Category Archives: Public Art Financing

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

Art, A Death-Spiral Reality Show

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.

Art, a Death-Spiral Reality Show


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.

Art & Art Organisations & Art Politics

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.

Art, a Death-Spiral Reality Show, Part 2


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.

Art, a Death-Spiral Reality Show, Part 3


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.

Direct Links:

Art, a Death-Spiral Reality Show Part 1 (Laguna Independent)

Art, a Death-Spiral Reality Show Part 2 (Laguna Independent)

Art, a Death-Spiral Reality Show Part 3 (Laguna Independent)


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: 

www.selfawareart.comA. 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?

www.selfawareart.comF. 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 


Public Art Financing NB Sculpture Garden

Newport Beach Sculpture Garden Financing Controversy

Artist Ray Katz

Artist Ray Katz

Status Quo: Newport Beach Civic Center, a place of government, wisdom and culture. Having City Hall, the Library and the Sculpture Garden all in one place represents a beautiful nucleus that represents the City and our community. Art-focused cities like Laguna Beach, Santa Ana, Brea, Orange with Chapman University, Fullerton and Costa Mesa are all vying for an arts-interested audience. In addition, the Orange County Museum of Art is moving from Newport Beach to Costa Mesa.

Core Questions:
Does the City Government want to include culture? Yes or no
If no:
Let’s stop all arts funding that is not already in the general budget. The value of art projects only gets muddled when art is used conditionally as a band aid for political image improvement.
If yes:
a. Does the City want to be known as a city with art, using culture at its bare minimum?
b. Does the City want to be known for a special kind of art? Music Festivals, Theater etc.
c. Does the City want to be know as an art city? Where art & culture is an important part of Newport Beach’s daily lifestyle, interwoven with businesses, recreation and entertainment.

Artist Ivan McLean

Artist Ivan McLean

Without a clear answer to the aforementioned core questions and its resulting cultural direction/vision from the City Council, art will always be hit or miss. The Arts Commission and city staff can help and execute within any budget of $1000 or $5 million, but without clear direction art will stay a blow in the dark.

Core Problem:
Art & Government are two extremes clashing against each other when ignoring the elephant in the room, value. If one looks at art only financially then there is little reason for art. On the other hand, looking at art from an art for art’s sake standpoint, only minimal or no financial responsibility seems justified. How can you bring these two opposites together?

Solution – Understanding & Establishing Value:
1. Stop seeing art as an intangible money pit. Before the City invests in any project, establish each project’s intrinsic values.

2. Create a clearly established cultural vision that includes all City-desired intrinsic values of cultural programs it wants to support. These established values allow and remind new and old financially responsible parties about why the City chooses to invest in the selected kind of arts.
Example: The sculpture garden was initially created to attract more visitors to the park. It did just that, but since there was never a financially justifiably visitor range established, and the intrinsic values where not promoted, the sculpture garden landed in a gray zone. Art projects without identifiable value lead to –

3. Government sees art mostly as numbers to be paid out, which nullifies all human effort and financial investment that it had been given. Many big companies invest in art, because they are aware of all values that supporting the arts provides for their business.

Strengths of The Sculpture Garden:

Artist David Buckingham

Besides people visiting the library, City Hall, or driving by on the park’s three surrounding roads (MacArthur, San Miguel and Avocado), all are exposed to some art of the park.
The sculpture garden rotates half (currently 10) of its art pieces annually, which is the most important value creator. Its annual rotation provides fresh web content, gathers attention from the public and media, while creating an image and art history for the City. Additionally, the new artworks help more artists being exposed, create discourse, and controversy. That is exactly what art is supposed to do, starting dialogues and make us think and feel. In addition, the elements of sun and saltwater are very harsh. A cosmetic restoration would be advisable after the two years of exhibition anyway. This operating system is perfect as is.

Financing The Sculpture Garden?

Artist Warren Techentin

Since the City Council decided to create a sculpture garden, it is their decision to keep financing it or lay it to rest. If the City does not want to allocate the funds for the next exchange of the statues, it has to make the decision to end this project and explain why, as well as being responsible of how to phase it out. The Arts Commission is run by volunteers in an advisory position. If the city asks for a sculpture garden, the commission will advise and support city staff to execute such a project smoothly. The Arts Commission can not take responsibility to finance such an endeavor, because that is not their job, nor have they signed up to be expert art fundraisers. To push the financial responsibility for the sculpture garden from the City to the Arts Commission is unrealistic, since today, raising private or company funds is usually a high paid job for an art fundraising expert. If the City does not want to pay all, any, or no money for the arts, but still wishes to support our City’s culture, it might want to consider hiring such an expert fundraiser to secure the necessary cultural budget for the City.

“Art is beautiful creation that blossoms through the artist, reflecting the Source from within. The sole purpose of expressing the Arts is enhancing the quality of human existence.”
Michaell Magrutsche

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