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Artist’s kaleidoscopic vision brings joy to kids — and the project will soon be on view in Laguna

Kids open colorful umbrellas during "Look Up"  on the playground at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach.
Kids spin and dance to drums as they open colorful umbrellas during the “Look Up” flash art experience on the playground at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach on April 1. The event, in collaboration with Laguna Art Museum, brought together children and families to draw and open umbrellas to create a spinning, moving kaleidoscope of botanical spring colors.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

In an ever-changing art landscape, artist Elizabeth Turk and Erik Thienes, head of photography and video at ET Projects, have found a new frontier to not only create art but to involve the public in doing so.

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic life that for many brought long spells of isolation, Turk began working on a project called “Look Up” to bring people together to participate in the making of art.

Kids spin and dance to drums as they open colorful umbrellas during the "Look Up" flash art experience.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Colorful umbrellas bearing botanical designs were put into the hands of people who danced, marched and twirled with them outdoors as drones filmed footage from above, capturing kaleidoscopic images as participants enjoyed themselves below.

Residents of a retirement community were incorporated in the first edition, the project organizers keen to manage the social-distancing protocols in place.

“We partnered with a retirement home, and the umbrellas allowed every person to be in a bubble,” Turk said. “If you got your umbrella hit, you were getting too close to one another, so it allowed us to have a participatory event in a very risky environment.”

A youngster scoops up an umbrella during the "Look Up" flash art experience at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Turk, who grew up in Newport Beach, included children not too far from her childhood home in the latest installment of the series. The Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach on Laguna Canyon Road was the site for a filming session on Friday, April 1. For two hours that afternoon, kids and their families played with chalk and the umbrellas at the club’s playground, with all the action being filmed by their skyward observer.

Mar Stash, art expression director for the Boys & Girls Club, remarked the kids showed a lot of joy and said they continued to talk about the flash art experience a week after the event.

“After we opened after the pandemic, all of our events were kind of limited in numbers because of the guidelines and everything that we have dealt with,” Stash said. “This was honestly the opening of, I know people say ‘new normal,’ but we’re back to normal, and having the kids see that we are all safe together again, that’s like a big, huge thing for us.

“The kids were asking me, ‘Oh, we’re going to see a lot of people.’ We haven’t had that many people and energy in the club for a long time, and now we have that — joy and happiness in the club again.”

A youngster draws a line with chalk during the "Look Up" flash art experience run by artist Elizabeth Turk.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

And soon, the young participants will be able to realize they have been transformed into art themselves. The finished product will go on display at the Laguna Art Museum on Saturday, April 16, with a special event, and it will remain on view at the museum until June 19.

“The kids that we worked with at the Boys & Girls Club, it allows them to imagine themselves as the artists that they are,” Turk said. “… They’ll see themselves drawing, and they’ll see these beautiful kaleidoscopic images that they created. … I can’t imagine being 5 years old, walking inside the doors and seeing something that I created. It would inspire me.”

The event had families sign up from the club, the Laguna Beach community, as well as from surrounding areas, Laguna Art Museum deputy director Victoria Gerard said.

Kids spin and dance to drums as they open colorful umbrellas during the "Look Up" flash art experience.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“We’re coming back out into the world with our kids, and we’re looking to give them all the experiences that they missed in the past two years,” Gerard said. “I think it’s really valuable to find out about a free experience at a museum in a town like Laguna, where you can come and your child, or even you, can meet an artist, you can see this amazing creation, you can do an art project that’s related to the experience.”

Turk previously collaborated with Laguna Art Museum as one of its commissioned artists for Art and Nature in 2018 for a project called “Shoreline.” The museum has had several digital art exhibits of late, including photographer Matthew Rolston’s “Art People: The Pageant Portraits” and Rebeca Mendez’s “Any-Instant-Whatever.”

“I love the idea of a museum, sort of, without walls,” Turk said, “a museum that steps out and ignites imagination and creativity outside their own wall, because that’s where the public is. Everything that they’re doing in that direction, I think, is absolutely fantastic because frankly, that’s the origin of the beautiful, natural pieces that they have inside the museum.”

A youngster draws a giant flower pedal during the "Look Up" flash art experience on the playground.
A youngster draws a giant flower pedal during the “Look Up” flash art experience on the playground at the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

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