Ashley Breeding 2017-06-08 21:19:46
This year, the prestigious Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach celebrates a major milestone and a modern makeover. Each July, about 140 juried artists from Laguna Beach and its neighboring cities bustle about the canyon like honeybees, building booths and shuffling around art pieces, large and small, in preparation for the annual Festival of Arts (FOA). Beyond the booths, makeshift galleries, temporary concession stands and entertainment platforms are being erected, soon to host food-and-wine pairings and live musical acts for some 250,000 event patrons. Also available to attendees are docent-led tours, exclusive artist exhibitions, educational lectures, hands-on workshops and creative activities for children to foster their young imaginations, as well as a special celebrity benefit. The renowned event, running every Fourth of July week through the month of August and attracting art aficionados from all over the world, began in 1932 with just a small group of struggling artists who were looking for an opportunity to sell their work. “They were looking for a way to bring in visitors from the Olympic games in Los Angeles,” says Fred Sattler, who is serving his seventh year as FOA’s president. “Times were tough [during The Great Depression] and this was not only a way to lift spirits, but also a means to sell art and drive tourism.” Beginning as a somewhat informal affair, FOA has evolved into a sophisticated showcase that’s sought after by many talented painters, sculptors and other creative professionals who apply to participate each year. Its nonprofit arm also aims to foster the arts through education, promotion, and sponsored events. This summer, the festival celebrates its 85th anniversary with first-time exhibitors, new attractions and a reimagined aesthetic. FROM SUMMER CARNIVAL TO SOPHISTICATED SHOWCASE Local businessman John Hinchman is credited with the idea for the original festival, which was to be an “intellectual carnival,” says Dan Duling, scriptwriter for Pageant of the Masters and FOA’s “unofficial historian.” It was initially named Artist’s Week, and then Fiesta, before its founders settled on Festival of Arts. The following year, elaborately costumed performance artists posed as framed “living pictures” in a show that aimed to attract more visitors. Called Pageant of the Masters, the sideshow has grown into a highly acclaimed stage performance whose ticket sales—now totalling $7.6 million per year—float the art festival. The first “carnival” was to feature local artists, craftspeople and performers. Less formal than the one held today and taking place for only a week during the middle of August, the inauguration had no official home. “A parking lot behind the Sandwich Mill restaurant on Coast Road and Forest Avenue near the Hotel Laguna was recommended as the best spot for the festivities,” Duling says. “Paintings and other works of art were to be hung on fences.” Duling recalls an article printed in South Coast News titled “Street Market Plan Wins Festival Friends,” promising impromptu musicals, street plays, pantomimes, puppet shows and an equestrian parade. The street affair also attracted some of the area’s finest plein air painters of the time including William Wendt, Anna Hills and Frank Cuprien, Duling says. “Some formally took part, while others opened their Laguna Beach studios to the public,” he says. “Hinchman and local artists like Roy Ropp—who, with his wife Marie Ropp, is credited with creating Pageant of the Masters—were also among the exhibitors in those early years.” Six years later, in 1941, the city had just acquired a former dairy farm, which was to become a public park and the permanent home of FOA and Pageant of the Masters. The Pageant’s popularity demanded a spacious venue that offered ample seating to its many patrons. That same year, artist Virginia Woolley, whose “Flower Market” painting was the first piece sold at the inaugural FOA, proposed a jurying system. “But this was never fully implemented [at the time],” Duling says. “The suspension of festivals during World War II, and the availability of space on a first-come, first-served basis lasted into the early 1960s when demand began to exceed supply and jurying was formally imposed.” Those artists who failed to be juried into the 1965 festival joined together to create a third festival that year, called the Rejects Festival, Duling continues. “Two years later, when it was held again, it became what is today known as the Sawdust [Art & Craft] Festival, one of Laguna’s three summer festivals.” Each summer, FOA features at least a dozen newcomers. Of the montage of oil paintings, watercolors, photography, sculpture, glasswork and mixed media art that canvases the festival grounds, all pieces are original. “Another important part of the festival’s appeal is that its creators are present almost all of the time, establishing relationships with patrons,” Duling says. Fused-glass artist Sherry Salito-Forsen, a festival veteran from San Clemente who has been working with the medium since 1976, has relied on the event to help build a patron list and to make a successful career with her art. “Even back then when it was less formal, it was highly rated and hard to get into,” Salito-Forsen recalls. “Now it’s the greatest place for showing your work. People from all over the world come to see it, and you get to spend two months there, whereas many shows are only a few days or a week.” Labeling herself one of the festival’s “old-timers”— her goal, she jokes, is to beat Jackie Moffett, FOA’s longest-running veteran—the artist says she enjoys seeing young artists who have joined the event over the last few years. “They bring a new look,” she says. “And, I am glad to see there are young people who have an interest in making art their career.” A GRANDER ENTRANCE On its 85th birthday, FOA debuts a fresh, approximately $10 million makeover for the gallery exhibition area, workshops, gift store and concert stage, says Meghan Perez, marketing and public relations coordinator for the festival. “Tensile roof pavilions shelter artwork from sun and rain, the green lawn where patrons picnic and enjoy concerts is nearer to the entry, the gift shop is relocated and expanded, and the junior art exhibit has a prominent location,” she says. The interior hasn’t had a facelift since 1964, but the new renovation comes two years after the entryway facade underwent a $3.5 million enhancement. The original entryway design, assembled from carved Styrofoam and painted plywood, was never meant to be a permanent fixture: “It was the product of theatrical sleight of hand,” Sattler says of the structure that withstood a decade before being replaced by Newport Beach-based Bauer Architect’s ecominded facade. (The reimagined design earned an award of merit from the American Institute of Architects before it was even erected.) “Over the years,” Sattler says, “The festival has become more and more sophisticated, changing with the times in order to remain relevant and successful. …We look forward to sharing our new ‘digs’ with patrons and the community this summer during our 85th anniversary celebration.” LET THEM EAT CAKE In addition to unveiling a new interior facade, Festival of Arts celebrates its 85th year with a grand “birthday bash” on Aug. 13—the day the show officially opened in 1932—featuring birthday cake, live music performances and free admission. And that’s just the frosting. (foapom.com)
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