2011 In Review: Whale tail license plate changes

After a three-year dispute with Laguna Beach artist Wyland over the use of his humpback whale design on a state license plate, the California Coastal Commission selected another Laguna artist, Bill Atkins, and a Northern California painter, to design a new "whale tail" plate.

The new plate, also of a humpback whale tail, was unveiled in July.

Wyland's humpback design — originally donated to the state — was discontinued after 15 years. It was the best-selling of the state's specialty license plates. Wyland had sought to revoke its use in 2008 after complaining that the Coastal Commission declined to donate to his charity.


2. LCAD's 50th anniversary

The Laguna College of Art & Design celebrated 50 years nestled in Laguna Canyon and ushered in a new president, Jonathan Burke.

Burke came to the college 31 years ago and held a number of academic positions there, including vice president of academic affairs and the dean of fine arts. He replaced outgoing President Dennis Power in June.

Since its humble beginnings in 1961, the college has steadily grown to a campus of 450 students with regional and national accreditation, an MFA program and student housing.


3. Art Walk controversy

First Thursdays Art Walk made the news in August after multiple galleries voiced concerns about non-paying Art Walk participants.

The participating galleries are supposed to pay $80 to take part in the monthly event, but many owners have noticed competing galleries not only open their doors during the after-hours event, but advertise as Art Walk participants.

Some galleries that did not pay, such as the Whitney Gallery, called it a city event. The city said otherwise.

Joseph Wise Gallery owner Donnie Wise said that Art Walk didn't bring in sales for the gallery, which stays open on Thursday nights.

Rebecca Barber, board president of First Thursday's Art Walk, cited the Arts and Economic Prosperity report, which indicates that nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Laguna Beach generated $54.86 million in 2005.


4. Mural painted over accidentally

Drivers coasting Laguna Canyon Road in early April might have been confused when one of Orange County's largest murals was replaced by a gray wall.

Laguna Canyon Winery painted over the mural, which was created by Laguna College of Art & Design students in 2003, without the necessary approvals by the city and property owner. The winery rents the space.

The winery had complained to the city about putting signage on the wall, and the application had been denied due to the mural's status as a public work of art. Shortly after, the mural was gone.

Winery owners heard a myriad of complaints from the community saddened by the lost art, and the city confirmed that the proper actions were not taken.

The winery agreed to foot a portion of the costs to make a new mural, which the college is currently in the process of starting.


5. Galleries have trouble staying open

Laguna Beach lost some prominent and long-standing art galleries in 2011, including the Esther Wells Collection, considered the city's oldest art gallery, when property owner Richard Challis, 90, said he had no choice but to increase the rent. The gallery, in existence since 1950, closed in April.

Glass blower John Barber, a Laguna Beach staple, closed his studio gallery on South Coast Highway. Also closing its doors this year was the Surf Gallery.

Later in the year, longtime gallerist Marion Meyer announced her gallery of 14 years, Marion Meyer Contemporary Art, would be closing in early 2012.


6. 9/11 sculpture placed at Heisler Park

"Semper Memento," a memorial utilizing two beams from the World Trade Center, was dedicated during the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Artist Jorg Dubin balanced the two beams against each other, with a mirrored ball in the center, and a Pentagon-shaped spot of grass and dirt from Pennsylvania — recognizing all the sites affected on Sept. 11, 2001.

Mark Porterfield, a Laguna Beach resident, helped fund the project and made sure the beams made it from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to Laguna Beach.


7. New director named for Laguna Art Museum

Nearly six months after Bolton Colborn resigned as executive director of the Laguna Art Museum, the museum's board in November named Malcolm Warner as his replacement.

The board said it was appointing British-born and educated Warner, then the deputy director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas, to take over as the Laguna Art Museum's new chief on Jan. 3.

Warner had served the Kimbell as its deputy director since 2007, and had started his career there as a senior curator in 2001. His time there included an 18-month stint as its acting director.

His resume includes prior experience as curator of European Art at the San Diego Museum of Art and as senior curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Center of British Art.


8. Pageant of Masters, festivals had successful season

The Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts posted a banner year for ticket sales in 2011, tallying more than $10 million in assets after the summer season ended. Ticket sales rose by 2.1% from the previous year, Pageant officials announced at their annual meeting in November.

As reported in the Coastline Pilot, "Only 424 seats were unsold for the 56-show season, a remarkable 99.97% of the 2,600 seats in the Irvine Bowl. Almost 226,000 people attended the show and the pageant this year."

Art sales also increased by a healthy 10%.

The Sawdust Festival and Art-A-Fair also reported increased sales, despite the continuing problems for the national economy.

Sawdust General Manager Tom Klingenmeier told reporter Barbara Diamond in August that gate attendance was up, and artists were "selling inventory," rather than relying on commissions.


9. Laguna Playhouse sees changes

Andrew Barnicle ended his 20-year stint as artistic director of Laguna Playhouse by directing a well-received revival of Noel Coward's "Private Lives" in March. Moving on, the Playhouse appointed Ann Wareham as new artistic director.

Celebrating its 90th anniversary, the Playhouse conducted a series of celebrations in honor of those who contributed much to the organization over the years, including longtime director Doug Rowe, and Vern Spitaleri, Emerald Bay resident and former Laguna News Post publisher, who served as president of the Laguna Moulton Playhouse, precursor to Laguna Playhouse.


10. 'Savages' films in Laguna Beach

Some Main Beach onlookers may have gotten a glimpse of Benicio Del Toro in September, as celebrity sightings became common with the filming of Oliver Stone's "Savages" in Laguna Beach.

Based on a book of the same name by Don Winslow, the movie tells the story of a marijuana operation in Laguna Beach coming to a head with a Mexican drug cartel.

Besides Del Toro, other familiar faces included Taylor Kitsch of "Friday Night Lights" and Demián Bichir of "Weeds." The film also stars Salma Hayek and "Gossip Girl" leading lady Blake Lively.

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