Thursday, June 07, 2007

Laguna Beach: A Rather Exquisite Economy of the Arts

"This is the first time we could quantify what the arts means to Laguna Beach," said Nancy Beverage, chairwoman of the city's Arts Commission. "It's important so we don't kill the goose that laid the egg."

And what a mighty goose this is. The OC Register is reporting today that Laguna Beach leads the nation in money spent on the arts. People from across the nation and around the world come to Laguna Beach to enjoy the artistic spirit here. And nearly $55 million was pumped into Laguna Beach's economy in 2005, thanks to its art scene. Art truly is the economic lifeblood of Laguna Beach.

So just how important is art in Laguna Beach? How is the art shaping the local economy? How is it shaping the city?

Follow me down below for more...

(Cross-posted at Calitics)

Laguna Beach has a long history of artistic creativity. Ever since Norman St. Claire first abandoned the San Francisco fog to document Laguna's natural beauty on canvass in 1903, art has shaped and molded the community in Laguna Beach. In 1918, the town's first gallery opened (now the Laguna Art Museum). When Laguna Beach became the first community in South Orange County to incorporate as a city in 1927, it did so as an artists' colony that was already becoming world-renowned.

And in 1932, out of the economic disaster of the Great Depression, the Festival of Arts emerged. The artists in town were just looking for a way to capitalize off the Olympic games in nearby Los Angeles. Instead they started a great tradition, and a real cash cow for the now booming arts colony.

But in the 1960s, a group of hippie artists were getting frustrated with all the rigid tradition and conservative conformity of the Festival of Arts. In 1966, the young artists staged a revolt against the local art extablishment and their jury system that excluded so many talented local artists. They began their own art festival out of protest, and out of this protest the Sawdust Festival was born. And now, this is one of the top five art festivals in the nation.

Clearly, Laguna knows how to capitalize off its art. And the tradition goes on today. From The OC Register:

Today, the 9-square-mile city with about 7 miles of coastline has about 90 art galleries [...]

The findings of the study will help provide the city and its residents with a substantial way to measure the value of Laguna Beach's artistic community, said John Hoover, member of the board of directors for the Laguna Beach Festival of Arts.

According to the report, "Arts and Economic Prosperity III," art-related spending in Laguna Beach contributes about $2.7 million in tax revenue to the state and about $2.4 million to the city.

In Laguna Beach, a person attending an artistic event spends an average of $55.41, according to the report. That is about twice the national average of $27.79 spent per person.

Most of the money spent in Laguna Beach pays for meals, lodging and souvenirs, the study said.

Wow, so the tradition continues. Laguna Beach has now made its art into a tourist magnet. Laguna is the ultimate destination for people who enjoy some aesthetic pleasure with their travel. But is all this commercial success killing the artistic spirit?

Is the artistic spirit dying in the midst of all the wealth, all the excess, and all the episodes of that MTV reality show? Is Laguna Beach starting to act too much like its snooty sister next door? Maybe Laguna has become too prosperous for its creative well-being?

No wonder why even the Chamber of Commerce President has called for more affordable housing for local artists and their galleries:

As the Laguna continues to grow and tourism thrives, the city must preserve its artistic community, [Mayor Toni] Iseman said.

As housing costs rise, the city should consider providing affordable housing to artists, some of whom are being priced out, said Dave Sanford, president of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce. Galleries also need affordable space.

"When the city decides where to invest money, they need to consider this," Sanford said.

Yes, perhaps Laguna beach should ensure that the artists are not priced out of the arts colony. Perhaps as the city considers new development downtown, the city should ensure that these artists' lofts are spaces that young local artists can actually afford. Laguna has been so wise in making a living off its art. The colony certainly cannot afford to ultimately allow past success to choke future artistic endeavors.

After all if the art is gone, then ultimately the economy is dead. And more importantly, the creative spirit dies as the art leaves. Laguna's history of artistic passion and astounding success is just too precious to be lost forever.

No comments: