Category Archives: Laguna Beach

Why Public Art Is Unoriginal

The English phone booth project has turned into an archetypal gauge of what does not work in public art.

The recently unveiled public art project has undoubtedly proven why we have to start to rethink public art NOW! The phone booth in question has been stuffed with foam bodies in bathing suits pretending to break a record.

Execution/Skill: The execution is giving the impression of a high school afternoon project using scraps. It is unprofessional on all levels. Careless paint job, incorrect phone booth-red. Figures inside don’t align and foam shows where it should be hidden.

This project conveys the feel of what high school kids pull off in an afternoon with scraps. All materials look like they already faded from the sun. Art is supposed to be a luxury item.

Public Engagement: Tired and stale. The phone booth itself is more engaging than its content. There are no other ways of engagement for selfies or through discovery. The project as a whole exudes filthiness.
Context to Laguna: It represents Laguna in the light of a tourist trap. Is this what the Arts Commission wanted?
Contrast with its surroundings: Not enough contrast in scale, color or creativity to make the work noticeable enough, or to engage, even as is.                                                     

A Twisted Relation To The Arts: The false motivation of being associated with the arts for personal adornment instead of champion the spirit of creativity suffocates the arts in this town. Consequently, there is a lack of interest in understanding how art functions which further wanes the sensibility when it comes to artists and creativity.  The phone booth is such a great example that teaches us how volunteers with anointed art-authority often lack the understanding how art functions. Case in point, the chosen project of stuffing people into things is at best a stale idea that was only clever when it was done first. Even if people like it, it does not mean it is art. Results like this phone booth idea, sold as art, are the very reason why no one attends arts commission meetings. The boring process of institutionalizing art is the commission’s primary focus, instead of capturing the values of art and communicate them with passion to the Council and the people. We currently have the most innovative art the world has ever seen. Please explain, why was this idea even considered? 

Refocus On Art’s Function: The Arts Commission forgets its own functions and reverses its priorities of exposing as many people possible to art with available funds. Be the champion for all arts and artists, relating to them and help them to expose their creations as best possible. If necessary, fight for creative freedom in the confines of government. Be the liaison between the city council, the artists and the people (not just Commission and Council); and at the very last, select the City’s art adhering to function first and personal choice second. Curating by jury panel fails because it needs group consent, which usually yields to the lowest common denominator. Most art commissions aim to please, which science and history show is impossible. One function is to accept that there are no ways to determine good or bad art, nor can we select what others will like or dislike. Once chosen, interest in installing the works quickly wanes and is relegated to staff, which is not responsible for the aesthetics of a art piece.  Rotate commissioners if you want, but to be effective, only one person can be the curator to select art – the end! Disclaimer: I have applied for this same project.

The Original Call for Artists: “Request for Proposals Honorarium: $3,500 The K-6 telephone booth is located on Doe Avenue, centrally located in downtown. The Arts Commission is seeking proposals for an imaginative, whimsical, and colorful installation. The booth measures 3′ x 3′ x 8’4″ and is permanently affixed to the sidewalk. The proposed artwork will be owned by the artist and returned to the artist at the conclusion of the exhibition period. Materials should be durable, safe and appropriate to a public setting lasting for a period of 24 months.”

Disclaimer: I have applied for this same project.

Michaell Magrutsche is  a multi media artist, former Newport Beach arts commissioner, the author of How To Place Public Art & All Other Art and founder of the Self-Aware Art movement living in Laguna Beach

Creating a City Vision by the People

Understanding The Power of Creating a City Vision by The People
(Citizens, Organisations and Other Stakeholders)

Preface: I was asked to build this process as a first step of how to create and distill a clear city vision by the people. I refer to Laguna Beach (the “City”) as sample because I live there. The City has a cultural history, but since there is no overall direction, creating even the most appealing cultural direction would ultimately be no more than a hit or miss.

The Power of a Vision: I just heard that there are two developers suggesting new village entrance projects (in discussion since the 1960’s), with 350 plus parking spaces each. The City also agreed on a new cultural plan with 41 goals. This plan is similar to the “Vision 2030” document of 16 years ago with almost nothing being implemented. Why does it seem we are not moving forward like we supposed to? This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of a future vision/ direction to all the people that love their City enough to getting involved. Today, we have too many problems to fix that we forgot to look to the future and this keeps us from moving forward. Without an overall vision there is no common ground/direction on which we can all agree. This leads to dividing and stalling a community from moving forward. Who is really ready for another decade of focusing on different ideas guessing to see what sticks, or fighting them?

