After more than a yearlong shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, several Orange County arts institutions are emerging from quarantine, empty galleries and dark stages, and are reopening their doors.

The famed Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach will return this summer, July 7-Sept. 3, and the Festival of Arts Fine Art Show will also reopen, July 5-Sept. 3.

The pageant and festival were forced to cancel last summer for the first time since 1942-45, when World War II was raging. But now with coronavirus numbers declining, a majority of adults getting vaccinated and the reopening of the economy scheduled for June 15, plans for bringing back one of Orange County’s oldest artistic traditions are back in full swing.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see. We have a rehearsal schedule,” said Diane Challis Davy, director of the pageant since 1996. “We have high hopes that California will continue to keep the pandemic down, and we can go back to almost business as usual. It’s such a relief to have this tradition restored.”

“The Vintage Festival,” a tableaux vivant, or “living picture,” planned for the 2021 Pageant of the Masters. Credit: Photo courtesy of Christopher Allwine

This summer’s pageant — the 88th anniversary presentation of tableaux vivants, or “living pictures” — will be titled “Made in America: Trailblazing Artists and Their Stories.” It’s essentially the same pageant that was planned for 2020, when the pandemic forced everything live performance-related to shut down in March 2020. One little element that’s different this year is the subtitle, “Trailblazing Artists and Their Stories,” which was not part of the original 2020 title.

The subtitle “was always in my head,” Davy said. “Some people were asking, ‘What does Made in America mean?’ Well, this is what we mean. Now it’s official.”

Tickets for “Made in America” go on sale to the general public starting May 3. For those who bought tickets last year and did not ask for or get refunds, 2020 tickets will be honored as exchanges for this year’s show. (A minimum $10 per ticket fee will apply.)

The decision to move forward with plans and preparations to open both the festival and the pageant in early July was approved during the nonprofit organization’s board meeting on April 14.

“The festival has been working closely with the Laguna Beach city staff and would like to thank them for all their input and help to aid us in reaching this decision,” Festival of Arts president David Perry said in a statement.

“We are thrilled to reconnect our community with live performances of the Pageant of the Masters and with our exhibiting artists this summer,” Perry continued. “It has been a very challenging year for everyone — especially in the arts community — and we are overjoyed and feel blessed to have arrived at this moment.”

Health and safety protocols will be in place during preparations for the festival and pageant and during the summer season, according to a news release issued by the festival. That will include a face mask requirement, hand sanitizers and social distancing whenever possible. However, pageant ticket sales are proceeding on the assumption that social distancing will no longer be in effect on and after June 15, said Sharbie Higuchi, the festival’s director of marketing, public relations and merchandising.

“The health and well-being of our patrons, artists, staff and volunteers remain a top priority,” Higuchi added. “So, we will be in compliance with whatever the latest government and public health guidelines are in place when we open our doors and will make seat adjustments if required.”   

Until then, in instances where social distance is not possible, such as hair, makeup and costume preparation behind the scenes, all state cosmetology rules will be followed, Davy said.

Hilbert Museum Reopens

Up in Old Towne Orange, the Hilbert Museum of California Art at Chapman University reopened March 31. The museum is continuing its exhibition, “Los Angeles Area Scene Paintings,” which also shut down in March 2020 during the first statewide lockdown. “L.A. Scene Paintings” has been extended through June 26, and the animation exhibit, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” runs through May 1.

A new exhibition on late California artist George Samerjan, onetime art director for the Los Angeles Times, will also be on view through June 26.

The free museum is operating under temporary limited hours, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

“We are very excited to be back open again,” said Mary Platt, director of the Hilbert Museum. “We’ve had very steady traffic every day. Attendance is running about half of what it was before the pandemic, but it’s growing every week, as people come out and get used to coming out, and as people get vaccinated. Everyone is super excited to be back in the museum.”

Like other museums around California, the Hilbert is following all COVID-19 health and safety measures, including face masks required for all staff, volunteers and visitors; limits on visitors to 75 people at once (which is less than half the capacity number of 173); six feet of social distancing; Plexiglas shields installed at all desks; and hand sanitizer installed at the front doors. There will be no guided tours or large groups until further notice, and the premises are cleaned and disinfected twice a day.

The Hilbert’s next exhibition will be the “California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition,” which opens July 10 and runs through Aug. 7. A Disney Superstars exhibit will also open July 10, with no end date determined yet.

The Hilbert Museum is the only unit of Chapman University currently open to the public, according to Platt. Things may start to open up more in the fall.

Meanwhile, plans for an expansion continue, however the timetable for a temporary shutdown has been pushed back to next year, and the opening of the expansion is now planned for 2023.

Other Reopenings

Other reopenings around Orange County include the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, OC’s trusty nonprofit co-op of artists in Santa Ana’s Artists Village. On May 1, the 41-year-old OCCCA will open “Collaborate, Create and Heal,” an exhibition of large-scale multimedia paintings by Andrea Moni and black-and-white photographs by Yuri Boyko. There will be a socially distanced artists’ reception on May 1 from 6-9 p.m. Appointments won’t be necessary, but masks will.

Also, while the City of Brea Art Gallery has been operating as a retail space since January, it is opening its big, annual “Made in California” group show this Saturday, April 24 under more auspicious conditions.

While there won’t be a formal opening reception, the galleries will open at noon Saturday with masks, social distancing and temperature checks.

Featuring about 100 local and statewide artists, “Made in California” will run through June 18. Hours are noon to 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is $3 general, $2 for seniors, military and students with ID, and free for Brea residents and children under 12.

Richard Chang is senior editor for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at

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