2 of Laguna's 3 Festivals Report Attendance Increases

Times Staff Writer

Laguna Beach's annual art festival season ended last weekend to mixed reviews: two of the three events had increased attendance, but everyone complained that parking this year was a major problem.

"We are certainly happy that things turned out the way they did," said Tina Arana, marketing director for the annual Sawdust Festival. "Every year varies so you can never really predict."

The Sawdust Festival, a display of local crafts, posted a a 4% increase over last year's attendance with more than 256,000 people showing up during its eight-week run, Arana said.

And the Festival of the Arts, which deals with paintings and other fine arts by selected artists, also had an increase in both sales and attendance this year, although officials had not calculated the totals.

In fact, the Festival of the Arts' annual Pageant of the Masters, which displays works of arts with live models, was so crowded that additional seating had to be sold, festival spokeswoman Sally Reeve said.

"We hadn't intended to use our upper terrace seats this year because of empty seats last year," Reeve said. "Midway during the season, sales increased and we had to include them."

But officials at the Art of Affair Festival, which is similar to the Festival of the Arts but is much newer, said that while sales were good, attendance was not.

"We were down about 20% from last year," said Sue Krause, president of Art of Affair. "Unfortunately, this was one of the best years for the artists and their work."

Krause blamed poor advertising and bad publicity about parking in the area for the smaller crowds.

"I'm sure it's a definite deterrent for people knowing it's going to be a headache to find a parking space," Krause said.

The city this year continued to offer a 75-cent tram service from a free parking lot to the festival grounds, but major traffic problems still occurred, Reeve said.

"On one occasion during the festival a serious accident held up traffic for eight hours," Arana said. "Needless to say, that reduced our attendance and shows how vulnerable we are to our location."

Festival officials say they have asked the city to find ways next year to deal with the more 1 million tourists who are expected to visit the Laguna Beach area during the festival season.

"Something has got to be done about this," Reeve said. "Five years ago, before the traffic situation took a turn for the worse, our pageant would sell out. A solution to the parking problem is vital to the festival and the community."

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