Mailbag: No sympathy for Art Walk board

I was interested to read your front-page article about Art Walk, ("The price of being part of Art Walk," Aug. 26) because there is another side to this story that was not evident.

My wife owned and ran the Art Affair Gallery located, along with two other galleries, on Coast Highway between Bluebird Canyon Drive and Diamond Street. We applied to the board of First Thursday's Art Walk to join the roster but were denied the bus service and other benefits, which are an essential part of the program.

The reason given to us was that we were all located just past the buses' Bluebird turn and they did not wish to have the buses to go the extra short distance. Yet, this area is still Laguna Village.

Naturally, we declined joining Art Walk under these circumstances. Instead we went ahead on our own.

This included displaying the colored balloons that signify an Art Walk site. But, to our surprise, we were then told we couldn't buy these balloons by the local flower shop, who told us that the Art Walk organizers told them not to sell those colored balloons to us or anyone on Art Walk nights!

So we went to Dana Point to buy them instead. We opened on Art Walk with balloons, very superior food and wine, but as "persona non grata" to the board's organizers. Before long, our superior hospitality gained recognition among Laguna residents, who flocked to our gallery from about 8 until 11 p.m. — well after the rest of Art Walk closed!

And yes, we sold paintings.

It is a shame that the board did this to three Laguna galleries. We all struggle to be successful and keep our galleries open in Laguna. The board of First Thursday's Art Walk should support this effort, instead of playing God with the bus service and our livelihood.

It is difficult to now find sympathy for their current predicament, as every gallery now knows it can go it alone, and many do.

Mark Rodrigues

Laguna Beach

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Not comfortable with Art Walk

Wow! What an article on the front page of your fine newspaper! ("The price of being part of Art Walk," Aug. 26)

Maybe you should get the story from all sides before you attack people. Your newspaper called me on Tuesday afternoon once, and we are closed on Tuesday and you're going to press the next day with an attack.

If you had truly tried to get the full story, I would have told you that we've contributed more than our share to many Laguna art institutions including an unsolicited $5,000 donation to Laguna College of Art & Design, more than $10,000 to the Art Walk, and thousands of dollars in art to fund schools and community charities.

We were the most successful gallery in selling art in their student mentor program.

In the case of the Art Walk, I have never been completely comfortable with the way it has handled the money I contribute, going back to the days when we had to write checks to a gallery owner's personal checking account. Yet for 10 years I went along with the program for my own and other people's benefit.

As the Art Walk grew so did its budget, and the next thing I knew there was a group of people collecting salaries. I came to suspect that board members were using the power to control Art Walk dollars to garner personal benefits for their own galleries from magazines and companies that donated liquor, etc.

I never was comfortable with this and felt that my Art Walk contribution was going to unfairly benefit a select group of galleries, some my direct competitors. I guess that is only what is to be expected.

A couple of years ago when my gallery director joined the Art Walk board, I thought I could learn more about what's going on. But what I found didn't make me any more comfortable.

At that point my gallery director quit the board, and I discontinued my membership. No big deal. I quietly went my way. I did not accuse anybody of wrongdoing or call the paper.

Many of these people are my friends, and I don't think you should go off accusing people just because you have an uncomfortable feeling about what they're doing. I feel my personal dealings with the Art Walk are confidential and private, and the mentioning of my gallery by name was not necessary for this article.

It was in poor taste to single Whitney Gallery out for public ridicule.

Marc Whitney

Laguna Beach

The writer is from the Whitney Gallery in Laguna Beach.

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Fire safety, native plants come together

At the corner of Laguna Canyon Road and El Toro Road, near Anneliese's Willowbrook campus, the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council is transforming a portion of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park from a weedy lot to an association of fire-approved native plants. This is part of an innovative vegetation type-change project intended to reduce both fire hazard and the need for annual disking and weed control.

In May 2009, the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council received a grant awarded and administered by the California Fire Safe Council with funds from the U.S. Forest Service under the terms of the National Fire Plan. These awards are for community-based groups to mitigate fire danger and educate the public about the hazards of wildfire.

Since then, the Greater Laguna Coast Fire Safe Council, led by David Horne and myself as landscape architect, have been working with OC Parks, the city and county fire departments, Anneliese School and biologist Trish Smith to design and implement the plan. Nakae and Associates, Inc. is the landscape contractor responsible for the work.

The Anneliese School participates in a material way by providing the irrigation and annual maintenance of the area adjacent to the school's property. A school educational program within the adjacent park will provide for Anneliese's students to learn about the native habitat that surrounds their campus. Oak trees have been replanted along the perimeter to replace the trees removed by Caltrans for the road widening.

The level of cooperation from all sides has allowed this endeavor to progress in a timely manner. Irrigation and planting of container plants have been completed. Weed control and plant maintenance will continue throughout the summer.

With fall seeding of native plants, the landscape should be established in time to make a positive difference for next fire season.

Though the initial goal of this project was to reduce the threat of wildfire to Laguna Beach and the surrounding area, it quickly became obvious that bringing together private, public and nonprofit resources could transform a rather scruffy piece of park into a place of beauty.

Ann Christoph

Laguna Beach

The writer is an environmental consultant. This letter was written by her with input from others involved.

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Local columnists will be missed

To Catharine Cooper and James Pribram: Very poignant, wonderful writing today (Chasing Down the Muse: "Last 11 years have meant a lot," and Surfing Soapbox: "Time for a new chapter," Aug. 26).

And thanks for a long, joyous ride.

Although the bottom line is always about money in any business, it is the hometown perspective that you both provide that has set the Coastline Pilot apart.

Local papers are about local people and places, and it is a shame to lose your voices. After all, it is not always about reporting and news.

Steve Kawaratani

Laguna Beach

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Thanks to all who came to Sawdust

On behalf of the Sawdust Art Festival artists, its board of directors and staff, I want to thank all our visitors who helped make the 2011 Sawdust one of our best festivals to date. We are also grateful to the Laguna community for supporting the arts and for your patience in working through the summer increase in traffic.

Concerning the recent "yarn bomb" brouhaha, it has become clear that no Sawdust artist had anything to do with their disappearance. It turned out to be an administrative snafu.

I have spoken with Michelle Boyd and expressed regret over what happened. She was very gracious in our conversation.

For 45 years, the Sawdust Festival has brought a lot of joy to literally millions who have experienced hours of great art, good food and excellent entertainment. We shall continue with that goal in the years ahead.

Again, many thanks to all who this year supported the artists of the Sawdust Festival.

Jay Grant

Laguna Beach

The writer is on the Sawdust Festival's board of directors.

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