In a much-anticipated contest for a high-profile public art award, Laguna Beach’s Arts Commission approved two sculptures of different styles by local sculptors to embellish a Broadway Street beautification project on Monday, June 25.
The recommendations need approval by the City Council, scheduled to review the works July 17.
Cheryl Ekstrom’s eight-foot tall entry, “Warriors United,” a variation of her acclaimed “Deer Warrior” in Jahraus Park, will stand sentry on Broadway, an entry that connects Laguna Canyon to downtown and the beach. Commissioners specified that Ekstrom monumentalize their height fully to the maximum of 10 feet.
“I truly believe that Laguna Beach people are warriors. We have stood together and overcame hardship and adversity and still remained a cohesive community, ready to deploy for the common good,” said Ekstrom, who also created “Parallel Dance,” a sculpture of two dragon-like creatures on the Montage resort grounds.
Commissioner Nick Hernandez cast the sole dissenting vote.
Placed at the intersection of Broadway and Acacia Drive, the three warriors will occupy an asphalt spot re-landscaped and reconfigured for pedestrian safety by Robert Borthwick, of the Irvine design firm Borthwick, Guy and Bettenhausen, Inc.
The $700,000 Broadway Streetscape Improvements, which includes a $480,000 federal grant for renovating sidewalks, landscaping and irrigation, are scheduled to begin in January, said Mark Trestik, assistant city engineer. About $120,000 is budgeted for three public art works, a sculpture, hand railing and bench, he said.
The bench commission is to be awarded late in July, said Sian Poeschl, the city’s cultural arts manager.
The warriors project is budgeted at $35,000, a sum that Ekstrom expects will only partially cover her costs. She pledged to absorb additional costs as a gift to the community.
The requested handrail replacement on the creek side of Broadway was awarded to Marsh Scott, who proposed a 72.5-feet long and, for the most part, 48 inch high freestanding stainless-steel and fused glass sculpture titled “Colors of the Canyon.” The project carries a $65,000 budget.
“I chose the colors of the glass to reflect the changing colors of Laguna Canyon, the hues of the city and the brilliance of the ocean,” said Scott, who previously completed commissions for two art in public places projects in Laguna Beach. Her proposal’s undulating lines, colors and varying widths, creating a connection to the creek behind it rather than a barrier won their enthusiastic endorsement.
Competition finalists included several local artists, all veterans of public art commissions, including Marlo Bartels, Jorg Dubin, Louis Longi, Jon Seeman, Mike Tauber and Terry Thornsley. Glass artist John Barber also made the cut but withdrew for health reasons. Other finalists included San Diego artists Alber and Luna De Matteis.
The artists submitted designs for the Cliff Drive/Broadway sculpture as well as maquettes for the railing replacement. While Longi was a sculpture finalist, his railing replacement was not among the finalists under consideration. Nonetheless, he brought the maquette to the final presentation. “There’s nothing like shaking things up a little. That’s what the arts are all about,” he said.
He achieved that goal, igniting a heated debate over whether his entry should be admitted or the second half of the competition re-opened. Though Commissioners Gerard Stripling and Mary Ferguson supported admitting the Longi piece, ultimately they were outvoted.
Photographer Tom Lamb, a Festival of Arts board member, praised Longi’s piece, suggesting it would be well suited, for example, at the entrance to the festival’s grounds.
The meeting served as Stripling’s last as an arts commissioner, an appointed position.