The Overseen Flaw:  Without a future vision of the City, it seems we are trapped and have lost our ways by giving all attention to current problems, or to what we don’t want. Our motivation comes from fear-choices born of losing our quality of life. A powerless dance that creates a purgatory of uncertainty, indifference and stagnation. I want to motivate and unite all interested stakeholders to combine their efforts to help City Council create a vision that supplies a direction for the future (examples). This includes defining our feelings and the conveniences we would like to experience living in this city in years to come. 

A Wiser Solution: Let’s Step Off the Game Board and Create a New Game. City residents and stakeholders would be wise to present what they want their future city to look and feel like. Present those futures to City Council to have it declare a clear future vision/direction for the City for the next 5, to 15 years. Deciding on an elected future also affects solving our current problems and their priorities now. For example, if the Council decides the City should be a tourist trap then the aforementioned 350 parking spots might not be enough. On the other side, if the City wants to be a culturally relevant player, we might not need this project and could think up alternatives. Do you see how much impact the lack of our leader’s clear vision/direction has? A vision influences the potential of how much time and resources are wasted, what we all do, and how relevant we all can and can not become for the City we love.

Fixing Problems Without Direction: Each Council member usually runs on different platforms, but as a whole, most politicians have forgotten that creating a future vision is the heart and soul of a city’s quality of life. Not choosing is a choice that keeps everyone in limbo, forcing the involved to act by guessing a direction (where there is none).  

An Overall Vision is Declared by the City Council. A vision conjures up feelings of a future that citizens can relate to. It is a people’s’ common motivator, without attached details or execution plan. Only a weak vision needs to be promoted by selling its details or projects. Focusing on random singled out issues got us in many uncomfortable experiences in the past. John F. Kennedy did not give details on how to get us to the moon, but people could align with his vision, understood the direction and created solutions united by this higher goal. Listen to remember the power of JFK’s vision.

The Flow of Execution: Vision – Function – Form.
Vision is a feeling of a direction, people can relate to, that reaches beyond gender, race, lifestyle or political affiliation. It is not dependent on a certain amount of money. Obama’s CHANGE campaign, even though not complete because of the lack of direction (where to change to), most people resonated and united behind the word “change.” Laguna College of Art and Design’s (“LCAD”) vision is to become the “Juilliard of the Visual Arts.” If LCAD raises $5,000 or one million, it will always move toward the direction of its visioned goal, either slower or faster.

A Mission is the Function of a Vision. It is an action plan to execute/fulfill certain goals that support and are aligned with the overall vision. For example, LCAD hires every year three guest Artists from around the world to teach rare master painter techniques to be implemented in LCAD’s curriculum. It creates a fund raiser to pay for the guest lecturers.

Form determines what fits best to the function and vision. Form supports function and the overall vision. For example, Established guest artists teach rare painting techniques is a more suitable form to support LCAD becoming the “Juilliard of the Visual Arts,” than having a creative experiment of a group of students dismantling a car.

History Does Not Feed Us Forever. The City still has a high ”cool factor” but most is a remnant of the past. No matter what the City chooses, I hope I can stimulate your passion to create something outstanding that connects us all in our beloved City. For exemplary execution of a cultural vision physically and online, look at Switzerland’s Zermatt Unplugged Festival  which was 8 years ago nothing but a tiny sky town located halfway to the Matterhorn.

I hope I could help getting a sense of what there is to do. Creating a future vision is not brain science, especially when we keep it simple. All it needs is taking time to think and follow the steps. Even without a final vision we have thought about our City and in this process we gained clarity to do what we all have to do with more insights and impact. Please share if you agree that a vision would support the City’s quality of life.

The next step would be getting together and discuss and clarify this document that everyone interested aligns to its process.

For a the Step by Step Process of a City Vision click here

Download as PDF

Michaell Magrutsche is an Austrian-Californian multimedia artist, creative consultant, art educator and former Cultural Arts Commissioner of Newport Beach living in Laguna Beach on and off since 1988.

