Council, Arts Commission joint meeting covers 2023 programs, upcoming art, proposed policy

By SARA HALL

At a joint meeting of the City Council and Arts Commission last week, officials discussed programming from 2023, upcoming art installations and the proposed public art policy.

The two groups reviewed the commission’s work and overall plan for art in the city at the April 23 meeting.

“We are a really busy group,” said Arts Commission Chair Donna Ballard. “We love doing what we do.”

Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda noted that when she first joined the commission many years ago, there were only a few programs in place (banners, palettes and Music in the Park).

“To see how far the arts in Laguna and at city has come is fantastic and exciting,” Kollenda said.

Summarizing the cultural arts grant funding program, Kollenda noted that in 2023, a total of 22 organizations received grants and $320,000 was distributed for arts activities. For the upcoming 2024-25 fiscal year, the Arts Commission received 22 applications.

They’ve also welcomed some new faces and had some personnel changes, Kollenda noted.

Former Arts Commission member Karen Wood joined city staff as the public art coordinator. Also last year, Austin Barrow, Michael Ray and Carl Smith were appointed to the commission.

The inaugural Youth Art Advisory Board, formed in FY 2022-23, facilitated the creation and installation of a temporary pop-up art experience at the Promenade on Forest. The 2023-24 youth board is currently accepting design submissions for a new piece with a theme of marine sanctuary, Kollenda noted.

“It’s so great to have the youth (represented),” she said.

In 2023, city hall hosted exhibitions by Laguna College of Art + Design masters program, the Artist Fund at Festival of Arts, Community Art Project, Laguna Plein Air Painters Association and Festival of Arts Permanent Collection. There were also 60 entries in the 21st annual Art That’s Small exhibition. The city also hosted the 17th annual exhibition of juried fine art, which featured 29 artworks by Orange County artists.

For the holiday palette competition, the Arts Commission selected designs by Colleen Corbett, Jennifer Griffiths, India Hynes and Marc Mead. They also received 128 “fabulous” design submissions for the children’s holiday palette, Kollenda added. It’s pretty fantastic, she added.

Out of 38 submissions, the commission also selected winners for the outdoor banners competition: Thomas Clark, Wendy Duong, Lovisa Kjerrgren and Tatyana Zen.

“That is, I think, the most we have ever had submitted for banners,” Kollenda said. “It’s very exciting.”

For the mini banners, with recommendations from the Youth Art Advisory Board, commissioners selected designs from Thomas Clark and Anne Girtz out of 13 submissions.

There were 17 designs submitted for council chamber banners, and commissioners selected art by Bill Atkins, Carole Boller, Erika Bradberry and Al Esquerra.

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Scott Brashier

David Brock with Wild Child performing at a Music in the Park concert in August 2023

Kollenda noted that in 2023 the city’s cultural arts programs engaged a total of 271 performers with an estimated total audience attendance of 12,700.

The programs included seven Music in the Park concerts at Bluebird Park, which about 6,800 people attended, and World Music Series held over three Fridays at Heisler Park, which had about 1,100 people in attendance. The new stage on Forest also continues to serve as a Downtown venue for live music, with a total of 133 performances held at the Promenade location last year.

Kollenda also specifically called out the amphitheater at Heisler Park, where Sunset Serenades were held on Fridays in May and September, as a beautiful location. About 2,800 people attended the evening concerts.

“That is such a wonderful venue,” she said, “it’s just beyond delightful.”

She also noted that in recognition of World Arts Day on April 15, the Band on the Bus mobile music program featuring local artist Jason Feddy toured at stops in North Laguna, Heisler Park and Laguna Canyon.

“That was really fun,” she said. “During COVID, that really was a wonderful way to get music to the people.”

Other programs included Circus Bella returning to Bluebird Park for their 2023 one-ring circus show, “Bananas.” The estimated total in attendance was 900.

Kollenda also discussed some new performance collaborations.

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The Arts Commission hosted a free concert from Pacific Symphony’s brass quintet at Heisler Park on October 6, thanks to a grant by Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley, called Symphony on the Go!

The Pacific Opera Project also hosted a performance of Pirates of Penzance at Bluebird Park on May 13. It was not as hugely attended as they had hoped, Kollenda commented, but everybody who was there to see it, loved it.

The commission is already scheduling return performances of both new programs for 2024.

In terms of public art in 2023, the commission approved 16 installations, nine of which were installed on private property, Kollenda said.

As part of the city’s permanent collection, City Council and Arts Commission approved a project for an inlaid mural for the new pedestrian bridge, constructed as part of the repair of the Laguna Canyon storm channel. Commissioners unanimously approved a design by LCAD graduate Beau Stanton to install Coalescence, a tile mural with more than 3,600 pieces.

“(It’s an) absolutely gorgeous mural,” Kollenda said.

The city completed seven temporary sculpture and mural installations in 2023 at various locations, including Alta Laguna Park and city hall lawn. Laguna Beach is currently holding an open call for artists for temporary installation proposals for Heisler Park, Kollenda added.

Kollenda highlighted the temporary installation of the red (now turquoise) telephone booth that local artists Candice Brokenshire and Julie Setterholm transformed into their installation We Need to Talk.

Also, at the direction of the Arts Commission, the city formalized the annual public art maintenance program. A total of 36 pieces were cleaned and refurbished in 2023.

