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‘My life was art’

It was a night of hugs and kisses — and starry skies — Wednesday as Laguna Beach celebrated its best and brightest in the arts.

The fourth annual Art Star Awards, sponsored by the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts, drew a packed crowd to [seven-degrees]. It was cold outside, but inside it was warm with artists and art supporters mingling at a jazz-infused champagne reception before sitting down to the business of handing out the coveted awards.

As with the Oscars, no one knew until the name was announced who would be called to the podium to receive the honor.

Keynote speaker Wylie Aitken — recently appointed to the California Arts Council by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — got a huge welcome. Aitken, a noted attorney, lives in Anaheim but has deep ties to the arts, having served on a number of boards and foundations. Aitken said he had started out wanting to be an actor but had switched to the law — where his acting ability proved useful. Aitken never lost his love for the arts and is board president of South Coast Repertory and a trustee of Chapman University.

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“The greatest arts community is here in Laguna Beach,” Aitken said to thunderous applause.

He then gave the bad news that recent state budget cuts have put California dead last in the nation in per capita spending in the arts.

“I’m here to hawk license plates,” he said. “We are now selling art-lover license plates” to help fund arts education.

Event Chairwoman Mary Ferguson welcomed the crowd and got things rolling, while guest master of ceremonies Andy Barnicle, creative director of Laguna Playhouse, introduced the nominees and winners.

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First up on the dais was Ralph Tarzian, recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Barnicle called Tarzian “a Laguna legend,” noting that the sculptor’s work is in many locations around Laguna.

Tarzian said he was “very humbled” but delighted with the award.

The Best New Arts Program award went to the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Assn.’s Fete de la Musique, modeled on a music festival in Menton, France, Laguna’s sister city.

Sister City organizer Karyn Phillipsen recounted how the Sister City program was born, out of a trip to France in 2007 that she took with Toni Iseman, Pat Kollenda and Carol Reynolds.

“Carol had the vision of a Fete from the beginning,” Phillipsen said.

Mark Porterfield took home a trophy as Arts Patron of the Year, for his numerous contributions to local arts projects, including the restoration of the city’s oldest public artwork, Ruth Peabody’s “Boy and Dog,” a 1933 sculpture.

Porterfield said he was amazed to be named a leading patron of the arts.

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“I started out selling plants at the Orange County swap meet to make money,” Porterfield said. “My admiration for artists is beyond compare.”

The award for Outstanding Arts Collaboration went to the Passport to the Arts program — and thereby to the Art-A-Fair, Festival of Arts, Sawdust Art Festival, Laguna Beach Conference and Visitors Bureau and city of Laguna Beach. The Passport program — in which art lovers can buy a season summer pass to all the art festivals with added perks included — has been credited with keeping summer traffic high at all three venues despite the recession.

Arts Commission Chairwoman Kollenda was beaming as she received the award for Innovation and Arts Leadership for her years of arts activism, and admitted being uncharacteristically speechless.

“I’d cry but my lashes would fall off,” Kollenda said as the crowd roared with laughter. “I’m totally speechless. I will wear this around my neck,” she joked, holding the Louis Longi-designed statue to her chest.

Last but not least, the Artist of the Year award went to Marsh Scott, who enjoyed a highly successful year with a number of major commissions and public artworks. Scott said she “could not believe” that she had won the award.

“It was a huge surprise to be nominated,” Scott said. “When I moved here, my life was art. Thank you.”



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