Spending Money On Art Without Direction Helps No One

“Money Only Helps the Arts When We first Understand Art’s Function”

Think Before Signing Laguna Beach’s Cultural Plan on March 29.  Money aside, this plan is so intensely generic, it will distract the City further from recapturing its cultural direction and relevance.  The plan specifies 4 goals with 46 sub-goals, which each is a major project by itself. Randomly spending money on art projects without a creative direction usually results in lukewarm artistic expression. Money does not guarantee interesting art, creative direction does.  See the laundry list of goals and sub-goals for yourself on page 22 of Laguna’s cultural plan:

A. The 4 Top Goals of Cultural Plan: Identified by the Cultural Planning Group with help of the City’s Steering Committee, resulting in forty six subgoals (sg) .
Goal 1 with 17sg: Facilitate and enable working artists to have thriving careers based in Laguna Beach. How would this be possible and how do you select the artists that are deemed worthy?
Goal 2 with 20sg: Expand the availability of engaging arts offerings for residents and visitors. We don’t even have a central art’s calendar or cultural app that informs the public with complete list of daily updated events.
Goal 3 with 4sg: Enhance Laguna Beach’s artistic identity and reputation through greater connection with the global art world and multi-disciplinary creativity. How can this be achieved, when Laguna’s own art stakeholders hardly communicate with each other?
Referring to goal 1-3: Instead of providing few selected artists with studios, housing and money, it is more objective to provide free temporary venues, where they can express themselves in relation to their following and reputation. To get a venue, all an artist would have to provide is a driver’s license and fill out a simple 1 page form.
Goal 4 with 5sg: Enhance cultural leadership for Laguna Beach. How do you decide who is a cultural leader and who is the right cultural leader for Laguna Beach?

B. Missing Focus & Direction: A defined vision helps the City exude a certain “vibe.” A vision that the City can support, will similar to align stakeholders to pull in the same direction. Austin, Texas did the same years ago, when it evaluated its strengths and decided on becoming an Art City by choosing to be a music center with the motto “Live Music Capital of the World.” By blossoming into their vision, Austin now supports two classical orchestras, and other art. Without a creative direction/vision it is impossible to strategically spend money on projects that compliment the City. The vision outlined in the Cultural Plan are generic goals that could be applied to any city. Art for art’s sake does not cut it these days anymore.  Without a specific context or overall direction, the 46 selected goals will result in lukewarm cultural expression at best.

C. Laguna Beach Needs To Establish First What It Wants To Be.
a. Another Beach City with beautiful nature, water sports, recreation and art. Primarily, be an affluent community and tourist destination that has a lot to offer, but is not particularly culturally relevant.
b. A Beach City with beautiful nature, water sports, recreation and a specific kind of art-slant like “Laguna The Art Festival Town.” An affluent community and tourist destination that is known for the famous art festivals it presents.
c. A Beach City Internationally known As California’s Art City. A city that offers new and established artists a way to express their creativity, from coffee shop to gallery to festival to beach. A yearlong cultural scene that is alive and interactive internationally, thereby creating an artistic imprint worldwide. (obviously, choice b and c does not exclude or diminish choice a)
d. Other

D. The Result Of Signing In The Current Cultural Plan.  If Laguna votes for this cultural plan, we will end up having a lot of ideas, money will be disbursed. This plan will keep us busy and distracted from what we really need to do; establishing an updated path that distinguishes Laguna Beach from other cities that focus on the arts. Laguna has become a summer tourist destination with festivals. Do we really want to keep pretending Laguna Beach is culturally important with the longing that somehow her spirit will return, or do we want to start a discourse that elevates this beautiful city to a new glory?

E. Art Consultants Are Like Universities. You have to know what you want before you engage them. A university can not teach you what you want, but if you choose to be a lawyer, Yale will do its best that you graduate. The consultants voiced repeatedly that it is not their job to tell Laguna Beach what its vision ought to be, and correct they are. Who in the City ignored that the city has to have a cultural direction first before engaging consultants?

F. About Vision and Funds: If we have a clear cultural direction $500 or $500,000 will get us closer to the determined goal.  It is more important to have a clear purpose than disbursing money to artists or art organizations. For example: LCAD was minuscule first then grew into a respected art college. Last year, Jonathan Burke expressed his updated vision, to become the Juilliard of visual arts. The realization of Jonathan Burke’s vision could be executed with a lot of money or little, but the direction where LCAD is moving toward is clear.

G. Money Does Not Guarantee Better Art, Understanding and Nurturing Its Function Does: In big companies and successful not-profits the vision statement is at least worked over every two years to define the companies function and the direction it is going. The lack of cultural clarity only costs money and creates medial results.

