Diane Valentino and a group of like-minded colleagues hope to democratize the arts on a local level.
By Tess Eyrich
Walking into Mystic Arts, the recently opened co-op space at 664 S. Coast Hwy., is a throwback of an experience. From the psychedelic art pieces that line the walls to the sounds of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” pumping through the stereo system, the space has a distinctly vintage feel that’s only compounded when you consider its ties to Mystic Arts World, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s legendary Laguna head shop that mysteriously burned down in 1970. Quietly launched in January, the new Mystic Arts is a gallery and event space shared by 11 artists under the direction of 10-year Sawdust Art Festival exhibitor Diane Valentino. Here, Diane shares her thoughts on the reincarnated shop and Laguna’s creative community.
Laguna Beach Magazine: So, tell us a bit about the concept of the new Mystic Arts.
Diane Valentino: The original Mystic Arts World was sort of a gathering spot and a go-to place in Laguna, and I think that’s kind of what we take from that for our shop. We want it to be a gathering place for Laguna locals. Not only are we a shop and have things that we want people to come in and buy, but we’re also going to do small events here.
LBM: The original Mystic Arts World has developed a pretty legendary reputation over the years. What was it really like?
DV: It had metaphysical books, a meditation room, a health food bar, incense, clothing, posters, Indian rugs on the floor and artwork. … What I remember from it was that it was a destination. You went there, whether you just walked around and maybe ran into a couple of people you knew, or you bought a package of incense or a book or a smoothie.
LBM: What are your main goals for the future?
DV: I want everybody who’s invested [his or her] time and energy and money into it to be making money. I want it to be an asset to local artists, local people. The whole premise of doing this was to give fellow artists and myself a place where we can make money year-round, instead of being so dependent on Sawdust and a few little street fairs here and there.
LBM: You specialize in textile art—how did you get started in that medium?
DV: My mom taught me to sew when I was in sixth grade, and that summer I started sewing all my own clothes. We were a very blue-collar family up in Garden Grove, and the clothing budget wasn’t huge. … After going through a graphic design career and a sales career, I wasn’t doing art anymore, but I wanted to do something creative. I bought a used sewing machine and started sewing again. … I started making purses with recycled and reclaimed fabrics, and that led to making some jackets and vests. Then about five years ago, I started making hats.”
LBM: As an artist, what are your thoughts on Laguna’s creative scene? How have things changed for local artists over the years?
DV: In some ways, change has been really good, but in others, not so much. Ninety-five percent of the local galleries certainly do not feature Laguna artists, and considering that Laguna Beach is known as an arts colony, I think that’s kind of sad. We shouldn’t be known just as a town full of art galleries; we should be known as a town that supports artists.
LBM: What are your future hopes for the local arts community?
DV: Well, a lot of us are getting older. I hope that young people can find a home here, a space where they can appreciate all of the wonderful things about Laguna Beach and be able to put that into their art, and be able to survive. I truly believe that if you’re an arts colony, you have to grow your own artists and support your own artists. Any old place can put up a bunch of art galleries, but the spirit of being an arts colony is in your people.