The city also participated in its fourth consecutive arts and economic prosperity report, which is undertaken every five years. The research was conducted in 2022 and 2023 and results for Laguna Beach show the resilience of arts organizations that have pivoted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and have generated approximately $88.3 million in economic activity, supporting 1,878 full-time equivalent jobs.

“This is huge, this is our industry,” Kollenda said.

She also mentioned the online cultural arts calendar, printed in partnership with Stu News and the Laguna Beach Arts Alliance, and World AIDS Day, when ribbons are place on public artworks Downtown. Kollenda also noted the Fostering Creativity and Artistic Innovation grants as other programs in the city.

She also pointed out that there were only a handful of nonprofit arts organizations when she first got involved on the commission and now there are 29 in Laguna Beach.

That’s pretty awesome,” Kollenda said.

Commissioner Michael Ervin went over the upcoming arts program for 2024, including sunset serenades and music in the park.

“It’s similar to what we did last year and that’s because what we did worked,” Ervin said, “and it’s what the people of this city love.”

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Photos courtesy of the artists/City of Laguna Beach

Some upcoming art installations: “Epicenter” by Casey Parlette (far left); “Attempted Murder” by Jack Champion (top middle); “Entwined” by Charles Gadeken (bottom middle, left); “Flobot” by Jessica Levine (bottom middle, right); and “The Last Ocean” by Jan Lewin (two images, far right)

Ervin also mentioned several upcoming temporary installations:

Jack Champion’s Attempted Murder, which depicts two 12-foot crows.

–Entwined by Charles Gadeken, who invites viewers into an illuminated and colorful forest.

–Epicenter by local Laguna artist, Casey Parlette, which highlights ocean life in a metal, bronze and steel sculpture.

Jessica Levine’s 14-foot tall Flobot, a wiry, interactive sculpture with 10 legs rooted to the ground.

Jan Lewin’s installation The Last Ocean, a colorful piece that represents an ice floe and lights up as observers step on interactive tiles placed on the ground surrounding a 12-foot-tall polar bear called Ursa Minor.

“That’s it for now, but I’m sure they’ll be more,” Ervin concluded.

Councilmember Mark Orgill also asked if the commission has considered opportunities for art and/or performances at Aliso Beach, now that it’s under the city’s control.

There was some musical entertainment during a city picnic at the location last year, he noted, which made him consider how else they could use the area.

“It was pretty cool,” Orgill said. “It got me thinking that there are so many other possible opportunities down there.”

Although they haven’t discussed it yet, there is potential in that space, Kollenda and other commissioners agreed.

“We haven’t pursued anything there yet, but it’s a good idea,” Ballard said.

Ballard updated the council on the status of the proposed public art policy.

“The Arts Commission considers this a very important document and we’ve needed it for a really long time because it updates and consolidates all the various resolutions and sections into one clear, easy to use process – which we don’t have at the moment,” she said. “It will help eliminate confusion for the city and the public, and assist us in making meaningful and consistent decisions.”

Public art plays a crucial role in placemaking and can transform an ordinary space into an extraordinary one, Ballard said, Laguna Beach is known for that.

“We feel that a clear and strong policy supports expression, identity and stewardship,” she said.

This new policy reflects the values and diversity of the city’s collection, Ballard said, and it outlines processing requirements that are easy to use.

As pointed out by the public when the council reviewed the proposed policy at its February 27 meeting involving artists early in the planning of projects leads to success, Bollard said, and they would like to encourage private developers to do likewise.

“So that art becomes a part of the design and not just a decoration added on later,” she said.

Previous public comments also suggested that the language about standards for appeals align with other city appeals process, Ballard noted, and they are addressing that issue.

“(That) is under review and we will seek the expertise of the city attorney’s office for that guidance,” she said.

Ballard noted that the commission just received policy (the day before the joint meeting) a revised version of the policy that incorporated councilmembers’ comments from the February meeting.

“There’s still work to be done, but we’ve made a lot of progress,” she said.

Although the commission hasn’t had a chance to thoroughly review the latest revisions, they do know about a few changes in the section titles, memorials, plaques and art in public places.

The modified document will be examined by the subcommittee, then to the full Arts Commission for discussion, and then finally back to the council for final consideration.

Currently, there’s a “blurb” here and there in the city code about public art, but not a consistent policy that they can directly point to as to what they’re governing from, Ballard explained. Also, the fragments that do exist are a bit outdated, she added.

Answering a question about whether or not the new policy will override the current language in the other code sections, Ballard said it essentially incorporates, clarifies and expands what already exists.

There was also a brief chat about the arts budget, although the commission was not asking for more funding.

Arts Commission Vice Chair Adam Schwerner commented that more money could bring in more art and bigger (and potentially more interesting) installations. They have fantasies of programs at multiple sites, large-scale and interactive art in more spaces, or expanding some performing arts productions. The options are endless, he added.

“We have these ideas that can be accomplished because we have the capacity, but without the budget,” he said. “We’re doing, I think, a really great job given the constraints we have at our fingertips.”

Also, more money could be spent toward marketing certain events, like the opera that wasn’t as well attended as they had hoped, Schwerner said.

As they continue to increase the art programming and the quality of what they offer, they get the dollars back in that support it, Ballard added.

“Great art drives people here – literally. People come from all over to see some of our temporary installations,” she said.

Councilmembers also asked about the Youth Art Advisory Board, the process to solicit the temporary art, and how the proposed policy will guide the Arts Commission.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.


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