The Laguna College of Art & Design has long been an important part of the city’s cultural fabric, partnering with the local community to educate and elevate young artists.
By Tanya Yacina
In the late 1950s, a group of artists exhibiting at Festival of Arts came up with an idea to establish an art school in Laguna Beach in order to educate and influence future generations of artists. The Laguna Beach School of Art, as it was known at the time, was founded in 1961 as a nonprofit college located on the Festival of Arts grounds. The small art and design school quickly gained notoriety, eventually earning accreditations from both the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Upon joining the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design, the Laguna Beach School of Art opted to change its name, and the Laguna College of Art & Design was born.
Today, LCAD is one of the leading art and design colleges in the country, offering 11 undergraduate majors, eight minors and three graduate degree options in addition to a post-baccalaureate program.. The student population includes more than 600 full-time students who utilize seven sites throughout Laguna Beach.
“LCAD is [a place] where students [can] find a unique and creative community to realize their full potential as artists,” says LCAD President Jonathan Burke, who started out as a teacher at LCAD in 1980. “It is [a place] where students are grounded in classical traditions of representational art and contemporary storytelling, [and] … combines instruction with leading technology.”
The college has its own teaching gallery located in downtown Laguna Beach, which, according to Burke, serves as a place for students and visitors to interact with one another and experience art firsthand. LCAD’s Gallery Mentorship Program pairs BFA drawing and painting seniors with local galleries to exhibit their art and educate them about the business side of operating a professional gallery. On top of this gallery partnership, there are other components of the local community that helps these blossoming students grow into the artists they want to be. Last summer alone, there were 12 LCAD alumni exhibiting at Laguna Beach’s three annual art festivals.
“A supportive community changes the way students think, the way they make art and the way they see and express the world,” Burke says. “And when those students graduate and become working professionals, it is now their art that inspires and changes us and how we see the world.”
From community service to working on projects with big brands like Vans and Nike, LCAD students get involved far beyond the classroom.
To provide students with an immersive educational experience and help them tap into their creative talents, LCAD’s Graphic Design & Digital Media program partners with leading brands and organizations such as Nike, Vans, Hurley, Sony Music Entertainment, the Anaheim Ducks hockey team and New York City’s Museum of Modern Art—with Nike even citing the college’s design programs as some of the best in the world. Students from this program have a variety of skill sets, ranging from print, advertising, web, motion and video components to iPad development, packaging and virtual reality. But these partnerships with big-name companies don’t end upon graduation, with many alumni continuing on to build branding for various Fortune 500 companies. In fact, according to LCAD, more than 98 percent of the school’s graphic design graduates find work in their chosen fields.
Over the years, LCAD has received prestigious recognition for its programming and degrees, not only in America but globally. The Princeton Review ranked both the graduate and undergraduate game design programs in the top 20 worldwide. Another college admissions services company, Animation Careers Review, listed LCAD’s Graphic Design & Digital Media program as one of the top 10 programs of its kind in California for 2019.
Recently, for the 2018-2019 school year, LCAD was also selected as a participating school in the federal Yellow Ribbon Program, a post-9/11 GI Bill that permits private colleges to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help cover tuition expenses for veterans.
Building a Community
While art may take center stage at LCAD, those connected to the college are very much in touch with the world around them. Students, faculty and staff immerse themselves in the Laguna Beach community in many ways, including beach cleanups, marine mammal rescues, on-campus fundraisers and partnerships with local nonprofit arts organizations. The college’s Board of Trustees is also composed of many Laguna Beach residents and business owners who play an active role in the community.
Last year, LCAD launched a community service program that helps promote and track students’ involvement with local organizations. Thus far, students have partnered with and volunteered for Laguna Beach Rotary Club’s Grapes for Grads event, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Laguna Beach Live and the Surfrider Foundation. Always committed to the town, LCAD is also currently working with nearby organizations to assist in providing space for parking during the summer as well as meeting and exhibition spaces and public art for the community’s enjoyment.