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The Festival of Arts Annual Meeting highlighted the importance of robust and flexible leadership

By MARRIE STONE

Photos by Jeff Rovner

On Tuesday, Nov. 9, for the first time since 2019, the Festival of Arts (FOA) came together for its annual meeting. A crowd gathered outdoors on the FOA grounds to celebrate a successful 2021 season and acknowledge the myriad obstacles board members, managers, staff and volunteers overcame to stage a prosperous and popular show. 

Shuttering the grounds during the summer of 2020 had a profound economic impact on the organization, perhaps more than the public realized. Through their collective skills, fiscal responsibility, dedication and flexibility, the management team navigated some treacherous financial waters. Forced into several risky and difficult decisions, their prudent strategies paid off. The result is an organization arguably stronger than before.

Here are a few highlights from the evening. 

Farewell to a friend

Before officially opening the meeting, President David Perry announced the passing of FOA board member Bob Moffett on November 3, one day after his 85th birthday. Moffett served on the board since 2009. For more than 50 years, he and his wife Jacquie contributed their time and experience to the Festival of Arts and the larger Laguna Beach community. 

In 1953, after attending UCLA, Moffett began his successful career in the entertainment business in engineering and production at KTLA. Promoted to engineering supervisor, Moffett oversaw many of the video-tape productions. Moffett became chief engineer at KOCE in 1970, and was later promoted to station manager before retiring from KOCE after 26 years.

Fellow board member Wayne Baglin said, “Bob was a gentle soul who was a great listener and saved his comments to observations or opinions that really mattered to him and his friends.” 

His friendship and leadership will be missed.

Navigating tricky financial waters

After introducing the board of directors and management team, Perry acknowledged the many hardships the pandemic wrought on the organization. “We made it through a difficult two years, starting with the cancellation of our summer show in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Perry said. “The Festival was in desperate financial shape. At the time the summer show was canceled, we’d sold about $3,000,000 in tickets and spent the money in preparation.”

The Festival made personal contact with thousands of patrons, most of whom requested refunds. “All of this was made more difficult by the unexpected decision by the Festival’s longtime credit card processor to freeze distributions to the Festival from credit card transactions.” 

As a result, the board made a series of difficult, and often heartbreaking, decisions. They were forced to furlough staff (leaving only a minimal team of managers in place), borrow money, drastically cut all expenditures, liquidate investments to meet nonoperating debt demands and negotiate a reduction in the size of the Pageant’s orchestra. Meanwhile, at the time, the future of the organization remained entirely uncertain.

The Festival pivoted to digital platforms including virtual concerts, virtual art exhibits and even a virtual fundraiser. “Our goal was to raise $100,000 and to our pleasant surprise, we raised over $300,000 because of the generosity of our members, patrons and community supporters,” Perry said. The organization also applied for grants, PPP loans and a government-sponsored loan.

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FOA President David Perry delivered the Board’s report at the 2021 Annual Meeting

The difficult decision arrived on April 15, when the board had to decide whether to move forward with the 2021 summer season. The bet was big, the future uncertain, but it paid off. More than 150,000 people attended this past summer’s show. Many Festival exhibitors reported that art sales soared to all-time highs and “Made in America” (a Pageant theme announced in 2019) took on much broader significance in 2021. 

“Midway through the summer program, the Festival received a Shuttered Venue Operators grant which will allow us to weather the serious operational challenges caused by the loss of an entire year’s worth of revenue,” Perry said. “We appreciate that the governmental agencies understood the difficulties presented by the pandemic and are grateful that they recognized the importance of the arts and stepped up to provide the arts community with such much-needed support.”

Times of uncertainty reveal an organization’s resiliency, Perry said. The challenges posed by the pandemic offered opportunities to reconnect and recognize the power of working together. The year was a reminder to take nothing for granted and remain grateful in the face of adversity. “I believe the worst of it is behind us and I’m confident that I will be attending the Festival’s 100-year anniversary in 2032,” he said.

