Museum breaks ties with plein air event

After 13 years, the Laguna Plein Air Painters Assn. will no longer host its annual Plein Air Invitational with the Laguna Art Museum.

The association, known as LPAPA, first got word about the decision in December, according to President Greg Vail. It's already had discussions to continue the event at Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course, which itself is in the midst of a pending sale.

The decision was made official earlier this month, Vail said. Several things were cited as a reason, he said.

"I got the impression it wasn't fitting in with their strategic plan of where to take the museum," Vail added.

LPAPA, founded in 1996, hosts the annual invitational as a way to promote landscape painting, a heritage of Laguna. Last year's event was Executive Director Malcolm Warner's first time experiencing it.

"My feeling, having got more understanding of it and seeing the invitational firsthand, was that we devoted enough time and energy over the years to showcasing that genre of painting," Warner said Thursday. "It's a fairly specialized form of art whereas the museum's mission is to showcase California art of all periods and styles. So we're delighted to have had this collaboration with LPAPA, but the feeling of me, as well as the board, is to broaden the outlook...not to focus so much on one style."

As for Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course, the opportunity to move there presented itself to LPAPA, Vail said.

"When I first got wind of this change, I thought, 'Good God, where are we going to go and where are we going to do this?'" Vail said.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson, who is on the board of LPAPA and originally brought the museum and LPAPA together, set up introductions with some of the owners and Vail. Both Vail and Pearson said that once the sale of Aliso Creek closes — possibly sometime in the next few months — an agreement between the hotel and LPAPA should be set.

Pearson expressed disappointment in the museum's decision.

"Laguna is a small community with many arts groups — too small not to collaborate and work together to celebrate all the arts that make Laguna the special place that it is," she said in a statement. "It just made sense to me that the museum — which was founded with plein air artists — would partner, on an ongoing basis, with our current day plein air painters, represented by LPAPA."

The relationship between LPAPA and LAM had improved the past couple of years, according to Vail, who noted that more programs were added and artists' kept providing positive feedback. He joined the board in 2009 and became president in 2010.

About 40 artists attended the 2012 Plein Air Invitational, with about four from Laguna Beach, 24 from elsewhere in California and the rest from outside of California, although Vail couldn't positively verify those numbers.

Warner said the museum is delighted LPAPA has found another good venue.

"We felt confident that the event would continue and it was bound to continue," he said. "The decision to not be involved in the event as a museum was not fueled by any thought that the event has started to decline."

From the museum's point of view, it was a huge investment of time and work with quite a small staff, he said.

"It was a matter of proportion — we don't want to be putting so much in to one particular's a fairly specialized form of art."

In recent years, the museum has broke even from the event, Warner said.

"We made some money, but take in to account the amount of staff it took, for the week-long event, and we're breaking even."

Plein air art will still have a big place in the museum, he added, citing the likes of William Wendt and Joseph Kleitsch as heroes and artists who are featured prominently.

"There is a tradition of plein air painting in Laguna Beach and LPAPA is an important organization," Warner said.

Twitter: @agomezberman

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