It’s that time of year again: time for the endless backup on Laguna Canyon Road/State Route 133, for the hungry and teeming crowds along the coast, and for the summer art festivals in Laguna Beach.

In fact, the big three – the Festival of Arts/Pageant of the Masters, the Sawdust Art Festival and Laguna Art-A-Fair – are already in motion. The Sawdust opened first on June 24; Art-A-Fair opened on July 1; while the Festival of Arts opened July 5 and its crown jewel, the Pageant of the Masters, kicked off July 7.

Despite some dire warnings about the rise of Omicron variants this summer, things at the art festivals are pretty much returning to pre-COVID conditions. Masks are no longer required for attendees, and no one will be checking vaccination or test status. But, of course, it is highly advised to stay home if you are sick, test positive or have close contact with a COVID-positive person. 

Representatives from each festival said they will be following safety guidelines recommended by the city, county and state. Behind the scenes at the Pageant of the Masters, make-up artists will be required to wear masks while applying makeup to cast members, the Festival of Arts board president said.

Here’s an overview of the Laguna art festivals this summer, with particular attention paid to local history and what’s new, different or worth checking out.

Festival of Arts

This summer, the Festival of Arts is celebrating its 90th anniversary – a significant milestone by any standard. The festival sprouted from humble beginnings, with newspaper editor Sumner Crosby suggesting an “Intellectual Carnival” for the small but growing art town. Local artist John Hinchman presented plans for a weeklong “Festival of the Arts,” and the city council and Laguna Beach Art Association embraced the idea.

Festival of Arts

When: July 5-Sept. 2

Hours: 4 p.m.-11:30 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. weekends 

Where: 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Tickets: $5-$15; free for children 5 and younger, military and Laguna Beach residents

Info: (949) 494-1145 or LagunaFestivalofArts.org

That summer, two dozen artists hung their paintings on fences, trees and buildings along Laguna’s main street between Aug. 13-20, 1932. They were hoping to attract tourists to the first Festival of the Arts, and other artists opened their home studios to the public. Music, colorful signs and banners, parades and entertainment added to atmosphere of the event, building upon Laguna Beach’s reputation as a destination for the arts and culture. Many artists brought easels and chairs and painted throughout the festival, as they still do today.

Between 1932 and 1940, the festival moved to different locations, but in 1941, the city of Laguna Beach agreed to purchase the present six-acre site from the Irvine Company, partially with funds “gifted” to the city by the Festival of Arts. The festival has only gone dark between 1942-45 because of World War II, and in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year, the festival features 120 artists in various media through Sept. 2. The juried fine art show includes paintings, sculpture, photography, ceramics, jewelry and more from artists throughout Orange County.

“This summer’s festival reflects the innovation and creativity of our 120 exhibiting artists as well as the creativity of Diane Challis (Davy) in origination and presentation of this season’s Pageant of the Masters,” said David Perry, president of the festival’s board of directors. “The fine art exhibit demonstrates the ‘top-of-class’ talent of our exhibitors (nearly 20 of whom are new to the festival). We are also celebrating the festival’s 90th anniversary with many activities and events planned around this major milestone.”

A number of music concerts, special events, art workshops and art tours are planned throughout the run of the festival. See the festival’s website for details.     

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Pageant of the Masters

Of course, the festival wouldn’t quite be what it is today without the famed Pageant of the Masters, celebrating its 89th anniversary. The pageant started as a publicity stunt in 1933 to draw attention to the Festival of Arts exhibition. A parade of local volunteers dressed themselves as characters in famous works of art – including the Mona Lisa and Atlas – and marched downtown along Pacific Coast Highway to the location of the second Festival of Arts. They later appeared, one at a time, inside a tiny, booth-like set, holding their poses as “tableaux vivants,” or “living pictures.” Together, the parade and show were titled “The Spirit of the Masters Pageant.”

Pageant of the Masters

When: July 7-Sept. 2

Hours: 8:30 p.m. nightly

Where: 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Tickets: Start at $30 per person (includes a season pass to the Festival of Arts)

Info: (800) 487-3378 or PageantTickets.com

In 1935, Roy Ropp took charge of the show and transformed the presentation, with help from his wife Marie, into a full production with music, narration and painted backdrops. Ropp also renamed the show “the Pageant of the Masters” – still its title today.

This year, the theme for the production – which is part live theater, part visual art show, and part art history lesson – is “Wonderful World,” a refreshing departure from last year’s U.S.A.-centric “Made in America: Trailblazing Artists and Their Stories.” Each night at 8:30 p.m., audiences will be whisked around the world to 17 countries during the 90-minute performance in the festival’s Irvine Bowl.

