Sawdust Art Festival to open outdoor marketplace after rare summer closure

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The Lower Mesa features a new layout of 48 booths at the Sawdust’s Outdoor Marketplace. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Nearly 100 artists will begin their weekend rotations Saturday at the Sawdust Art Festival’s Outdoor Marketplace, allowing art lovers to once again shop directly from some of their favorite artists.

The Sawdust cancelled its normal summer run in May—a first for the festival since its founding in 1967—and rescheduled as state guidelines have shifted and the scope of possibility narrowed for an opening.

Sawdust artist and board member Carrie Woodburn, who has exhibited her hand sewn, leather accessories at the festival for the past seven years, said: “Our Sawdust artists, Board of Directors and staff pressed on with resilience, strength of spirit and hope in this unprecedented time of crisis. Despite the limitations, we are thrilled to open our weekend Outdoor Marketplace.”

Jamie Bichler, vice president of the Sawdust Art Festival Board of Directors, records artists’ booth selections for the Outdoor Marketplace on Wednesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Sawdust will cap entries at 250 guests at one time. The Marketplace is currently scheduled to close at the end of October but Sawdust officials hope to run the show through December.

On Wednesday, artists were called to the festival grounds to select their booths. Member artists with the most seniority picked first.

Cliff Wassman has exhibited his oil paintings at the Sawdust for 10 seasons. The Laguna Beach resident said his social life revolves around the festival he attends, adding that he never realized how isolated he was until they were closed by the pandemic.

“The regular Sawdust is a cramped, hectic place,” Wassman said. “This is a much more relaxed space. It’s definitely some respite from all the craziness that’s in the world.”

Exhibiting artist Shane Dunlap, a woodworker, said he is looking forward to the opening this weekend.

“This country and our community needs much healing and a way back to normality,” he said.  “Some of the best medicine is music and art. They say love conquers all. Well the Sawdust festival is a plethora of love and good vibes. A summer in Laguna without the Sawdust fest is like the night sky with no stars and moon or the end of a beautiful day without a sunset.”

Cindy Stalnaker, a 15-year Sawdust veteran, added hand-sewn masks this year to her usual collection of marbled silk scarves, neckties, and jewelry. She was lucky enough Wednesday to snag a booth in front of the main entrance.

“I like being here on the weekends for this type of show. I like the opportunity to try different locations,” she said. “Normally, booth picking day is fraught because you’ll be there for nine weeks.”

Working collaboratively with the city, the Sawdust Art Festival has taken precautions to provide a safe experience for guests with extensive safeguards and preventative measures.

“I want to commend the Sawdust Board of Directors for their creativity in developing a plan that will allow a great Laguna tradition to continue this fall,” Laguna Beach Mayor Bob Whalen said. “Our community was founded by artists and the marketplace will provide an opportunity for many local artists to sell their art to support themselves and their families.”

Colorful signs hand-painted by festival staffers are scattered throughout the festival grounds to gently remind guests to social distance and mask up.

Signs ask visitors to socially distance and wear masks at the Sawdust festival grounds on Wednesday. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

Monica Prado, President of the Sawdust board of directors, said that local artists can begin to rebound from the pandemic’s economic impact and that the Outdoor Marketplace is a wonderful way for friends and neighbors to safely shop and socialize on our the festival grounds, she said.

Two stages of live music will feature trio and solo acts and outdoor dining—GG’s Mediterranean Grill, Evan’s Gourmet, Tacos Durell and the Sawdust Saloon—will be available for food and drinks. While Festival and ceramics classes will not be offered during the Outdoor Marketplace, live glassblowing will once again be taking place.

“Art is essential,” Woodburn said. “It lifts our spirits, affects our emotions and tells our story. I look forward to supporting our local artists and experiencing the creative swell that is sure to emerge from these times.”

Sawdust Art Festival Presents an Outdoor Marketplace will be open on Saturdays and Sundays only beginning Sept. 19, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. Festival staff strongly recommend that guests buy tickets ahead of time.

For ticket and more information visit

Daniel Langhorne contributed reporting to this story.

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