Each July, about 140 juried artists from Laguna Beach and its neighboring cities bustle about the canyon like honeybees, building booths and shuffling around art pieces, large and small, in preparation for the annual Festival of Arts (FOA). Beyond the booths, makeshift galleries, temporary concession stands and entertainment platforms are being erected, soon to host food-and-wine pairings and live musical acts for some 250,000 event patrons. Also available to attendees are docent-led tours, exclusive artist exhibitions, educational lectures, hands-on workshops, and creative activities for children to foster their young imaginations, as well as a special celebrity benefit.
The renowned event, running every Fourth of July week through the month of August and attracting art aficionados from all over the world, began in 1932 with just a small group of struggling artists who were looking for an opportunity to sell their work. “They were looking for a way to bring in visitors from the Olympic games in Los Angeles,” says Fred Sattler, who is serving his seventh year as FOA’s president. “Times were tough [during The Great Depression] and this was not only a way to lift spirits, but also a means to sell art and drive tourism.”
Beginning as a somewhat informal affair, FOA has evolved into a sophisticated showcase that’s sought after by many talented painters, sculptors and other creative professionals who apply to participate each year. Its nonprofit arm also aims to foster the arts through education, promotion, and sponsored events. This summer, the festival celebrates its 85th anniversary with first-time exhibitors, new attractions and a reimagined aesthetic.
From Summer Carnival to Sophisticated Showcase
Local businessman John Hinchman is credited with the idea for the original festival, which was to be an “intellectual carnival,” says Dan Duling, scriptwriter for Pageant of the Masters and FOA’s “unofficial historian.” It was initially named Artist’s Week, and then Fiesta, before its founders settled on the Festival of Arts. The following year, elaborately costumed performance artists posed as framed “living pictures” in a show that aimed to attract more visitors.
Called Pageant of the Masters, the sideshow has grown into a highly acclaimed stage performance whose ticket sales float the art festival, which now generate over $7.6 million each year. The first “carnival” was to feature local artists, craftspeople and performers. Less formal than the one held today and taking place for only a week during the middle of August, the inauguration had no official home. “A parking lot behind the Sandwich Mill restaurant on Coast Road and Forest Avenue near the Hotel Laguna was recommended as the best spot for the festivities,” Duling says. “Paintings and other works of art were to be hung on fences.”
Each summer, FOA features at least a dozen newcomers. Of the montage of oil paintings, watercolors, photography, sculpture, glasswork and mixed media art that canvases the festival grounds, all pieces are original. “Another part of the festival’s appeal is that its creators are present almost all of the time, establishing relationships with patrons,” Duling says.
A Grander Entrance
On its 85th birthday, the FOA debuts a fresh, approximately $10 million makeover for the gallery exhibition area, workshops, gift store, and concert stage, says Meghan Perez, marketing and public relations coordinator for the festival.
“Tensile roof pavilions shelter artwork from sun and rain, the green lawn where patrons picnic and enjoy concerts is nearer to the entry, the gift shop is relocated and expanded, and the junior art exhibit has a prominent location,” she says. The interior hasn’t had a facelift since 1964, but the new renovation comes two years after the entryway façade underwent a $3.5 million enhancement. The original entryway design, assembled from carved Styrofoam and painted plywood, was never meant to be a permanent fixture: “It was the product of theatrical sleight of hand,” Sattler says of the structure that withstood a decade before being replaced by Newport Beach-based Bauer Architect’s ecominded facade. (The reimagined design earned an award of merit from the American Institute of Architects before it was even erected.)
“Over the years,” Sattler says, “The festival has become more and more sophisticated, changing with the times in order to remain relevant and successful. …We look forward to sharing our new ‘digs’ with patrons and the community this summer during our 85th anniversary celebration.”
Let Them Eat Cake
In addition to unveiling a new interior façade, the Festival of Arts celebrates its 85th year with a grand “birthday bash” on Aug. 13—the day the show officially opened in 1932—featuring birthday cake, live music performances and free admission. And that’s just the frosting. (foapom.com)
By Ashley Breeding
Photos Courtesy of Festival of Arts