The Slant


What’s Under the Sawdust?

By: Roderick Reed
By: Roderick Reed

What has three acres, over 200,000 visitors and sold at least 15,000 cups of beer and 3,600 glasses of wine last year? It’s Lagunas friendliest art show: The Sawdust. If you have never been or have not been in a while, you should come see what you have been missing. The show runs until Aug. 31.

Did you know all of the booths are removed from the grounds each December? If you look through the gates January through June, you will see an empty eucalyptus grove. In a town that prides itself on being “green” there is a tremendous amount of waste in the removal of the booths. Ten full size dumpsters are filled each year.

This year there are 16 new artists in the show. The Sawdust is unique and quite different than its neighboring shows. The big venue sits among three acres of eucalyptus grove. You stroll through 193 booths, where 210 different artists display and make their art in booths that are each different. They are of varying size, design and theme, built to reflect the artist’s personality. Educating the public is Sawdust’s mission. The art show is interactive and fun for kids. You can watch glass blowers do their craft, jeweler’s make jewelry and artists paint a picture in full view of the public.

Sawdust is the only one among Laguna’s three art festivals to also have a winter show. Sawdust Winter Fantasy has been running for 24 years. Under a lit canopy of trees and holiday music, lightly falling snow dusts your flip flops during the annual community night and tree lighting ceremony. You have caught Christmas spirit Laguna style. Artists in the Winter Fantasy don’t have to be Laguna Beach residents, unlike the summer show rules. This makes the winter show Nov. 22 to Dec. 21 additionally interesting as you can see art from all over the country.

I spoke with Cynthia Fung, Sawdust’s marketing and public relations guru.

A scene from the Sawdust Festival’s early years.
A scene from the Sawdust Festival’s early years.

What year did the Sawdust start by whom?

Sawdust Art Festival was started back in 1966 by a group of artists that got rejected from the Festival of Arts. Their first show was on a small dirt lot on Coast Highway and the initial group of artists put sawdust down on the ground to prevent dust from getting onto their artwork. It was the media that named the festival Sawdust Art Festival. This tradition of putting sawdust on the ground still holds to this day and contributes greatly to the unique ambience.

How much Sawdust is spread on the grounds for both summer and winter shows total? And where does it come from?

We order close to 400 cubic yards of sawdust each year. It comes from urban wood residuals and land clearing debris.

What’s the process for being an artist in the show?

Our exhibitorship process uses a lottery system that is based on seniority. The more number of consecutive years an artist has exhibited the more lottery tickets are based in the bin.

Who is the longest showing artist?

Nikki Grant is the longest showing artist; she started in at least 1968.

The façade of the building used to change every year, but has not changed in a long time. Why?

The Sawdust stopped changing its façade due to a lack of resources, funding, etc. Also, there are strict city approvals that are required today. The process has become quite a large and involved one.

Why do the booths need to be completely removed and rebuilt every year?

The booths are required to come down each year due to the guidelines in our temporary use permit issued by the city.

What’s the Sawdust budget for a year including winter and summer? About $1.7 million annually.

How many tickets were sold last year for the winter and summer shows?

We admit over 200,000 visitors during the summer season and last winter we had over 20,000 visitors attend the festival in its four-week run.

How many are people employed by Sawdust?

123 seasonal staff members during summer season.

What’s the most interesting thing you ever saw while working for Sawdust?

Muhammad Ali was here on the grounds back in 2005. He was doing magic tricks for some of our guests for over an hour. Someone happened to find out he was interested in magic and he happened to have some trinkets on him.

Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack.

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