Laguna Beach’s summer art festivals return to town.
By Ashley Ryan
Last year, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to many things, but none so much as the arts. From live performances and concerts to galleries, museums and art shows, everything was placed on hold as the country scrambled to figure out what the future of live events looked like.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2021, and we have an idea of how things will go as Laguna Beach’s summer art festivals make their triumphant return. Sawdust Art Festival, Festival of Arts (plus the beloved Pageant of the Masters) and Laguna Art-A-Fair are all returning with splendor in July, picking up where they left off last year rather than starting from scratch.
Although there are still some unknowns with the state of California opening up mere weeks before the festivals kick off—guidelines on masks, social distancing and limited capacity seem to be loosening by the moment—these three events are sure to bring a flurry of excitement and creativity back to town this summer.
As the only one of this town’s three shows that requires a home ZIP code in Laguna Beach, Sawdust Art Festival is packed with resident artists eager to showcase their work. And, although the pandemic hit Laguna locals hard, Sawdust was the only festival to open at all in the last year, offering both a limited show in the fall and a pop-up weekend this spring.
Running July 2 through Sept. 5, visitors can view artwork from nearly 170 different artists, 20 of which have never exhibited at Sawdust before. In addition to those that will be on-site to showcase their pieces, a small gallery section will feature additional works by roughly a dozen creators who aren’t able to attend in person.
Many of the elements that visitors look forward to will be returning as well, including food stands, artist demonstrations and live entertainment, with all three stages featuring musical performers day in and day out. It’s possible that the festival’s on-site classes will return as well, though it depends on the pandemic regulations in effect when the festival gets underway.
New this year at the shady, eucalyptus-covered grounds, guests can view two recently painted murals as well. One—located outside of the front gates along the frontage road—was painted by Cliff Wassmann, who decided to showcase an array of marine life found in local waters. Titled “Underwater Garden,” the blue-hued painting is quintessentially Laguna. The second mural, a smaller piece designed as a photo opportunity, was created by oil painter Fernando Micheli.
Micheli is no stranger to the festival, having exhibited there since 2015. His plein air creations were dreamed up following an illustrious career in landscape architecture and design, and he now considers his artwork to be a second career—one that he loves.
A number of other oil painters will be on display as well. This summer, see Tara Luther’s surreal fantasy pieces, Lisa Rainey’s vibrant floral bouquets, Jason Hanck’s scenic California landscapes and more. But the fun doesn’t end there. Explore artwork in other mediums as well, from Jason McQuaid’s shiny blown glass creations and Brynne Cogorno’s screenprinted tank tops and kitchen towels to Jeff Lavinsky’s wildlife paintings set atop vintage maps. Still others will showcase ceramics, leatherwork, jewelry, watercolor, mixed media, acrylic, sculpture, photography, resin, wood and even mirror art.
Painting & Performance
Festival of Arts, too, is picking up where it left off, using this year’s event to showcase what has been on pause—which the organization started planning in 2019. There are two main facets of the festival: the juried Fine Art Show and the ever-unique Pageant of the Masters performance.
Artwork will be on display beginning July 5, with more than 100 creative types from Southern California showcasing their work until early September. Many of these artists, who were already creating, have even more compelling stories born out of the pandemic. Local glass artist Christopher Jeffries was forced to stop making art during the pandemic due to financial reasons, but was given the chance to build a public art installation for the city that offered both inspiration and the opportunity to create once again. Randy Bader, who started exhibiting at Festival of Arts more than 40 years ago, lost his wife during the pandemic.
In addition to the main juried show, the special Junior Art Exhibition will return as well, with more than 200 pieces from Orange County’s pre-K through 12th grade students. A special party on July 11 will celebrate those selected for this youth showcase.
But the fun doesn’t end there. While guests wander the open-air galleries viewing the artwork, many days will also feature a variety of musical acts as well. For the Friday Favorites music series, there will be eclectic offerings while Saturday will see two separate experiences: Concerts on the Green in the afternoon and performances by tribute bands in the evening. Also, Art, Jazz, Wine & Chocolate will return on Thursdays, as will the charity-fueled Celebrity Benefit Concert & Pageant on Aug. 28.
And then, of course, there’s Pageant of the Masters, a performance of “tableaux vivants,” or living pictures, that re-creates famous art pieces using real people. This year’s theme, “Made in America: Trailblazing Artists and Their Stories,” was supposed to take place last summer, but was moved to 2021 when the pandemic canceled last year’s FOA entirely. The show is a celebration of those who made their mark in American art, but also those who were inspired by our forefathers and the liberation efforts they brought to the U.S.
The 2021 iteration launches July 7, only two days after FOA’s juried art show, and both will run through Sept. 3.
Unlike the other two shows in town, Laguna Art-A-Fair does not have residency requirements, meaning that artists may apply from Laguna Beach, around the United States or even across the globe. The end result is a showcase of pieces that moved the judges during the selection process.
Similar to the others, however, Art-A-Fair is inviting back those who weren’t able to exhibit last year due to the festival’s closure, and giving them a second chance in 2021. With more than 100 artisans showcasing artwork in a variety of mediums, there is sure to be something for everyone within the festival gates.
Most of the artists here offer 2D pieces depicting everything from landscapes, wildlife and florals to portraits of people. Using oils, acrylics, watercolors, mixed media or photography, these creators are presenting varied styles, scenes and techniques in addition to the subject matter. Some artists to watch include Kathleen Bowen, Janna Arutyunyan, Michael Cahill, Hasmik Sahakyan, Emilee Reed and more.
There are also around 25 creators showcasing 3D art at the event, including Leonard Duarte’s wooden boxes, Bob Johnson’s jewelry, handcrafted fused art glass from Lynleigh Love, unique wire sculptures by Karapet Kouyoumjan, Mercedese Bantz’s clay pieces and many different experts in ceramic and glass.
A few years ago, the Art-A-Fair building itself became a piece of art when it received a vibrant makeover with rainbow colors, geometric patterns, dots, squiggles and more covering all of its faceted sides. This funky design serves as the perfect representation for Laguna Beach: unique, colorful and completely one of a kind. In addition to adding a pop of fun to the festival, this has become a popular spot for selfies, Instagram shots and more.
The show will run from July 2 through Sept. 5—same as the Sawdust festival—and will incorporate live music on the weekends, as is standard for Art-A-Fair. The organization also recently launched The Market at Laguna Art-A-Fair, an online shop where visitors can purchase merchandise with the artists’ work printed on it. This year-round venture offers a chance for art lovers to shop anytime, rather than simply when the festival is taking place.
So come one, come all, to all three of these iconic festivals. Welcome the artists back to town, because they’ve surely missed displaying their artwork just as much as we’ve missed viewing it.
While COVID-19 regulations loosened June 15, check with festival organizers for the latest updates on mask requirements, social distancing and more.
Sawdust Art Festival: sawdustartfestival.org
Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters: foapom.com
Laguna Art-A-Fair: art-a-fair.com