This past year has seen a wave of turnover in key leadership roles, with new appointments in city government and at local art institutions.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Across Laguna Beach, new leaders have stepped into several high-profile positions in recent months after their longtime predecessors retired or moved on. From the city manager to the police chief, and top jobs at both Laguna Art Museum and Laguna College of Art & Design, the leadership landscape is in the midst of transition.
The reins have been passed, setting the stage for a new group of movers and shakers, each poised to bring fresh perspective to the community. Here, these influential individuals share their goals for moving Laguna forward.
Commitment to Creativity
One of the oldest institutions in town, the Laguna Art Museum can trace its history to 1918 when a group of local artists founded the Laguna Beach Art Association that would eventually establish the museum.
Focused on pieces created by California artists and that represent the life and history of this state, the museum offers patrons the opportunity to view and appreciate the range of artwork through a permanent collection, on-loan exhibitions and educational events. Approximately 440 items from the more-than-3,600-piece collection are also viewable on the website while a library is available to scholars; the museum is in the process of making its catalog available online for anyone to search.
Malcolm Warner served as executive director of the museum for eight years before retiring at the end of 2020. A nationwide search was conducted to fill the position and the museum announced earlier this year that Julie Perlin Lee had been selected for the job. Lee comes with plenty of experience: Before stepping into her new role in May, she had served as executive director of the Catalina Island Museum since 2016 and, before that, was at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana from 2008-2016, moving up through the ranks to vice president of collections and exhibition development.
“When I worked at Bowers Museum, our aim was to bring important art from around the world to Santa Ana. Both opportunities in my career were focused on accessibility and outreach,” Lee says. “The staff and I are working hard to make sure that the museum is inviting, that it connects more closely with [the Laguna Beach] community and that it becomes a more recognized destination for the arts.”
Lee says her vision for Laguna Art Museum is for it to become a widely recognized center for sharing the artistic and creative history of California, energized by visitors and supporters of all ages, and strengthened by scholarship and collaborations with partners in the arts.
A few months after Lee’s appointment, the museum announced the selection of Victoria Gerard for the new role of deputy director. With 15 years of museum management experience, Gerard is also a veteran of the Bowers Museum where she was vice president of programs and collections. There, she oversaw work related to the permanent collection and built partnerships with organizations and museums around the globe, as well as local schools, parents and service organizations to provide virtual and on-site learning opportunities.
“I had the great pleasure of being a part of the Bowers Museum team for 11 years,” Gerard says. “During this time, I not only became intimately acquainted with the creative economy of Orange County, but also gained a real understanding of how the arts bring people together. Making an impact on a museum visitor, no matter how big or small, is a rewarding and motivating experience. It also comes with the responsibility of understanding your community, your audience and what their needs are. These skills will help me drive programming at the Laguna Art Museum that sparks curiosity while also bringing people together.”
Aside from the art museum, there have also been changes at LCAD, where Jonathan Burke served for 40 years as an instructor and administrator (including the last decade as president) before retiring at the end of 2020. The art college, a 60-year-old, internationally recognized institution, announced in late summer the appointment of its 14th president, Steven Brittan. With more than 30 years of leadership and experience in art and design within the realms of academia, government and corporate commercial sectors, Brittan attended Studio Arts College International in Florence, Italy, where he later became an instructor and board member, also serving as president for the last five years.
While president at SACI, Brittan established collaborative partnerships for study abroad students and extended group affiliations with top U.S. art and design institutions. Before the pandemic, he involved SACI students and faculty in creative projects within major art museums and also arranged for SACI to exhibit at the Florence Biennale, which showcases contemporary art and design.
While Brittan has only been in his new position at LCAD for a few months, he is enthusiastic about the possibilities in this role.
“I have been incredibly impressed with the warm welcome and sense of community that the people of Laguna Beach have extended since my first day here,” Brittan says. “As I walk the campus of LCAD and explore the streets of Laguna Beach, I can’t help but feel excitement for what the future holds for me, the college and the artisan community in the area and beyond.”
Transitions have also taken place recently within Laguna Beach’s city government. In April, the City Council unanimously selected Shohreh Dupuis as the new city manager. Dupuis, who previously held the role of assistant city manager and director of Public Works for Laguna Beach, has been part of the city’s team for five years and maintains more than 30 years of municipal government experience in Orange County.
“When I came to Laguna Beach, it was refreshing to see how much this community cares, how involved residents are and how much input they provide to the local government decision-making process,” Dupuis says. “Not all cities have that level of resident engagement in local government, and so nurturing that relationship with our community members is something I am always mindful of. When we talk about vision for the community, it is really a shared vision between our City Council, our residents, our business owners and stakeholders.”
Over the course of the pandemic, Dupuis played an essential role in Laguna’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including development of the Laguna Beach Cares program, which offered grant funding to local businesses, and establishment of The Promenade on Forest, allowing downtown restaurants to have additional outdoor seating. Dupuis also worked with the art festival leaders to ensure the safe reopening of their events. And she headed up the Village Entrance Project, creation of the Wildfire Safety and Mitigation Plan and the Neighborhood and Environmental Protection Plan, as well as citywide transit and parking programs.
“This city has tremendous potential to remain unique and evolve responsibly and, as city manager, I want to help us realize that,” Dupuis says. “With planning, we can proceed in a direction that allows us to anticipate visitors to our city and protect our unique environment, while strengthening our connection to the commercial areas and our business community.”
Following Dupuis’ appointment, Ken Domer was selected in June to fill her shoes as assistant city manager. Domer, previously city manager of Fullerton, has more than 30 years of government experience at the city, county and state levels including assistant city manager of Huntington Beach, assistant city administrator for Placentia and city manager of Villa Park. In his new role, Domer, a lifelong OC resident, works alongside Dupuis to help run Laguna’s city operations with the council’s direction.
Dupuis, as part of her job—the city manager is responsible for appointing the police chief—announced the selection of Jeff Calvert for this permanent position, making him Laguna’s 18th police chief. Prior to his appointment in August, he filled the role of interim chief. The top position was vacated when Laura Farinella—the city’s first female and openly gay chief—retired in late 2020 after five years in the job. She was briefly replaced by Robert Thompson, who resigned from the post after a few months, which is when Calvert took the helm temporarily until he was later selected to become chief in a permanent capacity.
Calvert began his career as reserve deputy with Los Angeles County’s Sheriff’s Department, and was then hired as a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He moved his career to Laguna Beach in 1996, and has served as a Special Investigations Unit detective, sergeant and lieutenant shift commander. When he became captain, he led both the Support/Investigative Services and the Field Services divisions.
“With the support of the City Council, I would love our community to be regarded as the ‘safest beach community in America through exceptional policing.’ I have respect for the community and law, value integrity, passion and diversity of thought, and will always strive for excellence in all that we do,” Calvert explains. “You will also notice improved community outreach and engagement, and we will utilize a data-driven policing model with technology as a force multiplier to ensure we are providing exceptional service.”
During his time with the Laguna Beach Police Department, Calvert has executed several law enforcement, education and community programs, including the new Outdoor Warning System, Evacuation Time Study, Teen Leadership Academy, K-9 program, Drug Recognition Expert team, Homeland Security Drug Interdiction Maritime team and Unmanned Aerial System program.
“One of the benefits of living here is that I continually evaluate issues that I see when I am out and about off duty,” he says. “As a result, I can make immediate adjustments with my team in our response strategy that I would have never known [about] if I wasn’t a member of this fantastic community.”