Art Affairs

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Summer Art Festivals

Laguna’s summer art festivals are still groovin‘ after all these years. -By Daniella Walsh

With art for every conceivable taste on display, cornucopias of musical and entertainment genres, and well-priced venues to meet and greet friends, the Festival of Arts, Sawdust Art Festival and Art-A-Fair have become the most popular summer destinations in Laguna Beach (save for the beach, of course). The festivals are colorful reminders of Laguna’s past as an artist colony, and while the art business now commands equal footing with the art itself, the festivals are living proof that artists rule.

The Festival of Arts

The Festival of Arts got its start in 1932 when the economy languished and artists were at a loss for how to feed themselves. Then, artist John Hinchman staged an art fair, inviting his compadres to hang their canvasses off trees, fences and buildings, to open up their homes and studios and set up easels for art demos. Aug. 13 was opening day of the week-long event, and the first painting snapped up was Virginia Woolley’s “Flower Market.” Celebrating its 80th birthday this year, the Festival of Arts (July 1 – Aug. 31) is a summer-long mega-exhibition that sprawls over a couple of acres of canyon grounds with permanent booths and a roster of roughly 140 blue-chip artists exhibiting glass works, furniture, sculpture, jewelry, printmaking, painting and other mixed media. Some are old-timers—there since the ’60s and before—others are newcomers, and in a few cases even grandchildren of early exhibitors. This year, technology has caught up: For the first time, the festival will be wired for cell-phone accessible audio tours, freeing artists from being constantly tethered to their booths. Highlights include celebrity meet-and-greets, the annual raffle for a new Honda and the Festival Runway Fashion Show (now in its third season), featuring fashions designed from recycled materials. It’s not just the art that draws crowds: Visitors also come in droves to enjoy food, wine and an ever-improving array of music entertainment. Also new this year is “Thank Goodness it’s Friday at FoA,” featuring beer and pretzels and live music. For a complete list of artists and visitor information, visit

Sawdust Art Festival

In 1966, Laguna Beach had become a magnet for anyone in quest of California dreamin’. In this atmosphere of unlimited possibilities, a group of renegade artists and craftspeople seceded from the Festival of Arts, chafing at perceived uptight rules. They moved up the canyon and founded the Sawdust Art Festival, thus named for the sawdust shoveled onto the arid ground to keep winds from stirring up ever-present dust. From the beginning, membership has been limited to residents. A few of the founding “hippies” are still there, as creative, productive and skillful as they’ve ever been, and now the old-timers often mentor newcomers. While the Sawdust has evolved, one incontrovertible constant remains: Artists have to build their own booths and everything down to the smallest particle has to be made by their own hands. Altogether, 200 artists—20 of them newcomers—will exhibit oil paintings, blown glass, tile art, hybrid media works and others utterly defying labels. Someone in the market for a hand-crocheted bikini might well find one here. And, there is food—lots of it—and reasonably priced libations flow freely. Visitors, including kids, can enjoy art demonstrations, sign up for weekend classes or try their own hands at impromptu workshops. Live music fills the air all day on three stages, with some of it geared toward kids. What’s new this year (June 29 – Sept. 2) is that along with a variety of rock, folk and mixed genre bands, the festival offers chamber music on every other Sunday. There will also be Hawaiian surf, Beatles tribute and country music days. Every Tuesday is “Tropical Tuesday,” so have handy that Hawaiian hibiscus shirt. The Artist Benevolent Fund Auction in August will benefit artists who have undergone catastrophic events and losses. For a list of artists, musicians and art classes, as well as visitor information, visit


If the Sawdust Art Festival is a spin-off from the Festival of Arts, Art-A-Fair became a chip off the old Sawdust in 1968, when traditional-minded artists split from the more avant-garde faction and founded Art-A-Fair. Today, the festival—located near the Tivoli Too restaurant—has stood its ground as haven for traditional two-dimensional art and three-dimensional works, such as jewelry, fiber art, glass creation and smaller sculptures. It has no residency restrictions, allowing for national and international participants, and the selection of art works is diverse. The festival will also offer an array of art classes and artist demonstrations, as well as jazz, blues, rock, salsa and bluegrass music. This year (June 29 – Sept. 2), the fair plans to expand musical offerings on weeknights. Also on the drawing board is a happy hour collaboration with Tivoli Too, where work-weary Lagunans and visitors can kick back and listen to music. For more information, visit NBM

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