Highlighted by the Festival of Arts’ 90th anniversary, Laguna’s annual art celebrations return this summer in a fete of creativity.
By Sharael Kolberg
Laguna Beach has a long history as an artists colony, dating back to the early 1900s. Since that time, our art-focused coastal town has kept the tradition alive through numerous galleries, organizations and festivals, all dedicated to the arts. The popular summer months bring a trove of visitors that not only come for the beautiful beaches, impressive restaurants and sunny skies, but also for the art festivals. Both tourists and locals alike flock to Festival of Arts, Sawdust Art Festival and Laguna Art-A-Fair to browse and buy art in every medium, from plein air paintings and decorative pottery to fine jewelry and hand-blown glass.
In addition to the artwork to peruse and purchase, there’s also live music, art classes, plenty of food and drinks, and a sense of community that these festivals help to foster. Lagunans take pride in supporting local artists and, after the devastating downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the festivals are back this summer in full force with new artists, old favorites and special events.
Festival of Arts
Boasting both a fine art show and Pageant of the Masters production, Festival of Arts turns 90 this year. One of the nation’s oldest and highly acclaimed juried fine art shows, which annually attracts more than 225,000 attendees, the festival will take place July 5 to Sept. 2 this summer.
Started in 1932, it has only been canceled during World War II and in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pageant of the Masters was added the second year, in 1933.The festival has grown over the decades and, this season, more than 120 Orange County artists will show their work including 16 first-time exhibitors.
Festivalgoers can meet the artists, watch demonstrations, listen to bands perform and enjoy food and drinks in the comfortable concert area. In addition to professional artwork on display, there is also a Junior Art Exhibit with more than 200 pieces of artwork created by OC students.
“Looking back at the original Festival of Arts in 1932, there was something for everyone to enjoy. That tradition continues today,” says Sharbie Higuchi, marketing and public relations director for Festival of Arts. “With beautiful art, nightly live music, workshops for all ages, and unique events, the festival is truly a full arts experience.”
The type of art that will be on display includes paintings, sculpture, photography, ceramics, jewelry, charcoal and graphite drawings, glass art, handcrafted wood furniture and more. Ongoing activities also include concerts, guided art tours, art workshops for all ages and one-day events such as Family Art Day on July 10, a 90th anniversary Birthday Bash on Aug. 13 with free admission that will feature Stray Cats’ Lee Rocker performing, and the Festival Runway Fashion Show on Aug. 21.
Pageant of the Masters
Presented outdoors in the Irvine Bowl—at Festival of Arts nightly from July 7 to Sept. 2—the Pageant of the Masters is a world-renowned show of tableaux vivants, or living pictures. Hundreds of local volunteers, both on stage and behind the scenes, bring oversized paintings and sculptures to life complete with elaborate sets, lighting, costumes and makeup.
It’s hard to believe your eyes: The paintings appear as two-dimensional works of art even though there are people and often 3D props that come together for each piece. This year’s 90-minute show, themed “Wonderful World,” features 36 re-created artworks, stage illusions, original music, storytelling and live narration by Richard Doyle, who will take guests on an artistic journey through 17 countries. The international works of art are meant to be a “passport to distant lands, cultural celebrations and fascinating history.”
“Most people have missed their annual vacations to must-see locations for the last three years,” says Pageant Director Diane Challis Davy. “This show, ‘Wonderful World,’ is a reminder to not take our ability to visit other countries for granted. Our show is inspired by James FitzPatrick’s ‘Traveltalks’ newsreels of the 1930s through ’50s.”
In creating this year’s lineup, Challis Davy was also inspired by intrepid American journalist Nellie Bly who set out on a solo journey to circumnavigate the globe in under 80 days after reading Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel “Around the World in 80 Days.” Challis Davy and her team researched Bly’s diaries, travel logs and ephemera related to her ambitious trip.
“It’s going to be an exuberant Pageant and very upbeat show,” Challis Davy says. “I think everybody could use some joy in their lives right now.”
Sawdust Art Festival
Laguna Beach artists have been selling their wares at Sawdust Art Festival since 1965. This year, the festival will run from June 24 through Aug. 28 with 164 local makers selling everything from clothing to woodwork and hand-blown and fused glass to custom jewelry, leather goods and mixed media, plus so much more.