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Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf delivered the Mayor’s report, congratulating the Festival board and staff for their resolve in putting the organization back on firm footing

Treasurer Report

Treasurer Fred Sattler opened his report with the following poignant quote, “Samuel Johnson said, ‘When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.’ That, in a nutshell, is what the Festival’s 2021 fiscal year was all about,” Sattler said.

While Perry painted an overall portrait of the Festival’s financial situation, Sattler put dollar amounts to the desperation. “Technically, we realized zero operating revenue for 2020,” Sattler said. “Of the normal preorder ticket sales which we traditionally used to finance the coming summer’s show, 35% ($1.25 million) was refunded, 57% was rolled over into tickets for 2021 and 8% was graciously converted to donations. This was only one of our cash-flow challenges. And as we sat watching our cash position dwindle, we were simultaneously facing an unknown future.”

Sattler reiterated the difficult decision the board made on April 15th when forced to decide if the Festival and Pageant would open in July. “At that point, we had the bare minimum amount of time to put the entire program together for a July 3rd opening and just about enough working capital. We were then faced with the question, ‘If we build it, will they come?’ Or at least come in sufficient numbers to generate enough revenue to cover our cost,” Sattler said. The organization was down to its final dollars.

“It wasn’t our best summer, but it was a good summer,” he said. “We realized about 70% of our normal operating revenue and, due to excellent cost management, kept expenses in check. As a result, we have experienced a $2.2 million increase in net assets from operations. I’m also pleased to say that we are not holding any debt.”

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Board Treasurer Fred Sattler delivered the 2021 fiscal report

The important role of funding educational scholarships

Secretary Pat Kollenda delivered the annual Scholarship Report. “The Festival of Arts awarded a total of $30,900 to 16 returning scholarship recipients for the 2021-2022 academic year,” Kollenda said. “The average GPA of returning students was 3.66.”

Kollenda cited several institutions that students selected including Loyola Marymount University, Brigham Young University, Emerson College, Tulane University, as well as local schools like LCAD, UCI, UCLA, USC, among many others.

“We were so terribly disappointed that we were not able to award scholarships to high school seniors this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and financial restraints,” Kollenda said. “Thankfully, we are back on track and in the process of preparing the applications for next year.”

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Board Secretary Pat Kollenda delivered the 2021 scholarship report

Lifetime membership and service recognition awards

Volunteers who have served on the Pageant’s roster for 15 years are awarded life membership status. This year, seven volunteers from makeup to wardrobe to cast members were honored. Fran Benes (makeup), Ashley Dillabough (makeup), Teresa Dillabough (makeup), Noemi Grabiel (men’s wardrobe), Virginia “Ginny” Preston (makeup), Maria Carmen Smith (women’s wardrobe) and Michelle Pohl (cast member) each received recognition.

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15-year service life membership award recipients 

Recently, the Festival has begun recognizing year-round employees who have served the Festival for 10 years or more. This year, seven individuals were honored: Danny Aguilar (15 years), Monica Daebritz (20 years), Susan Davis (20 years), Gina Pascual (21 years), Gary Fowler (25 years), Butch Hill (35 years), and Diane Challis Davy (41 years).

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Year-round employee recognition awards

Honoring Pat Sparkuhl

For more than 40 years, longtime Laguna Beach resident Pat Sparkuhl has contributed to the arts community in Laguna Beach. The Festival bestowed a lifetime membership award in 2020 to Sparkuhl and delivered it to him at this year’s annual meeting. 

Announcing the award, FOA Vice President Tom Lamb noted that Sparkuhl exhibited his work in the Festival’s annual summer exhibition for 30 years. Sparkuhl led pioneering efforts to grow the Festival’s art education programs and initiated the summer docent program. He also acted as the Interim Exhibits Manager, ensuring an uninterrupted and peaceful transition when Ron Morissette, former Exhibits Manager, departed. Throughout 10 years as the organization’s art collection specialist, Sparkuhl served as an advocate, caretaker and curator of the Festival of Arts Permanent Art Collection. He’s consistently brought extensive knowledge, passion for art and art education, and an ability to bring people together and connect others. 

