Our Laguna: Young artists get recognition at Festival

Visiting the Junior Art Exhibit on the Festival of Arts Grounds is both exhilarating and humbling.

It is said that youth is wasted on the young. Not when it comes to these youthful artists. Jeez, they are good. But where was I when all that talent was handed out?

Works by more than 300 student artists, kindergarten through 12th grade, are on display this year. The works were selected by a panel of jurors from thousands of submissions to the Imagination Celebration.

“These are the best of the best,” Festival of Arts Board member Tom Lamb said. “There is more energy in this exhibit than any other location on the grounds.”


Lamb was the master of ceremonies at the first-ever presentation of gold, silver and bronze medals for entries in each grade and some special medals for the creators of designs for T-shirts, postcards and ceramics for sale in the Festival Shop.

“We hope recognizing the outstanding artwork of students, and indirectly the important contributions of Orange County arts educators, will result in increased support of arts education programs in Orange County, as well as encourage students to pursue future careers in the arts,” said festival Promotions Director Sharbie Higuchi.

Mark Porterfield of PIMCO and the PIMCO Foundation, which helped fund the exhibit this year, announced the winners. Jamie El-Erian, also representing PIMCO, presented the medals.

“When I first came to California I was walking down Laguna Canyon Road one day, in shorts and flip-flops, and somebody said they had an extra ticket to the Pageant of the Master and did I want it?” Porterfield said. “I didn’t know what the pageant was, but sure, why not?”


Once on the grounds, Porterfield said he was immediately drawn to the Junior Art Exhibit.

“It is unbelievable that I am now in a position to sponsor it,” Porterfield said.

Helping to fund the exhibit fits nicely with the foundation’s mission on behalf of children and education, Porterfield said.

Youn Choi, mother of 8-year-old Ah-Jin Ko, said her son has been drawing since he was a toddler, but his talent really blossomed in first and second grades.

“He started out copying everything,” she said. “But six months later he was drawing his own pictures. He really likes drawing. Color is not as important to him.”

Ko’s piece “Clown Figure” was the bronze medal winner for the third-grade entries in 2-D.

Before the grade winners were announced, some special awards were presented.

William Cunningham and Top of the World student Dylan Zolar, both kindergartners, and 12th-grader Janet Frausto were recognized for the T-shirts they designed.


Zolar didn’t make it to the podium Saturday.

“Probably looking for a parking space,” Lamb said.

However, his medal was set aside for later presentation, as were all the medals for the young artists who couldn’t make the show unless their teachers were there to accept the awards for them.

In one case, exhibit juror and longtime festival artist Pat Sparkuhl picked up the award for his wife, Heather, teacher of kindergartner Sol McDermott, winner of the 2-D bronze medal, neither of whom could be at the presentation

One winner from each grade was selected for postcard designs: Blair Lee, Jade Laloulu, Nate Montgomery, Yvette Horner, Victoria Moore, Paige Nelson, Sophia Pinkston, Mindy Vo, Phyman Dang, Markie Ramage, Erin O’Brien, Isabel Grayce and Jessica Dihn.

Montgomery, whose winning postcard was called “Colorful Rhino,” also had another entry accepted in the show: “Bob Cat.”

This was not the first juried show in which Montgomery’s works were shown.

“I was surprised by the [postcard] award,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t have it finished.”


A special award also went to Jeanette Hunker, who won first place for second-grade entries in the National Ceramics Educational Council Associations exhibit in the Midwest. She is privately festival-educated.

Lamb presented her with a certificate and the national show’s program, in which she was featured.

Among the local students whose works were juried into the exhibit: Top of the World student Matilde Levine; Annaliese’s School second-grader Olivia Ladaire; Boys & Girls Club members Peyton Mollett and Morgan Ortiz; Thurston Middle School sixth-graders Ethan Schlatter, Ingrid Dickinson and Wyatt Gibbs, seventh-grader Alex Segall, and eighth-graders Jovani Reyes and Nefta Rosales; Laguna Beach High School students Devin Altieri, Alex Gromet, who had two pieces accepted, Kirk Castro, Mercedes Martin and Sunny Dixon.

The Junior Art Exhibit was juried by locals Lamb, professional photographer Barbara White, professional artists Roger Folk, Shell Rapp Evens, Molly Hutchings, Jacquie Moffett, Gerald Schwartz, Sparkuhl, Ralph Tarzian, Vinita Voogd and Scott Young, and Cal State Fullerton art educators James Dahl and Dorte Christjanse.

A big thank you went to Bernie Jones, retired coordinator of fine arts for the Garden Grove Unified School District and the Imagination Celebration of Orange County.

“Bernie has been instrumental in the program for ever and when he retired, we snapped him up,” Lamb said.

Jones said, “I retired four years ago, but in the arts community, it is difficult to drop that hat.”

However, this was the first year that medals were presented to the youthful artists, as selected by Porterfield, El-Erian, Jason Tockey and Folk.

The Junior Art display is a cooperative effort by the festival, the Orange County Department of Education and Arts Orange County. It began in 1947.

But this year for the first time, youngsters in the Very Special Arts of Orange County Program were juried into the show, which especially touched Voogd.

“The festival asked me to be the juror,” Voogd said. “My husband has coached special needs kids in soccer and baseball for 18 years and I have a daughter with special needs.”

Volunteers and programs such as the festival’s Junior Art Exhibit are vital to art education.

Art budgets are being cut in schools and programs slashed.

Teachers Gina L’Amour, who had three winners in the show, and Colleen Cosgrove said between the two of them, they are teaching 700 classes a year.

Lamb said the festival has stepped up its role in art education with the presentation of the medals.

Cue a round of applause for festival exhibitor Monica Dunham, who hand-made all the ceramic medals and painted them in the appropriated metallic colors. Kudos also to the Exhibitor and Arts Educations Department headed by Jack Archer for the marvelous program for the event. It is illustrated in color with some of the entries, including portraits of President Barack Obama in a nine-panel collaborative effort by Garden Grove first- and second- graders, and contains a full list of all the artists in the show, the names of their works, their schools and the districts.

The complete list of 69 medalists will be posted on, but do yourself a favor and visit the show. You’ll love it. Trust me

And you might even treat yourself to a postcard or T-shirt as a souvenir.

Proceeds from the sales help fund the development of festival art education programs.

Among the festival VIPs at the presentation: board President Wayne Baglin, who welcomed the guests, and board members Pat Kollenda, Anita Mangels and David Perry.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Write to Barbara Diamond, P.O. Box 248, Laguna Beach, 92652; call (949) 380-4321 or e-mail