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What does artsy Laguna need? An arts evolution, the City Council decides

Sawdust Art Festival’s Winter Fantasy

A glass-blower demonstrates the craft at the Sawdust Art Festival’s 25th Annual Winter Fantasy in December, one of Laguna Beach’s many arts events. The city is seeking more cohesion among its many arts elements.

(Don Leach / Coastline Pilot)

Laguna Beach City Council members on Tuesday agreed on one thing: that the arts scene in the community needs a shot in the arm.

Their vote basically gave the green light to staff to investigate ways to accomplish this. No money was approved.

The overall intent is to boost Laguna’s artsy image and reduce the fragmentation in a city known for its numerous art galleries, summer arts festivals and other events.

For the past year, the Cultural Planning Group, a city-hired consultant, has surveyed and interviewed more than 700 residents and tourists to obtain a sense of what Laguna’s arts community should stand for going forward.

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Ideas that have been discussed include enabling more artists to live and work in the pricey beach enclave; drawing more international recognition to the city’s art scene with high-profile events such as art fairs; increasing the budget for public art pieces; and finding a way to tie everything together, perhaps with a centralized cultural arts facility where artists could exhibit their work, share ideas and interact with the public.

Referring to the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Plan, which serves as a framework, Councilman Bob Whalen said: “This is a strong document and I love the fact that the first goal, and absolutely the right goal, is facilitating and enabling working artists to have thriving careers in Laguna Beach.”

When he began his one-year mayoral term in December 2014, Whalen had called for an “art renaissance” in the city.

Council members Tuesday didn’t authorize the city to spend any money, nor did they signal support or opposition to a centralized cultural arts facility.

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Some planning and arts commissioners had expressed interest in such a facility at a February joint meeting regarding the arts plan, which has in turn generated discussion within the community.

“There are a lot of questions that need to be addressed,” resident Ginger Osborne said. “I don’t think we have fully determined whether we are fully utilizing the facilities we have. At the [Laguna Beach Community & Susi Q Center] during the night there are rooms that are unused, and the cost of renting those rooms is very high.

“It might be that the city could subsidize or lower the rent on those facilities and others in town. It would be a much cheaper alternative than building a building and having to continually staff that for years to come.”

Laguna’s arts venues include the Laguna Playhouse, Laguna Art Museum and the Forum Theatre at the Festival of Arts; a closer look at the use of those facilities could be part of a study.

Professional photographer Tom Lamb, who has lived in Laguna for more than 30 years, advised the council to consider the plan’s long-term implications.

“It’s going to be our children who enjoy this,” Lamb said. “It’s the future. It isn’t today. We’re looking down the road. It’s not about buildings, it’s about community. It’s about art. Think of this as an overall framework ... we’ll all work on this in the future.”


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