Arts Year In Review: Cultural highlights

With Orange County locals in the Olympics, contentious City Council elections and those Mitt and Barack guys who kept grabbing headlines, it was a busy year for news — and the arts proved to be no exception. We could try to order this into a conventional "top 10 stories" or some such thing, but since the arts are always playful and surprising, and sometimes impossible to classify, we'll approach our year-end roundup the same way. Here were some of the highlights on Laguna Beach's cultural scene in 2012:

Recipe for Success: The 2012 season of Festival of Arts, a longstanding Laguna Beach tradition, was a fiscal and creative success story. The festival's permanent collection was also bolstered with a Roy Ropp painting donated by Realtor Michael Gosselin.

"This was our most successful year ever," festival treasurer Anita Mangels said.

According to Scholarship Committee Chairwoman Pat Kollenda, $84,000 in scholarships, including 18 freshman awards — three in dance, two in film, five in music, three in theater, four in visual arts and one in writing — were awarded in the 2012-13 academic year. This represents a substantial hike from the $26,000 granted last year.

Thirty-one returning recipients received scholarships, while life memberships were also given out.

Organizers also reported that with $9.4 million in gross revenue — 75% of which came from Pageant of the Masters ticket sales — the festival exceeded projections. The earnings were utilized on show production, art education programs, entertainers and ground enhancements.

"We are grateful to have the financial assets to do that," Mangels said. "But there is no better asset than our members, our board of directors, our staff and the volunteers."

Rising Star: Laguna Beach High School's rendition of "Into the Woods" received high praise at the 42nd annual Childress Music and Arts Commendation for Youth, a.k.a. M.A.C.Y. Awards. The show itself was honored with the Performance of the Day award, while Elan "E.J." Kramer, who played the Baker, walked away with a trophy for the Best Performance by an Actor.

The trophy was accompanied by a trip to New York City to participate in the National High School Musical Theater Awards, a weeklong competition at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre, which, as luck would have it, was scheduled to coincide with Kramer's high-school graduation.

Power couple the late Lee and John Childress funded a total of 19,000 awards, 617 of which were presented at Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Hall this year. This was LBHS's first time being recognized at the M.A.C.Y. Awards.

"It wouldn't have been as great if [my friends] weren't there," said Kramer. "They are all so talented and I wouldn't have gotten the award without them."

Creative Upliftment: Art is at the forefront of Laguna Beach's $700,000 Broadway Street improvement project. Partly funded by a $480,000 grant, this initiative includes refurbished sidewalks, landscaping and irrigation to revamp the portal that connects the city to the canyon.

Well-known local artists Cheryl Ekstrom and Marsh Scott's works will be displayed prominently, pending approval from the City Council. The Broadway project has budgeted $120,000 for three art installations, one of which has not yet been selected.

$65,000 has been set aside for Scott's "Colors of the Canyon" — a colorful glass and steel sculpture that will serve as a handrail along the creek running down Broadway — and another $35,000 for Ekstrom's sculpture.

"Art was a required component of the grant for the Broadway project, but it represents an element that we as a community consider important," cultural arts manager Sian Poeschl said.

Art as Life: When asked about the origin of her career as an artist, Ruth Mayer responds, "I was born an artist."

A mixed-media artist, who owns two eponymous galleries — one in Laguna Beach, and the other, on Catalina Island — Mayer dabbles in oil, water and acrylic paints, pen and ink drawings, glitter and much more. Her works, often painted to the accompaniment of country, classical and rock music, have varied from giveaways to elaborate works worth $2.8 million.

Without taking a break to raise 10 children, Mayer has lost track of the amount of artwork she has created over the course of her life. Whether her paintings depict the Beatles or Jerusalem, Mayer says: "I created my paintings due to my faith in God. I credit my visions to His spirit moving through me. Images come to me — sometimes even in the middle of the night — as a result of my life and emotions."

Her rendition of Manhattan, titled "I Love New York," is a cityscape with an angel stretching out its arms behind the World Trade Center. Completed a year and a half before 9/11, this painting snagged the attention of the Vatican, which led to Mayer being commissioned to paint a portrait of Pope John Paul II. Today, the original "Song of a Beautiful Soul" has received a bid for $1,000,100, but Mayer is hoping for more since the funds will benefit children's charities.

Twitter: @Rmahbubani ; @MichaelMillerHB

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