To quote a former student, “Pat is the most open-hearted, creative, kind, humane, warm and wonderful person most of us could stand to be in the same room with.”

In recognition and appreciation for Sparkuhl’s 40 years of commitment to the Festival of Arts, he was awarded a life membership.

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Vice President and board member Tom Lamb delivers a Life Membership Award to Pat Sparkuhl

Honoring Vice President Tom Lamb 

Vice President Tom Lamb served on the FOA board for 15 years. In recognition of his many contributions Perry said, “Tom is an innovative leader who has done so much for the arts, the artists and this organization. As an award-winning photographer and 30-year Festival exhibitor, Tom brought a unique perspective to the board. He is passionate about the Festival’s history, art education initiatives and the Permanent Art Collection. 

“Tom secured the largest bequest ever for the Festival, a $1,000,000 endowment from Stillman Sawyer along with over 500 of Sawyer’s photographs for the Festival’s collection. He was the driver behind creating foaNorth, the location to house the Festival’s collection and archives, and foaSouth, a gallery to showcase the collection and Festival exhibitors’ work. 

“He was also instrumental in the facade grounds’ renovation process.” 

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Vice President Tom Lamb receives recognition for his 15-year service on the FOA Board

Welcome Ed Hanke 

The Festival Board welcomed its newest member, Ed Hanke, a longtime Pageant of the Masters’ volunteer (who plays the role of Philip in “The Last Supper”). As a 15-year member of the Patriots’ Day Parade, now serving as its president for the past two, and a member of LagunaTunes (he’s a baritone bass), Hanke has devoted endless volunteer hours to our town. 

Continuing on the board are Pat Kollenda and Anita Mangels (each serving new three-year terms), Wayne Baglin, John Connolly, Fred Sattler, Jeff Rovner and David Perry. 

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Ed Hanke (pictured with wife Kathy) joins the FOA Board

Bylaw amendments

For FOA members who may not have been in attendance, Perry announced three proposed changes to the organization’s bylaws, which require member consideration in the coming months.

“Two points have to do with the board of directors election process,” Perry said. “The first will allow for electronic voting as well as mail-in ballots and the second will permit an eligible voting member to sign up to three nomination forms. The third suggested amendment is a simple change in the dates of the membership year. This will not impact members’ priority Pageant ticket ordering.”   

Perry concluded his remarks by noting how important it is that members respond and vote. 

Announcement of the 2022 Pageant of the Masters’ theme: “Wonderful World” 

The moment many may have been waiting for came toward the end, when Pageant of the Masters Director Diane (Dee) Challis Davy announced the theme for the 2022 show – “Wonderful World.” 

While 2021’s show “Made in America” highlighted the history of our nation and the trailblazing American artists that documented it, 2022 will expand the cultural canvas to incorporate the rest of the world. Guests will be guided through 17 countries in 90 minutes, including stops in Japan, France, Sweden, Italy and parts of Africa. “I hope world travel and experiencing life in other countries will become easy again. In the meantime, we are going to celebrate – through living pictures, music and dance – here in the Irvine Bowl,” Challis Davy said.

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Director Diane Challis Davy (serving as Pageant Director for 41 years) announced the 2022 Pageant theme, “Wonderful World” 

Inspired by the 19th century journalist Nellie Bly, Challis Davy used Bly’s intrepid travels as the foundation for next year’s show. “In the 1890s, Bly attempted to travel around the world in fewer than 80 days, the challenge imagined in Jules Verne’s fictional classic Around the World in 80 Days. We’re researching her travel logs, diaries and ephemera related to her ambitious solo journey,” Challis Davy said. “Did she accomplish her mission? You’ll have to see the show.” 

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“Wonderful World” will make its debut in the Irvine Bowl in July 2022

The 2022 Pageant of the Masters’ production “Wonderful World” will be on stage from July 7 through September 3, 2022. Advance tickets go on sale on December 1 starting at $30 per person. To stay up to date on all things related to the Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts, follow the Festival on social media at @FestivalPageant and visit www.foapom.com.