the building’s owner, Steve Henry, recently agreed to commission a new mural by Tavonatti, whose mosaics also embellish Mozambique restaurant and Laguna Drug.

The production should begin when the new semester commences on Jan. 15.  Students will initiate the necessary steps, including presenting design concepts and securing approvals from the city’s Arts Commission, just as is required by professionals, explained Tavonatti, of Santa Ana.

“Removing the mural was a mistake but it’s going to be resolved nicely,” Henry said. “It’s good for everyone involved to move forward.”

While no current budget has yet been established, replacement costs for the original were initially pegged around $12,500 with the college, Henry and Marlowe splitting the cost and Laguna’s Community Art Project (CAP) contributing $2,000.

Contacted this week, LCAD president Jonathan Burke said he was unaware of the details, but expressed confidence in Tavonatti. “Requirements for the mural class are rigorous; students have to present a portfolio to show that they are able to hold their own in the class,” he said. Student participation is capped at 16.

Tavonatti will attempt to involve the community in the two-semester project by inviting residents to send words describing their aspirations for Laguna Beach. Beginning Dec. 7, participants will be able to send their choices to the project website  where they will be asked to explain their word choice. Tavonatti and her students will narrow the number to 10 and base the mural’s design on the winning word.

Community participation adds to the project’s appeal, said the building’s owner. “It’s a great concept and it’s going to be fun for all involved,” Henry said.

“I am eager to see which words inspire students the most,” added Huber, who suggested “collaboration,” since everyone could have input in the project.

Tavonatti hopes to eventually take her Power of Words concept nationwide, encouraged by an initial inquiry from the city of Dana Point. She intends to underwrite the projects through her Svelata (Italian for unveiled) Foundation, which she sustains with $350,000 in awards won from Michigan’s prestigious Art Prize over two consecutive years.

“What they need is a commitment to support the arts, willing artists and a good wall; we’ll do the rest with guidance and mentorship,” she said. “My idea is to plant seeds. Thoughts become words, words become action and action will create art,” she said.


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