“One of my favorite heroines who provided inspiration for this year’s pageant is the intrepid American journalist Nellie Bly,” said Diane Challis Davy, the pageant’s director since 1996, in a statement. “In the 1890s, she attempted to travel round the world in fewer than 80 days, the challenge imagined in Jules Verne’s fictional classic ‘Around the World in 80 Days.’ We’re researching her travel logs, diaries and ephemera related to her ambitious solo journey. Did she accomplish her mission? You’ll have to see the show!”

This production of “Wonderful World” will include live re-creations of art by more than 20 international artists, including Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Swedish painter Carl Larsson, French painter Jean Béraud, Japanese woodblock artist Toyohara Chikanobu, Dutch painter Pieter de Hooch and more. The show includes extended montages of art from China and Japan, including a live dragon dance.

“I hope world travel and experiencing life in other countries will become easy again soon,” Challis Davy said. “In the meantime, we are going to celebrate – through living pictures, music and dance – here in Irvine Bowl. And our professional composers and orchestra will fill the bowl with original and authentic music from around the world.”

Sawdust Art Festival

A couple blocks north on Laguna Canyon Road is the Sawdust Art Festival, which is celebrating its 56th year. The Sawdust, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, features an almost exclusive roster of Laguna Beach-based artists, except for a handful who have been grandfathered in, and a few others who participated in Winter Fantasy last year.

Sawdust Art Festival

When: June 24-Aug. 28

Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Where: 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Tickets: $10 adults, $7 seniors, $5 children above 5, free for children 5 and younger

Info: (949) 494-3030 or sawdustartfestival.org

This year’s festival will feature 160 non-juried artists – 154 returning and six new artists – plus three stages of live music and entertainment, complimentary art classes for all ages, and other special events during the summer. Artists will showcase and sell their original paintings, sculptures, photography, blown glassworks, jewelry, designs and clothing.

Though the weather is inevitably going to get hot this summer, the Sawdust tends to stay cool, with three acres of eucalyptus trees shading sawdust-covered grounds. The artists hand-make their own booths, so altogether they showcase a kaleidoscope of personalities.

“I can never tell who is more excited to be at the Sawdust, our guests or our artists,” said board president Rachel Goberman in a statement. “We’ve put together a magical show this year.”

New this year will be a gallery dedicated to 28 up-and-coming young artists from Laguna Beach High School. It will be called, appropriately enough, “High School Hall.”

Other notable events will include Sip, Talk and Walk, an insider’s tour with artists introductions and complimentary wine tasting every Wednesday at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; the Bizarre Bazaar, a fashion show on Aug. 7; and an Artists Benevolence Fund Art Auction on Aug. 14.

There has been a transition in administrative leadership recently at the artist-run festival. John Bullard is no longer the general manager. Longtime Sawdust artist Monica Prado is serving as managing director, a position she has held since the end of last summer, a spokesperson said. And Troy Poeschl, a longtime sculptor at the fest, is serving as director of operations. 

Laguna Art-A-Fair

Not to be forgotten is Laguna Art-A-Fair, which is also celebrating its 56th year this summer. About 118 artists are showcasing and selling their works, including paintings, sculpture, photography, jewelry and digital media.

Laguna Art-A-Fair

When: July 1-Sept. 4

Hours: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 4

Where: 777 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Tickets: $10 general, which is a season pass; $8 for seniors and students with ID; free for active military, Laguna Beach residents with ID, and children 12 and younger with an adult.

Info: 949-494-4514 or art-a-fair.com

This festival does not have a residency requirement, so artists hail from throughout California, and some have come as far as the East Coast and Europe. A couple of Ukrainian artists are reportedly in the mix.

According to board president Michael Cahill, the jurying was done online this year, a practice picked up during the dark days of quarantine and lockdown, and continued because of its ease and convenience.

“We’re doing it digitally, and it’s so much simpler,” Cahill said in an interview. “If you don’t do it digitally, you force people to come in with their work, and we do it in February, so weather can be an issue. It can rain. We get a big crowd of our people on the Sunday following Super Bowl Sunday, and it’s a lot of people and work.”

Cahill said Laguna Art-A-Fair is featuring about 20 new artists this year, and there will be artists’ workshops every day of the week, along with live entertainment. Two ice cream socials – which were very popular last year – will take place on July 24 and Sept. 3, with free admission and free – you guessed it – ice cream!

“Yeah, that tends to attract a lot of people,” Cahill said with a laugh. Incidentally, this will be his last year as board president after 12 years at the helm.

Laguna Art-A-Fair boasts the earliest weekday start time – 10 a.m. – of all the festivals, and one $10 ticket is a season pass that can get you in all summer long. Also, Pageant of the Masters ticket holders can get in for free on the night of their performance.

The entrance is no longer a jazzy, geometric pastiche of colors. It has been painted off-white with gray trim. While it may look a little more somber from the outside, it’s surely going to get festive at Art-A-Fair – and all the Laguna festivals – throughout the summer.

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


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