Festival launches its summer season

The 2010 Pageant of the Masters "Eat, Drink and Be Merry" theme was celebrated appropriately at the Artists Preview Party Saturday night.

A happy crowd jammed the Irvine Bowl Park to feast their eyes as well as their stomachs. Invited guests of the artists perused the exhibits of 140 artists while imbibing beverages and nibbling on munchies on the newly renovated grounds.

"The Festival of Arts is truly fortunate to count among its exhibitors some of the most talented artists in the country," festival President Wayne Baglin said. "It is not only our mission, but our privilege to provide them with a forum in which to share their creativity with hundreds of thousands of visitors each summer.

"And since their works are available for purchase, patrons have the opportunity to bring home amazing, original pieces to be enjoyed for a lifetime."

The show was named this year as the top art festival by the Travel Channel. It is the longest-running outdoor fine arts exhibit in California.

Artists began displaying their works in Laguna in 1932, first on street corners, fence and trees along Coast Highway, hoping to lure tourist dollars. The show bounced around different location until 1941 when the city bought the current six-acre site from the Irvine Co. — hence the name Irvine Bowl Park.

The show was held on the grounds that summer and every year since, except during World War II.

"Flower Stalls" by Virginia Woolley was the first piece sold at the 1932 festival. It is now in the Festival's permanent collection.

Three new pieces were added to the collection Saturday before the event opened.

"We decided this year to purchase the prize works so the artists would be surprised when they arrived," said newly appointed Director of Exhibits Martin Betz. "We picked some big pieces by Scott Albert, Robin Hall and Troy Poeschl.

"The decisions were based on what the collection needs, but we could have picked 20 more pieces. It is an ongoing project."

Betz joined the staff at the end of April. He is succeeding Jack Archer, who is retiring.

"I am learning from the master," Betz said.

Betz's background includes a 13-year stint as senior curator at the Long Beach Museum of Art, teaching art and arts coordinator for the city of Temecula.

"This is a great bunch of people to work with," Betz said.

The festival is a work in progress, Betz said. Improvements are on-going. The bandstand has been moved, with a painted backdrop enlarged from a Ken Auster piece.

Thanks in part to funding by the PIMCO Foundation, the Junior Art Exhibit has been expanded and given a more prominent location.

Exhibitors from kindergartners to high school seniors are selected by jurors in cooperation with the Imagination Celebration program in Orange County's public and private schools.

The exhibit is a must-see. Also a must-see: the Festival Gift Shop. Organized by Carol Leonardi, the shop features souvenirs that include aprons, wine sacks and plates, all related to the pageant's theme, as well as posters, books, mugs and t-shirts.

Saturday's preview provided the invitation-only crowd an opportunity to enjoy works by familiar names and to be introduced to some new artists — 17, in fact.

Newcomers include Russell Jacques, Christopher Jeffries, Stephen Lazarus, Janet C. Lewis, Elizabeth McGhee, Paul Bond, Steve Covern, Gar Cropser, Jason Down, John Eagle, Cynthia Fletcher, Marie-Pierre Philippe-Lohezic, Adrian Sandstrom, Danny Von der Ahe, Elizabeth Wallace, Patrick Whelan, Wendy Wirth and Gary Zuercher.

The preview also afforded the guests the first shot at the artworks donated by exhibitors to raise money for the Artists Benefit Fund.

Among the donors of the 100 originals of "Art-to-Go:" Bradford Salamon, Julita Jones, Hedy Buzan, Mark Jacobucci, Jacquie Moffett, Chris Bliss, Anne England, Roger Folk, Molly Hutchins and Tom Beres, who isn't even exhibiting this year.

For more art activities planned throughout the summer, visit website http://www.LagunaFestivalofArts.org. For general information, call (949) 494-1145.

25 Years and Still Counting

I am never at my best when deeply touched. I was at my absolute worst Tuesday night at the City Council meeting when I was surprised with a presentation of a proclamation recognizing my 25 years covering Laguna Beach.

When Mayor Elizabeth Pearson called me up to the front the dais, the brain turned to mush and my vocal cords constricted — probably a good thing because heaven only knows what might have come out of my mouth.

What I wish I had said was a heartfelt thank you for the deeply appreciated recognition of work done by a reporter working for a community newspaper.

The proclamation referred to reporting about disasters, politics and community events. That's what community reporters like Claudia Koerner, Rita Johnson, Stu Saffer and hardworking editors like the Coastline Pilot's Cindy Frazier do — and all the community reporters who will come after me. I salute them.

They don't get paid as much, not nearly as much, as reporters and editors on dailies do. And daily reporters, who waltz in occasionally to do a story, have an easier task than community reporters who tread that mine field of objectively reporting the news while not so alienating sources that they will never speak to you again.

But if they if they are lucky, really lucky, community reporters get to work in a town like Laguna Beach — if they could find another one, which I doubt. And I am sure not ready to move over for anyone.

People often ask me about the changes in Laguna over the past 25 years, the "mansionization," the increased density, the loss of resident-serving businesses.

Frankly, I don't think of Laguna in terms of bricks and mortar or even traffic. I think of it in terms of its history of cutting- edge caring about the planet and those who inhabit it. But mostly I think of the people that make this community what it is as I write about their triumphs and their tragedies.

It has been that way since I went to work for Dave McAdam in 1985. I have been so fortunate.

And I owe that good fortune, first of all to Susan Trager, who told McAdam to hire me and to the fascinating folks, from council members to artists to police officers to the hundreds of volunteers to the ying yang of Village Laguna and the Taxpayers' Assn. that make up my stories and the fabric of my life.

I thank you one and all.

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