“Guests can enjoy unique art demonstrations such as glass blowing and jewelry making, with the opportunity to converse one-on-one with the artist, and oftentimes [they] are able to purchase art that is made before their very eyes,” says Franky Duschane, director of marketing and public relations for Sawdust Art Festival.
The casual outdoor venue, with sawdust covering the ground and unique booths constructed by each artist, is an entertaining outing for families and friends to gather, meet the artists and take home a piece of handmade art as well as enjoy live music and dancing on three different stages—genres range from rock to folk, country, reggae and surf. There are also roaming entertainers such as a balloon artist, magician and guitarists. And visitors can enjoy a meal together with everything from vegetarian to Mediterranean and Mexican food offered at seven concession stands. A new eatery, A La Carte Gourmet serves a wide-ranging menu from Cajun dishes to meatloaf, pizza and pork belly bao buns.
Additionally, attendees can immerse themselves in the art through complimentary daily demonstrations in mediums from glass blowing to metalsmithing—at three demo booths including a Children’s Art Spot, where a variety of art classes will also be offered in watercolor and acrylic painting, collage, mixed media, textiles and ceramics (both hand building and using a pottery wheel).
Artists come from across the U.S. and, occasionally in past years, other countries to display and sell their unique works at Laguna Art-A-Fair, which has no residency requirements for its exhibitors. Located near Sawdust Art Festival—The Hive shopping center is in between them—Art-A-Fair began back in 1967 and runs from July 1 to Sept. 4 this year. Pieces by 114 artists range from two-dimensional works including oil, acrylic, watercolor and encaustic paintings; pastel, charcoal and colored pencil drawings; photography; mixed media and printmaking as well as three-dimensional works such as jewelry, ceramics, glass, fiber art, leather and woodwork pieces, wood and steel sculptures and more.
“All three shows have their own personalities,” says Laguna Art-A-Fair President Michael Cahill. “I have talked to many customers over the many years I have been at Laguna Art-A-Fair. Many tell me they like our show the best. Others say Festival [of Arts] and others would pick Sawdust. I tell people to see all three—I always like to see all three myself.”
Can’t make it in person? Some artwork is also available online at shop.art-a-fair.com. There is also live music on the weekends and some food options available.
At the festival, in addition to perusing the art, visitors can participate in workshops focused on a different medium every day of the week for an additional fee; the four-hour sessions include a brief break for lunch. The instructors, who are skilled artists themselves, tailor classes to the students’ experience levels from beginners to the more advanced, Cahill explains.
In addition to these interactive experiences, three special events are planned this year: a Sip and Pour, which involves working with poured paint and enjoying a glass of wine on July 30 and Aug. 13; ice cream socials on July 24 and Sept. 3; and a Closing Weekend Celebration with free ice cream and live music Sept. 3 and 4. There will also be live music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon from the Surftones to Jumpin’ Joz with jazz, swing and blues.
Festival of Arts by the Numbers
Cost (in dollars) of a stagecoach ride from El Toro to Laguna Beach in 1900, the year that artist Norman St. Clair traveled by stagecoach to this impressive coastal town that would become an artist colony
The most family members juried into a single festival—sculptors Robert and Mia Krantz, plus their two children, Rebecca and Richard, all exhibited at the 1975 festival.
Days that the second Festival of Arts lasted in 1933
Number of hours that former Pageant of the Masters Director Glen Eytchison and staff members battled flames as canyon wildfires threatened the festival grounds in October 1993
Price (in cents) of admission to the second Festival of Arts in 1933
Amount of a grant (in dollars) from Festival of Arts to help establish the Laguna Beach School of Art in 1961, which would later become Laguna College of Art and Design
Combined number of hours contributed annually by volunteers to present Pageant of the Masters
Source: Festival of Arts
Planning on visiting all three art festivals? Save with a Passport to the Arts pass for $29, which includes one-time entry to Festival of Arts, Laguna Art-A-Fair and Sawdust Art Festival this summer (Pageant of the Masters is not included), plus discounts around town like buy-one, get-one admission to Laguna Art Museum, 20% off Laguna Playhouse tickets to musicals “Saturday Night Fever” and “Xanadu,” and more. (lagunabeachpassport.com)