A thriving art walk signifies a town that is serious about art. –By Dennis Power, President, Laguna College of Art & Design | Photos by Phil Blair
It’s free, it’s public, it’s self-guided. It brings together art lovers and community friends to the ever-evolving art scene in Laguna Beach. With exciting and unique offerings downtown, and up and down Coast Highway, First Thursdays Art Walk celebrates one of the outstanding attributes of our special town.
The first Thursday of every month, Laguna Beach galleries open their doors in the evening to those who want to see the latest art and engage old and new friends in talk of all things artful. The owners and managers are a hospitable bunch, often offering a bit of liquid refreshment to stimulate conversation. The event attracts potential buyers as well as fans. Participants can never tell who they will run into on the street or browsing the latest collection or special exhibit. And who’s to say one can’t stop at one of our many fine-dining establishments for a bite to eat and drink while undergoing the rigors of strolling Laguna’s downtown? Art walk is indeed a very fun happening.
What I like as much as chatting with gallery personnel and viewing what is on display is meeting up with friends and savoring the local experience. It is vibrant. And unlike similar events in other cities, there is a free shuttle that whisks you up and down the avenues, dropping you off at key locations.
Many cities have art walk events, but few bring them off as well as Laguna. Los Angeles’ Downtown Art Walk is pretty hip, but it is, well, in downtown LA. I’ve regularly attended San Francisco’s equivalent and it is pretty cool, but you have to get yourself around, as there is no shuttle service. Seattle is nice, but there are about 55 venues to take in, and isn’t it kind of rainy up there?
Raising the Bar
So, what is special about Laguna’s First Thursdays Art Walk? There are more than 40 member galleries representing the range of art offered in town. There are three sections in which galleries are concentrated: North Coast Highway, central downtown and South Coast Highway.
The last art walk of the year is always special to me because it is a time when many of the gallery owners and managers have worked with senior fine art students from Laguna College of Art & Design, helping them learn with it takes to work with a gallery and the public. The instruction culminates in being invited to display a painting or drawing at art walk. I’m always grateful for the professionals spending their time as mentors to the next generation of fine artists. Robin Fuld organizes this event as part of her Professional Studies classes: invaluable assistance for aspiring artists.
An indication of the support art walk has is evident from those who make it possible. The member galleries and the City of Laguna Beach sponsor the event. A number of other organizations are generous as well, including: the Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters, the Laguna Beach Board of Realtors, Laguna Beach Magazine, The Laguna Playhouse, Sawdust Art Festival, Where Magazine and Seven-degrees.
I asked Rebecca Barber, owner of Studio Arts and current president of art walk, what she finds most special about the event. “First Thursdays Art Walk allows the public an opportunity to enjoy an evening of browsing the member galleries in a relaxed atmosphere. Our visitors may view everything from contemporary to traditional art and expand their knowledge by meeting the artists, and in some cases watching art demonstrations. This is the perfect night to introduce yourself and ask questions of the artists or the gallery owners.” Last December, Rebecca hosted a senior fine arts student from the college. Her gallery was one of many that gives students an opportunity to learn from the pros what it is like to run a gallery and what they expect from the artists with whom they work.
Student Hanna Cosner couldn’t say enough good words about the support they felt from the gallery owners and the people who attended the December art walk. Hannah confessed how daunting entrance into the commercial art world could be. “The exposure given to us at the art walk has been such an incredible experience for myself and my peers, and has built a confidence and knowledge that could only have been gained through the mentoring program.”
Sian Poeschl, an artist herself and cultural arts manager for the City of Laguna Beach, was significantly involved in establishing our art walk in 1998 and is proud of how it has developed. She singles out the spirit of collaboration among galleries and the excitement of artists having their opening night receptions: “It draws so many people to our city and further enhances our reputation in the arts.”
There is an economic benefit to art walk as well. Sian adds, “Not only is Art Walk important as a cultural event, its contribution to the economy of the city is a vital component,” citing a recent study that showed the arts in total contribute nearly $55 million in direct and indirect spending. Sian sums it up well: “First Thursday’s Art Walk has evolved as an opportunity to truly showcase our best assets and celebrate the diversity we offer. For an event of three hours, 12 times a year, it is unarguably one of the best year-round events that Laguna offers.” LBM