Art focused cities rely on their past and the hearsay of art-organisations about being artistically relevant which is a death-spiral for today’s Arts and artists. A great example to illustrate this is the arts city Laguna Beach.
The Laguna Alliance for the Arts’ candidate forum exposed what is wrong with the arts today in a city that relies on its past and the hearsay of elders that Laguna Beach is still artistically relevant.
This forum was about the relationship between the city and art institutions, not about art. Throwing the topic of nudity in art at participants just confirmed this disconnect from what is relevant. People are intimidated when put on the spot talking about the arts because of its intangibility. Asking how many arts organizations the candidates support and belong to made everyone cringe.
Does belonging to PETA prove that someone loves animals?
Just because organizations believe that they do great work and politicians feel they did their due diligence by supporting them, does not mean they best helped art and culture.
In my experience, arts organizations know to run a company, but understand the least about the function of arts, artists or the creative process. In this co-dependent relationship, institutions become the only curators of what is allowed, elevating non-artists to color our city.
Case in point, no one mentioned Laguna’s music scene, which has become more dominant in audience engagement than all the other arts without arts organizations and government. Why? Individuals are exponentially more innovative and effective in the arts. The driver is the passion of cultural leaders like Ivan Spiers, Clay Berryhill, Nick Hernandez, Beth Wood, Rick Conkey and Peter Blake that keep reinventing the wheel with little to no support. Similar, Laguna’s radio station’s KX 93.5 team DJs Tyler Russell and Jason Feddy built an independent support community for the arts by introducing new artists and keeping the conversations about local arts alive.
This event was a sad confirmation that the politicians are happy with the work that their institutions deliver, unbeknownst that they are eliminating the leftovers of our city’s artistic relics to complete irrelevance. Institutions are incapable of creating relevant or interesting art. Artists do.
Remember that 95% of working artists live around the poverty level. Most gigs offer the same amount since 1990. What holds this death-spiral in place is that artists love what they are doing so much that they would do it for free. There are 10 in line that would do the job for any amount offered.
The Laguna Playhouse candidate forum was all but about art. The Alliance for the Arts even refused to hand out its original questions to anyone. This demonstrates powerlessness, especially when done in the name of the arts.
Next to ignoring the increasingly flourishing music scene, galleries were not mentioned at all. Are galleries important to an art city like Laguna? Obviously not. The repeatedly referred to master plan with its 40 plus sub-goals did not even consider galleries, nor did the plan consider a digital strategy, in a time where the only reliable connection to everyone is their smart phone.
What about re-purposing the festival grounds that are closed for 10 months before considering a cultural art center. Or, instead of creating another international art festival, why not open all festivals up to international competition? Artists from all over the world are already exhibiting side by side on the web. Allowing all artists to expose their art will only increase shows to a higher level of creativity and foster inspiration that expands an artist’s creative achievements.
Artists that need to rely on being locally protected from other creatives have lost their way a long time ago.
Contrary to what our ruling parties say, working artists rather want to get paid instead of being treated like charity cases. Most artists need to express themselves and that is because of the artist’s process of conception, creation and exposure.
Artists do not mind driving into the city as long as they have a venue to perform. If Laguna provides housing and Santa Ana has venues, artists will live here and perform outside our town. You keep artists if you keep creating opportunities to express themselves, not because you house them. With an average home at $1.7 million, affordable housing will always be an illusion that only serves political means to make the city look like it cares.
Why not talk about easy opportunities for artists to express themselves and get paid?
If Laguna wants to enliven its art landscape, it needs to let go of the delusion of being an art-relevant city and its distorted perception that art is what it was 30 years ago. Relevance is achieved through establishing a cultural vision that clearly distinguishes Laguna Beach from other art-focused cities and defines its creative voice as a unique contributor to the international art scene.
The purpose of any city (the people’s) arts commission is to engage and expose as many persons as possible to the arts for the least money.
One of those projects that fulfilled this requirement at this year’s Art & Nature series was artist Phillip K. Smith III’s “1/4 Mile Arc,” an arc of chrome pillars placed parallel to Main beach’s shore line. This artwork engaged every segment of society to explore and experience the reflections and interplay with nature. People were drawn to the sparkling pillars to contemplate different perspectives, touch, capture and observe the changing light conditions that the weather provided. Malcolm Warner, the museum’s director and I watched on with bliss, observing this audience interaction, realizing one can only dream of an effect like this with public art.
Considering that the 2016 visitors profile reveals that 89% come for the beach, while visitors for the arts come in dead last with 6%, makes this project be a burst of hope to Laguna’s flat-lined art image. So, how can Laguna allow this massive installation to be only exposed for three days, when it just started to get traction on social media?
On another note, the police received a grant to enforce the ABC/alcohol law and will punish the probably most exemplary visitors, art lovers, by eliminating the sip of wine that is a part of the gallery experience.
Finally, a non-profit organization landed a reading of an award winning San Francisco author, who previously spoke at the UN. Having the event in a community center, the organizer filled out the required papers, but was denied to offer wine for the two-hour event.
Other cities have looked up to Laguna, how it has handled alcohol and the Artwalk to allow art patrons to have the full gallery experience. Don’t galleries have it tough enough these days?
Does the arts commission and City Council really want to get away with Laguna’s last cultural residue by ignoring all signs and continue telling the tale of a flourishing art city.
How much more can art be disrespected? Where are the arts commissioners, whose job it is to have foresight, oversight and support a creative environment that inspires? Why is the commission oblivious or too incompetent to handle creative issues to get Laguna back on track? It is time to regroup!
Michaell Magrutsche, Laguna Beach
The author is a multimedia artist and former Newport Beach cultural arts commissioner.