“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. 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.
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