A real Steal for young artists

Diane Brigham customarily encounters youth eager to pursue their interests.

In her 33 years as an arts educator, she has found them thirsty for big dreams. A staggering number fall short, though, in resources and access to necessary opportunities.

"So many students have talent and motivation, but are not getting instruction and encouragement," she said. "They are devoted to making art, but have no chances at home or school to pursue advanced instruction."

That's where Ryman Arts — established 23 years ago by friends and family of Herbert Ryman, an artist famed for creating an illustration of Disneyland for Walt Disney — steps in.

This Los Angeles-based nonprofit offers free drawing and painting classes, as well as college and career guidance, to young art aficionados. It will be front and center as the charity of choice at the Conspiracy to Steal Art Auction in Laguna Beach on Saturday.

In its fourth year, this event reflects a first-time collaboration between three galleries: Saltfineart, Sue Greenwood Fine Art and the George Gallery.

Saltfineart owner Carla Tesak, who spent her childhood hanging art pieces with her "obsessive art collecting father," as she called him, previously hosted yearly auctions by herself.

Tesak, a Laguna Beach resident, places a high value on supporting local businesses.

"I think Laguna is unique and one of the few places in modern-day America where mom-and-pop stores have a chance," she said. "I think they add vibrancy, diversity and personality to a community. You have someone that actually knows you and the population thinking of what we might need — not some buyer in Minnesota."

For Lisa Aslanian, who owns the George Galley, Ryman Arts was the final piece of the puzzle.

"The event is about art, and we want to give to a school that invests in adding art to the world and helping kids with big talent and little means get proper art educations," she said.

Toward this end, 43 items — from musical sculptures to overflowing teacups and hyper-realism to abstraction — are up for grabs. Each one is valued at half the retail price or with size, medium and the artist's background in mind.

The name, Tesak said, comes from the idea that the deals on the table are good enough to be considered "steals." In keeping with the theme, guests will be greeted by auctioneers in cop outfits, handcuffs and "big heist" tickets, alongside brick-oven pizzas, salad and wine.

The auction represents strength in numbers.

"It seems like we can get more from the whole than the sum of the parts," said Aslanian, who is counting down to the vibe and art Saturday promises.

Tesak's attention was piqued when collectors mentioned Ryman Arts' contributions, she revealed.

Deemed a National Program of Excellence by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Ryman Arts has an existing relationship with Otis College of Art and Design. Recently, this network was expanded to include Cal State Fullerton, where underserved teenagers from Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties flock to advance their skills.

The Conspiracy To Steal Art Auction, Brigham hopes, will help the organization add two classes — equipped with faculty and materials — to the Fullerton roster in the fall. A highly appreciated by-product is increased awareness.

"So much of Laguna Beach is built around the arts," she said. "The economy in Southern California is closely involved with creative industries, and it all begins with education to young people. They are willing to put in the effort and are so grateful that I think it's incumbent on us, the arts community, to support the next generation of artists and creative problem-solvers."

Brigham will be part of Saturday's turnout, as will several Ryman Arts alumni, some of whom traveled from Newport Beach or Irvine and as far away as San Bernardino County to take classes.

Adding up to 10 hours of creative work per week — in and out of class — to their academic responsibilities, they built portfolios and earned admission to Laguna College of Art and Design, Savannah College of Art and Design, Rhode Island School of Design, Art Institute of Chicago and many more leading schools.

"Students who may be homeless and those that go to very strong public schools get to meet each other," Brigham said. "At first glance, they seem so different, but what they have in common is that they are all artists and want to get better at what they do."

If You Go

What: Conspiracy To Steal Art Auction benefiting Ryman Arts

Where: Saltfineart, 1492 Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday

Cost: $25

Information: http://www.ryman.org or (949) 715-5554

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