For a couple of months every year, Laguna Beach is one gigantic art gallery, as the three outdoor festivals add their exhibits to the year-round venues.
Festival season began in Laguna Beach in 1932 — in the midst of the Great Depression. John Hinchman and the artists who were to become known as the California Plein Air painters — or by the less complimentary name of Eucalpytus School — put on a weeklong party to boost sales.
“The first Festival of Arts was designed to lift depression,” Hinchman wrote in 1934. “Two years ago when things seemed at their worst, Laguna Beach decided that something had to be done about it.
“Therefore a few of us got together and started a festival. As we saw it, if people took part in the festivities, they could not very well be depressed.”
Community plays, outdoor pageants, a street market, spectacle of lights, costume ball, tours of studios and gardens, and a parade of artists were part of the weeklong event.
The whole town pitched in to make the 1932 festival a resounding success, according to Sharbie Higuchi, marketing and public relations director of the festival for 10 seasons.
It’s still going strong 75 years later, celebrated Monday with the recognition of the artists of Laguna, past and present.
“I can’t think of a happier day or a happier way to spend it than celebrating our 75th anniversary,” festival President Anita Mangels said.
The original parade was recreated Monday, with this year’s artists and supporters strolling from Main Beach, up Forest Avenue, past City Hall and on to the Festival Grounds.
Exhibitor Hedy Buzan, who practically grew up on the grounds, was among the marchers.
“I was in the pageant as a kid, graduated to usher, then I sold programs and finally I got a scholarship,” Buzan said.
“When I was a kid, art was the identity of the town. It closed down when Anna Hills died.”
Hills was a founder of the Laguna Beach Art Assn. in 1918, which led to the creation of the Laguna Art Museum that helped spawn the Festival of Arts and its offspring, the Laguna School of Art & Design.
An estimated 50 exhibitors tramped through town Monday. But all of the artists in the 2007 show were presented with certificates commemorating their participation the 75th Anniversary Show and berets embroidered with the festival logo.
“I had the privilege of signing the certificates and I realized we are a family here,” said a choked-up Mangels.
The festival itself was recognized by Fifth District Supervisor Pat Bates, who presented a proclamation from the county.
“I am going to read the ‘Whereases’ because they chronicle how the festival came to be,” Bates said.
Bates said when she travels and is asked where she lives, no one has a clue where Laguna Niguel is until she says “near Laguna Beach.”
“Everybody knows Laguna Beach,” Bates said.
Mayor Toni Iseman presented a proclamation from the city and then read a letter of commendation from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“This is a very special night for us,” said Iseman, who represents the city on the Festival Coordinating Committee.
“I hope you all brought your wallets,” she told the audience. “We need to support our artists.”
Festival board members shared the limelight Monday with the artists. John Hoover, for one, made the nostalgic pilgrimage from Main Beach to the grounds.
Other board members on hand for the recognition ceremony: former City Councilman Steve Dicterow, exhibitor Tom Lamb, Ann Webster and David Perry — who was appointed to fill out Bob Henry’s term when he resigned last year.
Not on stage were board Vice President Wayne Baglin, Pat Kollenda and Fred Sattler.
Sattler, Webster and Perry were up for re-election this year and the only ones to run.
“I think it shows satisfaction with the job we are doing,” Hoover said.
The board, like the two Pageant of the Masters casts, most of the stage crew and the Festival of Arts Foundation board are volunteers.
Festival exhibitor Scott Moore is the foundation president. The board also includes John Campbell, John Raimant, Bob Earl and David Young.
More than $3 million dollars has been distributed in grants and scholarships since the foundation was created.
“We also have a magnificent paid staff,” Mangels said. “It’s tiny and they don’t make a lot of money, but they work really hard.”
First to be introduced: Diane Challis Davy, pageant director. Next was Lucia McLeod, director of ticket services.
“You have to have nerves of steel and a bullet-proof vest to ward off people who can’t get a ticket to the pageant,” Mangels said.
Other paid staff to receive kudos: Jack Archer, Marta Santillano, Monica Daebritz, Gary Fowler, Lowell Harris, Higuchi and Susan Davis.
But it is the exhibitors who keep the community alive and vibrant, Mangels said.
They run the gamut from A — Bill Agee, to Z — Dennis Zervas. In between: Ken Auster, Randy Bader, Lu Campbell, Monica Dunham, Anne England, Roger Folk, Sherry Ford, Evgenia Gennadia, Gavin Heath, Mariko Ishii, Jacobus, Julita Jones, Todd Kenyon, Mada Leach, Carolyn Machado, David Nicklin, Michael Obermeyer, Linda Potichke, Kate Riegler, Marsh Scott, Ralph Tarzian, Noriho Uriu, Micha von Doring,Karin Worden and Scott Young, among others — no Qs or Xes.
Although Monday’s ceremony was a highlight of the festival’s 75th anniversary celebration, other special attractions will continue: the traveling Festival Explorer, an educational mobile museum; the always delightful Junior Art Exhibit, about 300 examples of the work by Orange County school children; art workshops, featuring a wide variety of media; demonstrations; al fresco dining at Tivoli Terrace and a more casual menu at Gina’s, daily; entertainment evenings and weekends, including Sundays’ Blues Fests from 2 to 4 p.m.; and the season ending Gala.
For more information, visit www.LagunaFestivalofArts.org or call (949) 494-1145.