A Creative Collective

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Bob Ross_Courtesy of Laguna Art-A-Fair
Robert “Bob” Ross, the newly appointed president of Laguna Art-A-Fair | Photo by Laguna Art-A-Fair

Robert “Bob” Ross, the newly appointed president of Laguna Art-A-Fair, talks about his passion for collaboration and his vision for the festival’s future.

By Ashley Probst


Originally a businessman, Robert “Bob” Ross accidentally became a commercial photographer after the photographer he hired to shoot images didn’t fit his vision for a project. He reshot it himself and the company ended up hiring him as a regular contributor. He later expanded his portfolio to include wildlife photography, which led him to a career as a professional artist.

One day, a friend encouraged him to try his hand at painting. “Next thing I knew, I was selling paintings,” says Ross, who has been exhibiting at Laguna Art-A-Fair for 15 years and was recently appointed president of the organization’s board of directors.

“I love the arts … and I’ve been very involved with it for the last 40 years,” Ross says. “… When you’re around artists, you have to just let the world go by and let your imagination take over.”

Over the years, Ross has fallen in love with Art-A-Fair and the artistic collective it has brought together—including his wife, Laura Curtin-Ross, who he met and married on the property near cascading waterfalls.

Here, Ross reflects on his professional journey and discusses his vision for the festival’s future, which he plans to achieve through a collaborative approach.

The colorful entrance to Laguna Art-A-Fair

Laguna Beach Magazine: Can you share a bit about your personal experience with Laguna Art-A-Fair?

Robert Ross: My [late] wife[, Sarah], and I were going to the shows [in Laguna Canyon] on a regular basis. … We walked into Art-A-Fair and fell in love with the atmosphere of the place, fell in love with the people there, with the art that was just so amazing. We thought it was fantastic, so we made … a point [of] coming back the next year and they had lots of new art—plus the artists that we liked so much the previous year—and we were just enthralled. … [Sarah] … said, “You know, why don’t you try to … jury in?” So I did and I got juried in, and it was wonderful. I’ve been so happy there.


LBM: As an artist, what aspects of the festival resonate with you the most?

RR: We have such a vast variety of art. I mean, just things that I wouldn’t think of on my own.  … It’s just amazing to see people’s imaginations soar and, at Art-A-Fair, we encourage our artists to work at their booths. … It’s amazing to stand there and watch them work. I’m in awe of some of these people.


LBM: As the newly appointed president, what are your goals for the festival?

RR: I want to expand. … [We’ve added] a beer garden [and] Mediterranean-style restaurant in the back with tastings and different beers and wines and alcoholic drinks. … We’ve gone online with almost everything, and we’re selling tickets online. … We have workshops for everybody, every different style of workshops, [like] photography, … oil painting, [acrylic] pours. … We’re bringing in some really great bands this year. … We’re going to have professional dancers come in and work with our people—I mean, free lessons. … And we’ve redesigned Art-A-Fair, so it’s more open—[there’s a] good flow of air, [a] good flow of traffic.


LBM: There are all of these exciting changes at Laguna Art-A-Fair, but the festival also has a very rich history. How do you honor that tradition while bringing in these fresh elements?

RR: We have artists that have been with us for over 20 years—some over 30 years—and it’s amazing. They keep the tradition of Art-A-Fair alive. … When a new artist comes in, … we have a buddy system and we assign them one of the older artists who ha[s] … been there to help them fit right in. … And yet, the new artists also have the ability to inject their new ideas, their new philosophies. … We’re trying to stay relevant, to stay up and modern, and at the same time not lose what made us so wonderful in the past, and we’re working hard to walk that line.


LBM: How are you encouraging engagement between artists, visitors and the local community?

RR: We’re very active in the Chamber now. … And we’re working with the other art shows—there are two other very good art shows. … We have tickets that allow them to get into all three shows, and it just encourages people to come down. They love coming down when they can walk from one show to the other … and they see 400 to 500 artists in one small area.


LBM: What are some of the biggest challenges for Laguna Art-A-Fair, and how will you navigate them to ensure its continued success?

RR: The biggest challenge is always having people show up and the economy … [affecting] people wanting to buy art. … The economy this year is surprisingly good. And so I think that’s going to be helpful for all the art shows, but we need to help people understand that … art is not just an … expensive thing for the super rich. … We will have everything, from fairly inexpensive that almost anybody can purchase up to very expensive. … We try to emphasize the fact that if you come to our show, there is something there that you can afford.


LBM: Is there anything else that you’d like readers to know?

RR: Art-A-Fair … is going to be the place to be this summer. … There’s something for you there, even if it’s just walking around and enjoying the art. You’re not going to see this variety of art anywhere else. … You can walk up and talk to an artist that’s selling a $15,000 or $20,000 piece of art and they’ll stand there for an hour explaining to you how they did it and what they were thinking when they did it. That’s not an opportunity you get very often. And … we’ll teach you to paint, we’ll teach you to dance, we’ll show you beautiful work, and you can sit … [on] beautiful grounds. … I encourage everybody to come down and experience what the new Art-A-Fair is like.

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