Sawdust Asks City to OK a Scaled-Down Festival

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Artisans display their pieces at the 2018 Sawdust Summer Art Festival. Photo by Dondee Quincena.

City staffers are reviewing a proposal from the Sawdust Art Festival to open July 18 under a modified format, which includes halving maximum crowd capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Monica Prado, president of the Sawdust Board of Directors, emailed a slate of proposed changes to festival operations to Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis on May 7. Dupuis wrote in an email Thursday that the plan is still under review.

“We made sweeping modifications and measures that we thought would address the social distancing, crowd size, and for sanitizing,” Prado said in a phone interview. “We knew if we had a chance to get a green light we were going to have to do some modifications.”

Prado wrote in an email to the Dupuis that being able to safely open the show in a meaningful way is essential to local artists’ ability to pay their bills and remain self-sufficient.

In a phone interview, Prado said she knows some local artists have already applied for emergency assistance grants from the Laguna Beach Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. In the coronavirus outbreak’s early days, festival organizers funded artists’ exhibition fees for the summer to take this annual expense off their plates, she said.

Festival organizers proposed 33% reductions in daily operational hours, concessions, and live stage areas. There would be no public access for audience seating or dancing. They’ve also sketched out a 25 to 30% reduction in overall exhibitor space.

It was unclear how many exhibitors would need to be cut from this summer’s roster because of downsizing. City officials have repeatedly stated that any business trying to reopen in Laguna Beach must follow state and county safety guidelines.

To protect public health, festival organizers also pledged to install plexiglass barriers at ticket stations, and sales and information booths. Hand sanitizing stations would bee added throughout the festival grounds, restrooms would be continuously sanitized, creative social distancing signage would be posted, and separate entries and exits would be designated.

Sawdust organizers also requested a skeleton trolly service similar to that provided for the 2019 Winter Fantasy show.

The Sawdust Festival’s interest in pursuing city approval of a modified version stands in stark contrast to the Festival of the Arts’ decision to cancel the 2020 Pageant of the Masters and Fine Art Show.

If the plan is approved by city staffers, the Sawdust’s tentative dates are July 18 to Aug. 30.

“We will be asking the City for flexibility to be able to determine our own dates as appropriate,” Prado wrote in an email.

Prado argued that Sawdust staffers can easily adjust the layout of the fairgrounds to help visitors observe social distancing.

“We’re very fortunate that we can start with a blank canvas each summer,” she said.

Sawdust representatives have participated in weekly conference calls hosted by City Manager John Pietig to share updates from government agencies and answer questions from major community stakeholders, including the art festivals.

“I’ve very pleased that the city made a space at the table for the Sawdust festival from the beginning of the pandemic,” Prado said.

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