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Nonprofit Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center looks to be a low-cost ‘epicenter’ for art

Founder Rick Conkey stands next to the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center sign at the old BC Space Gallery at 235 Forest Ave. in downtown Laguna Beach. The organization is holding a fundraiser Saturday to help with building renovations.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Rick Conkey hopes the old BC Space Gallery will become an epicenter of Laguna Beach’s art scene. But to do that, he’ll need to finish renovating the building at 235 Forest Ave.

Paying for the remainder of the renovations to outfit the gallery and build a performance stage is the basis of the first official fundraiser for the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center, a nonprofit that Conkey established in August partly in response to concerns that local artists lacked affordable opportunities to display or showcase their work in a gallery.

The fundraiser, set for Saturday evening at the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival grounds, will include food provided by GG’s Bistro, an open bar and entertainment by Ava August and the Black Tongued Bells. There also will be a silent auction.

The Cultural Arts Center is using the BC Space Gallery site, which will retain its name out of respect for original owners Jerry Birchfield, who died in 2009, and Mark Chamberlain, who died last year, organizers said.


“The remodel is one stage, but there’s still a lot of things that we can improve to make the space more viable looking forward,” Conkey said.

A piece of art adorns the stage at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center’s site on Forest Avenue. The center is renovating the old BC Space Gallery, which will retain its name, organizers said.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

The Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center will fill the role of providing an affordable gallery for up-and-coming artists, Conkey said.

For-profit galleries, he said, charge up to $400 for artists to have as many as three or four pieces displayed. The Cultural Arts Center will charge $750 for a one-week show at the entire gallery, he said.


“This is one of those things that allows them an accessible venue for ... showing their artwork, but it’s also a lot more — it’s a small theater for film screenings, for lectures. It can be just about anything,” Conkey said.

The organization is establishing a calendar of events and hopes to become a space for education about Laguna’s cultural history and the history of the indigenous people who lived there.

“It’s just a place that will act as an epicenter for all arts activities — a place that can demonstrate the power of the arts for the benefit of a community,” Conkey said.

A vintage movie camera is part of the collection of the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center, which is holding a fundraiser Saturday to help finish renovations of the old BC Space Gallery in downtown Laguna.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A primary purpose of Saturday’s event, which has no set fundraising goal, is to raise awareness, according to Mihae Park, a volunteer with the Cultural Arts Center.

“As soon as the fundraiser is over ... we’re holding an open forum with the artists in town to get their opinions as to what they need and what they want as a cultural space,” Park said.

“We asked some artists and they’re actually going to different venues like the Riverside Arts Center to exhibit their work. ... [Artists are] really excited about [the center],” she added.

Conkey described the organization as a grassroots movement, and Laguna Beach staff confirmed that the city is not affiliated with it.


“We have a lot of wonderful people that are beginning to get involved, and we really do invite the public to be a part of this, not only for the future of Laguna Beach but Orange County,” Conkey said.

“We want to use this as a template to show how powerful the arts are and how important they are to the fabric of the community.”


What: Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center fundraiser

Where: Sawdust Art & Craft Festival grounds, 935 Laguna Canyon Road

When: 5-8 p.m. Saturday

Cost: General admission is $50.

Information and tickets:

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6:05 PM, Oct. 17, 2019: This article was originally published at 4:59 p.m. and has been updated with additional information.