Reimagining a City of the Arts


A year-round cultural center for visual and performing arts, a new international art festival, and peer review of public art commissions are among the recommendations of a report assessing the Laguna Beach art community.

The findings are based on a survey of residents and visitors conducted by consultants last year and approved unanimously by the city’s Arts Commission earlier this month.

The report suggests another art festival, like Sawdust Festiva, pictured here but lorganized by a professional.
The report suggests another art festival, like Sawdust Festiva, pictured here but lorganized by a professional.

Foremost among the community’s wants is a new cultural arts home, according to David Plettner-Saunders of Cultural Planning Group, the San Diego consultants that undertook the survey.

Survey respondents including representatives of local arts organizations such as Laguna Beach Live, Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts and Laguna Plein Air Painters Association expressed a need for a year-round facility serving visual and performing arts under one roof.

The report also pointed out the potential for greater use of existing facilities, such as the Irvine Bowl, the home of the Pageant of the Masters located on the grounds of the Festival of Arts, which is little used outside of summer. The city leases the public land to the Festival of Arts, which occasionally subleases the facilities to others, such as last December’s Kenny Loggins concert.

Arts organizations and local artists want more city recognition and support, with creation of affordable places for artists to live and work a top priority, the survey found. Artists cite significant obstacles to sustaining an affordable life-style and a future in Laguna Beach, a frustration voiced by artists for years despite the adoption of a live-work housing ordinance.

Arts organizations also want support in marketing to a younger and culturally diverse audience, the report says. The plan also points the need to establish stronger links between local art students and the working artist community.

Public art, also a subject of continuing debate among artists, should come under review by professional peers, the report says. Currently, responsibility for reviewing candidates for public art commissions falls to the Arts Commission, political appointees where professional arts training is not mandatory.

The cultural arts plan comes up for possible adoption by the City Council on March 29.

Among its other recommendations, the plan urges consideration of new, high-profile events in spring or fall showcasing Laguna Beach artistic versatility and bringing in national and international talent in the manner of Art Basel Miami or a festival built on traditions of early California art.

The consultant’s suggestion to engage outside organizers, such as the Fine Art Dealers Association, did not sit well with members of the 400-strong Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, already at work planning its annual Plein Air Painting Invitational.

“We work hard to promote the city of Laguna Beach and, while we did not have a brick and mortar location here when the plan was drafted, we have had one now for the past year,” said executive director Rosemary Swimm, referring to LPAPA’s home in the Ocean and Forest Gallery.

The plan also suggests ways to fund arts improvements, citing the city’s general fund, a business improvement district tax, donors for public art and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council and private foundations.

Some disagreed with the plan’s recommendation for new facilities. “Although the plan includes an inventory and description of existing facilities, it does not tell us why they are insufficient,” Johanna Felder, president of Village Laguna, wrote in a letter to the Indy recently.

During the Monday, March 14, meeting, Felder also pointed out that 40 percent of the respondents to the Cultural Arts Survey were not residents. “Input from non-residents does not address the needs of residents. You will have to solve a lot of things first to build larger venues. The cultural plan is a very ambitious one that will need a lot of funding; it’s still pie in the sky and depends on a lot of elements coming together,” she said.

On the other hand, Sam Goldstein, a former musician and co-founder of Laguna Beach Live, praised the plan but cautioned that seeing it through would require its embrace by the City Council. “If we can’t motivate them, we are nowhere,” he said.

The need to reach younger and more diverse audiences emerged from interviews with a number of “millenial” artists about their needs, said Plettner-Saunders. “No, we did not bus them in,” he quipped.

Appearing to be part of the latter group, musician Zac Churchill expressed hope for a plan envisioning the next 20 years. Mentioning ongoing performances at local galleries and pubs such as the Marine Room, he said: “I love the idea of music and poetry and performance. I hope we are setting a stage for you,” he said.

Arts Commissioner Adam Schwerner pointed to another finding in the report: that Laguna greatly benefits economically from its $51 million arts industry, not counting art galleries. “Great cities are the fruit of ambitious plans,” he said.


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  1. “but organized by a professional”….
    That would make a fourth festival?
    Come on you’re kidding me right?
    If this goes through I’m leaving town.


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