Art Star Awards: Join an evening filled with entertainment, surprises, great food and recognition of community’s talented artists


If all the naysaying of the world has you down, the upcoming Art Stars celebration, with its theme “The Future is Bright” is sure to offer a change of attitude.

“What we’re really celebrating this year is that all our art organizations, besides having established programs, also support either youth or emerging artists,” said Amy Dechary, president of the Laguna Beach Art Alliance (LBAA), which hosts the annual event. “And with everyone on the planning committee being artistic and creative it’s really going to be a fun night.”

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Photos courtesy of Jeffrey Rovner

Artist Hugo Rivera created an abstract portrait during last year’s Art Star Awards, held on the Festival of Arts grounds

Of course, the culmination is when the winners in five different art categories are recognized for their achievements. After all, the recognition is the reason for the event, although organizers made sure there’s also a lot of fun to be had.

The festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. on April 26 at the Festival of Arts grounds. Attendees are treated to up-close and personal artistic endeavors, while enjoying Champagne, wine and heavy appetizers. There will be dancers dancing, musicians playing, singers singing, sculptures being sculpted and many surprises throughout the night.

“People will feel as if they are really part of the arts,” said Dechary. “It’s very friendly, it’s a warm atmosphere and there’s just a lot of fun energy.”

This will be the 16th awards night (COVID interrupted consecutive events), and the second year that the evening will be at the Festival grounds, which offers a more interactive, relaxed setting. “It’s a wonderful way to recognize the people stepping up and supporting Laguna Beach arts,” said Rick Conkey, executive director of the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center. “It’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the art organizations – and the food is great.”

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The Laguna JaZz Band serenaded Art Star attendees from the stage at the Festival of Arts. Talented vocalist Ginger Hatfield also joined in.

The non-profit LBAA now has 29 member organizations, representing everything from traditional painting to literary endeavors and even music history.

“When you think we have 29 non-profit art organizations within our little town, it’s really amazing,” said Pat Kollenda, a staunch advocate of the arts. From her role as an arts commissioner, founder, board member and participant in numerous groups, she has a holistic view of the art community and is a big fan of the Art Star awards – especially since it isn’t a fundraiser, so she can focus on the achievements being celebrated rather than worrying about writing more checks.

“It’s a joyous celebration of all the amazing art we have in Laguna,” said Kollenda. “And I think it’s an enormous honor for all nominees.” Through the years she’s had many nominees and winners comment about how thrilled they are to be recognized, and many are humbled, to be associated with other distinguished nominees.

This year’s nominees are:

Best Arts Program: Lagunatics; Laguna Playhouse – 2023 Season Program and Laguna Art Museum – Joseph Kleitsch: Abroad and Home in Old Laguna

Arts Patron of the Year: Laguna Beach Seniors; Ed Hanke, and Elie Weaver and Hilton Weinberg

Best Arts Collaboration: Pageant of the Monsters; Laguna Beach Live! and Laguna Art Museum – Live! At the Museum matinee performances and Laguna Community Concert Band – Sailing with Whales Concert: Benefit for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center

Artist of the Year: Casey Parlette; Elizabeth McGhee and 133 Band

The Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is G. Rey Kerciu.

The awards will be presented in the second part of the evening, explained Dechary, saying it’s a time to pause, as attendees will sit at their assigned tables and also visit the dessert bar.

“Life in Southern California is really fast-paced, so it’s good to spend time to celebrate our peers. It’s important to acknowledge what people have achieved,” she said. “What’s challenging in the arts is that we work so hard to get funding for our projects, and then making the projects happen, and then moving into the cycle again, that we don’t take the time to consider all we’ve actually accomplished.”

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Sharbie Higuchi, marketing/PR director of the Festival of Arts and Carla Meberg, former president of LOCA, enjoyed the fun at last year’s Art Star Awards night

Each category winner will receive the coveted “Louie” statue – Laguna’s own version of an Emmy – to keep. Each award is hand-crafted by sculptor Louis Longi, who has been involved in the Art Star program since its inception. Many former recipients attend, happy to keep the recognition program going.

“We give tribute to the outstanding artists in our community,” said Adrienne Fayne of Community Art Project, which was an Art Star nominee for Best Arts Program in 2023. “There’s delicious food and it’s an opportunity to mingle with the artists…so it’s exciting.”

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Dancers Haley Heckethorn and Joe Davis of Laguna Dance Festival entertained last year’s crowd with their interpretive dance

Kim Brandon-Watson, marketing vice president for Laguna Art-A-Fair, will be attending for the first time this year, and she’s thrilled at the opportunity.

“It just sounds like a great event to support our art community, which we’re all a part of.”

Dechary said the night is also an opportunity to remember a core tenant of the arts generated throughout Laguna Beach.

“All these programs and artwork bring a lot of joy to people’s lives,” she said. “That’s definitely something to celebrate.”

For more information about the Art Stars Awards, click here. Tickets, which cost $140 each, can be ordered through the website. Availability is limited, so organizers recommend ordering by April 22.

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