Re “Arts Festival: Laguna Feels New Pains,” Aug. 18:
The Festival of Arts board of directors in Laguna Beach wants to license the Pageant of the Masters to other cities around the country and the world. To do so would be in direct violation of the generous 40-year lease that the festival board recently approved.
The city’s position could not be much clearer. Section 6d states: “Festival agrees that the Premises, Irvine Bowl Park, shall be its sole permanent location.”
Hundreds of volunteers over the past 70 years are responsible for making the Pageant of Masters the success that it is. The festival board is not only risking damaging this incredible Laguna Beach cultural resource, they are violating their legally binding agreement.
Your article regarding the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach notes incorrectly that “the big-draw event cuts it close to the bone financially.” The board members are stewards of a miracle, the Pageant of the Masters. This creative, world-famous event is staged with few paid employees and with something like 400 volunteers.
For many years, the entire gross revenue was not much more than $3 million, and of that, more than $500,000 was paid to Laguna Beach for renting the city’s largest municipal park, the Irvine Bowl Park.
We all supported saving the festival and preventing the move to San Clemente. As a result, the festival and the city have a new 40-year lease that reduced the rent to 3.5% of revenue, which frees up over $400,000 per year for facility and other improvements.
Any financial difficulties come from the board’s risky, grandiose ambitions. Orange County members of the festival can make a big difference as they will shortly be able to vote for three board members. Your article mentions current board member David Young and artist Carolyn Reynolds. If they, along with Anita Mangels, are elected, the proposed franchising scheme will end.
It amazes me that Festival of Arts President Bruce Rasner and executive director Steve Brezzo can’t see why people are upset over their actions. I find it especially insulting that Brezzo apparently thinks we in Laguna are a bunch of rubes.
And apart from being condescending, his observation that people here are “resistant to any type of change” shows he lacks the most basic comprehension of what makes the pageant so successful. People come here because the pageant is unique in all the world. If you want to see it, you have to come to Laguna.
And you will see it in the spectacular outdoor setting of the Irvine Bowl, in one of California’s few remaining beach villages that retain the charm of days gone by.
Take away that environment, or duplicate the pageant elsewhere, and it loses its magic and commercial appeal.
Contrary to Brezzo’s narrow view, there have been many changes since the days when the artists propped up their work on the sidewalks and the pageant consisted of one or two models posed atop a farm wagon. The quality and diversity of artwork are more exciting each year.
Here’s one change that is likely to find widespread support among festival fans -- a change at the top.
The “pains” are not new. They are the same old pains -- too many expenses against too little revenue, too many facilities that are in various stages of deterioration and too many people who have tunnel vision or no vision and are morbidly fearful of any real change.
The fiscal pains cannot be relieved without a radically different type of lease, one that is based not on the commercial model (i.e., some percentage of gross) but on a nonprofit model in which the festival would pay some relatively small amount in exchange for use of the land with the understanding that the real return on investment for the city of Laguna Beach lies in annually hosting the world-class Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters, not in the money these dual events generate for municipal coffers.
The people pains are probably by now incurable and have doomed the festival board to chasing its tail. The talk and action go in circles, consume incredible amounts of energy and result in no forward progress.
Although I have heard rave reviews about this year’s pageant, the festival and pageant are on a going-out-of-business curve. All that remains to be calculated is the slope of that curve. If, as Bruce Rasner has suggested, the festival borrows $2 million, the slope will become very steep indeed.
Sherri M. Butterfield
Former president, board of
directors, Festival of Arts