Our Laguna: Laguna College has much to boast about

The Laguna College of Art & Design breakfast meeting last week at the Hotel Laguna was an eye-opener.

College President Dennis Power reeled off improvements to the college for the students and the faculty the guests. On hand for the inaugural State of the College Address were college staff, donors of $1,000 or more or representatives of companies that donate at that level and City Council members.

"We want your input," Power said. "We will answer questions because we think that the best way to move the college ahead is by listening to supporters."

But first, Power informed the early birds of recent developments about which the college can crow.

"The college is one of just three in the country recognized for its quality programs in figurative and representational art," Power said

Power also said the college rivals any in the county in high-tech art.

And it is all part of Laguna's DNA.

"It seems a perfect match," Power said. "We believe our location in Laguna Beach reflects very well on the college and is attractive to potential students. We hope the reverse is true: that the college reflects well on the city. "

"And LCAD seems a perfect match for Southern California, given our successful and growing development of animation, game art and graphic design," Power said. "We have a number of industry connections in these fields, primarily because Southern California is such a creative, innovative place."

The location offers students unparalleled opportunities.

Alyssa Silzer, who interned with Blizzard Entertainment in her senior year, was hired after she graduated with a major in Game Art.

Student Elizabeth McGhee is believed to be the youngest artist ever juried into the Festival of Arts when her work was accepted in 2009 and she was invited back this year, Power said.

"I just don't think we could have all of these factors working together in many other places," Power said.

The college can also boast of its all-time student high population this year.

"Up until about 2009, college growth averaged about 5% a year," Power said. "In 2009, it rose by 7% and in the fall of 2110, it was more than 13% over the previous academic year.

"Right now, we have 446 students [including part-time students], 426 full-time equivalents, the largest it has ever been."

As the numbers have gone up so has the quality of the students, Power said.

"We are maintaining standards and looking at ways to raise the bar", he said. "We are not interested in growing for the sake of growing. We take a personal interest in our students."

More students means an increase in revenue, but it also means an increase in expenses — the operating budget now tops $8 million, and an increased demand for space, both in classes and housing.

The school has leased space for years behind Hop Sing's Laundry in Laguna Canyon for classes.

But high tech classes are now consolidated under the direction of Jack Loo in a new building on what is called the Big Bend Campus,

The students love the facility, Power reported and the college loves the location.

"It was a perfect place for a second campus — and it kept us in Laguna Beach," Power said.

The building was ready for classes due partly to the assistance of the city, which fast-tracked the project.

"We went right down to the wire," Power said. "The construction crew was working double shifts and the city really focused on helping us complete the project.

"We missed the deadline by only a week. It was a remarkable effort by the college staff, the property owner and the city staff. The cooperation came from the top down and we thank the council for that."

Tours of the 9,000-square-foot building can be arranged so folks can watch the students in their new working space.

Studios and classrooms at the Main Campus were also remodeled.

Plus the college has also acquired space for student housing and senior studios.

"Parents of 18-year-olds might be hesitant to send their kids off to Laguna, thanks to MTV, so housing was really important to the school," Power said.

The college now operates four sites, two which it owns and two it leases.

Another round of strategic planning is about to get underway, building on what the college has, evolving rather than starting from scratch.

Plans call for an expansion of the library, estimated to cost about $250,000 and a new gallery, expected to cost $450,000.

A 10,000-square-foot addition was shelved, due to the economy, also sure to raise the hackles of environmentalists, who reluctantly agreed to the original construction with the understanding that it would stay small in scale and unobtrusive.

The late Chris Abel designed the buildings, set behind native oak trees on the undeveloped side of Laguna Canyon Road. Revered Laguna Beach landscape architect Fred Lang designed a garden of native plants that served as laboratory for college student until torn out by one of the college presidents, who wanted more exposure for the buildings. She also proposed to paint them pink, but board member David Young managed to kibosh that.

Q&A

Q. Mayor Elizabeth Pearson asked if the college had considered adding parking.

A. Additional parking is available at the Big Bend campus and shuttle buses run between the campuses, Power said.

Q. Stephany Skenderian asked if the school was considering a fund raiser that might remind the community that Laguna Beach is a college town — one of Power's mantras.

A. "We started floating that out about two years ago," Power said. "The 50th Anniversary next year is an opportunity to push it.

Q. Is the graduating class tracked for who is taking post-grad classes or who is waiting on tables?

A. Yes. Only about 5% or 6% went to graduate school, but only about 6% or 7% are unemployed, according to the 40% who responded to a survey.

Q. Any chance the school would consider an Arts History major or classes for community students?

A. Yes, but a demand must be shown for a major, Power said. Staff member Helene Garrison said there are art history classes, in which community members may enroll if there is space.

Power concluded the meeting with thanks to the people he said run the college — the Board of Trustees, chaired by Steve Grommet. Trustees include Nancy Beverage, Terry Smith, Jack Smart, Richard Schwartzstein, Nancy Milby, Nicole Anderson, Barbara Clarence, Mary Ferguson, Geoffrey LePlastrier, James McQueen, Maria Noel, Christine Rhoades, Kristi De Cinces, Regina Jacobson, Bonnie Livingston, Suzanne Mellor, Patricia O'Brien, Keating Rhoads, Igel Silber and Gerard Basil Stripling.

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 coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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