Never mind the fog — the stars were out Wednesday night.
The Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts’ third annual Art Star awards ceremony had cutting-edge music and dance, and a big crowd of artists, writers and their supporters gathered to celebrate achievements both behind the scenes and in the public eye.
Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez was the keynote speaker, and set a tone of high accomplishment and gratitude in his field. Ramirez, who grew up in Mission Viejo, said he had been urged down a path of art by his teachers and mentors, and particularly recognized Laguna Beach sculptor and gallerist Bob Schaar and his wife, Jackie, who he called his “dearest friends.”
“They convinced me to give up medicine and be an editorial cartoonist,” Ramirez said. “I am blessed. I can say what everybody else thinks.” Ramirez noted that he is the youngest of five children, all of whom became doctors. He has worked for several major newspapers and is now senior editor/editorial cartoonist for Investor’s Business Daily.
“Art will ultimately define us,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez handed out the first award of the night — a surprise achievement award for Laguna Beach High School art teacher Peter Tiner, who has taught art in the schools for some 30 years.
The event took on the anticipation of the Academy Awards as the nominees in five categories were announced by presenters who had won the award the previous year. The trophies were specially made by local sculptor Louis Longi. Donna Bunce, executive editor of Coast Magazine, and a longtime participant in arts organizations, was mistress of ceremonies.
Laguna College of Art & Design took home the award for Best New Arts Program for its Master of Fine Arts Program, which was launched last year.
Holding the trophy, Perin Mahler, chairman of the program, thanked Laguna for providing “a lovely and supportive environment for our students.”
Lou and Laura Rohl were honored as Arts Patrons of the Year for their numerous contributions to the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse.
“It’s a thrill to be recognized for something we truly enjoy,” Lou Rohl said. “Especially in challenging economic times, arts organizations require patrons to be loyal, and we encourage all who can to maintain support while we transition to better times ahead.”
Laguna Outreach for Community Arts, known as LOCA, received the award for “Outstanding Arts Collaboration.”
Co-Presidents Bonnie McMillan and Sharbie Higuchi were exultant as they accepted the trophy.
“I’m going to have a Sally Field moment,” Higuchi joked. “You love LOCA, you really do!”
She then asked all the artists who have been involved in LOCA’s many artist-led programs in schools and other organizations to stand and be recognized.
“We appreciate your willingness to share your talents,” Higuchi said.
The city’s Arts Commission took home a trophy for Innovation and Arts Leadership, recognizing the City Council-appointed body for a number of new or expanded programs over the past year, including free beach concerts, movies, public art and more.
Commission Chairwoman Pat Kollenda accepted the trophy, saying, “I am so excited, it’s a joy to be part of this arts commission. We would not be here without the City Council — but they’re not always right.”
The latter comment — referring to the often-contentious relationship between the advisory commission and the council — elicited a roar of laughter.
The biggest award of the night, Artist of the Year, went to author, playwright and screenwriter Sherwood Kiraly. Kiraly, who also pens a bi-weekly humor column for this newspaper, had a banner year in which his critically acclaimed novel, “Diminished Capacity,” was turned into a movie that debuted at the Sundance Festival. His new play, “Scared Money,” will be performed in April by Laguna-based Gallimaufry Performing Arts.
Kiraly, who said he didn’t expect to win, joked wryly that, “It’s not often a humor writer is nominated for anything.
“I’m surprised and grateful. I’ve been in Laguna Beach for 25 years now. I came here because I was infatuated with a girl, an artist at the Sawdust.”
He then introduced his wife, Patti Jo, a jewelry maker.
“I always thought I was an artist, but you never know you are unless other people think you are, too,” Kiraly quipped. “I love writing about this town and the people I love.”
CINDY FRAZIER is city editor of the Coastline Pilot. She can be contacted at (949) 380-4321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.