H. Moving Forward With A Clear Vision: How do we know that we arrived at the right direction/vision? When stakeholders and the public follows and the execution of projects harmoniously fall into place, complimenting each other to a greater good. After Laguna arrives at a cultural direction, we can revisit the current cultural plan and integrate previous suggestions that are in alignment. If necessary, exchange the rest with goals that are more aligned to amplify Laguna’s own Voice. Keep in mind, government’s cultural function is to expose as many people as possible to the arts for the least amount of money. It is not to act as the arbiter or curator of which art is worthy or not.

In 2015, I have been asked by Peter Blake of Peter Blake Gallery, Robert Holton of Drizzle Gallery, Michael Roy of LGOCA, and many others to look into the Laguna Beach Art Business and give them my assessment. Michaell Magrutsche is an Austrian-Californian multimedia artist, creative consultant, art educator and former Cultural Arts Commissioner of Newport Beach living in Laguna Beach.

Other Related Articles:

Where Is Laguna’s Cultural Relevance?
What’s Missing From Laguna’s Cultural Arts Plan?
Laguna Beach Digital Cultural Strategy
Draft Laguna Beach Cultural Plan & Appendix 

Where Is Laguna’s Cultural Relevance?

Cultural Relevance? People expressing dissatisfaction with the outdated cultural programming and leaving town for art events elsewhere are already one of the biggest findings in the draft of the latest Laguna cultural plan. What to do to prevent diminishing cultural relevance? How to hinder citizens to attend other-where or prevent local artists to show in cities where they have better exhibition opportunities than Laguna Beach? Art-focused cities like Santa Ana, Brea, Orange with Chapman University, Fullerton and Costa Mesa are all vying for an arts-interested audience. What steps can Laguna take to become a cultural hotbed again? First, get clarity about the arts.

How Important Is Art For Laguna Beach? What does Laguna Beach want to be known for to contribute to the world? This is the most important question to be answered to create an executable future vision/plan for the City. Without it, any future choices will be muddied and limit Laguna’s potential. To aligning citizens and stakeholders about the importance of art it is imperative to answer these questions.
What do artists want from the City?
What do galleries and festivals want from the City?
What do art educators and museums want from the City?
What does the City want from artists, galleries, festivals, art educators and museums?

Laguna Beach Needs To Establish First What It Wants To Be Citizens and Visitors.
a. Another Beach City with beautiful nature, water sports, recreation and art. Primarily, be an affluent community and tourist destination that has a lot to offer, but is not particularly culturally relevant.
b. A Beautiful Beach City with a specific kind of art-slant like “Laguna The Art Festival Town.” An affluent community and tourist destination that is known for the famous festivals it presents.
c. A Beach City Internationally known As California’s Art City. A city that offers new and established artists a way to express their creativity, from coffee shop to gallery to festival to beach. A yearlong cultural scene that is alive and interactive internationally, thereby creating an artistic imprint worldwide. (obviously, choice b and c does not exclude or diminish choice a)
d. Anyone has another Idea?

How The Evolving Of Artists Affects Laguna Beach’s Future: Since 2008, the only art related businesses that grew exponentially where art and music supply stores, accompanied by GoPro mini video cameras to capture it all. Technology and digitization allows to create very affordable and high quality products. There are not only more artists than ever out there, but through inventions of materials and technologies like 3D printers, more artists create more creative works. This trend is supported by intuitive usage, lower learning curves and available knowledge (140 million plus YouTube results of “how to art” videos.)

Buy Art in Laguna Beach

The Power Of Exposure: Even though the web is perfect to connect with one’s favorite art or artist, nothing beats connecting with art in person. What prevents great content to be exposed is venues are either too expensive, demand too many limitations, insurance and paperwork or are controlled by groups and organisations that decide by committee what art is and what not.
Make it easy for artists to express themselves in Laguna Beach. Open the City to international talent and all art. Instead of creating an additional international art festival, why not first open all existing festivals to international competition and keep them open all year long for different shows?

Vienna/Austria had the same curse with the classical arts as Laguna has with its history. Vienna opened up to support not only the classics but invited international art and artists. This decision raised the level of all local artisans. Vienna is today Europe’s art performance headquarter with hundreds of daily art experiences of all kind.

In 2015, I have been asked by Peter Blake of Peter Blake Gallery, Robert Holton of Drizzle Gallery, Michael Roy of LGOCA, and many others to look into the Laguna Beach Art Business and give them my assessment. Michaell Magrutsche is an Austrian-Californian multimedia artist, creative consultant, art educator and former Cultural Arts Commissioner of Newport Beach living in Laguna Beach.

Draft Laguna Beach Cultural Plan
Laguna Beach Cultural Plan Appendix