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From Canyon To Cove: Art-A-Fair going strong at 45

August 11, 2011|By Cindy Frazier

Since 1967, artists and art lovers have been gathering at the Art-A-Fair.

This is the festival's 45th consecutive show. The festival marked the occasion with a special event last weekend, but in the Art-A-Fair tradition, it was low key. Visitors got free admission all day Aug. 7 and those who located the 45th anniversary mascot, Arty, won a prize.

Back in the '60s, adult admission was 50 cents.

Laguna Beach was a center of artistic activity, so much so that a bevy of artists who were not juried in to the Festival of Arts — at 79, it's the granddaddy of the arts festivals — banded together in 1966 to form their own breakaway show.

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This show, staged on a sandy bluff, was dubbed the "Sawdust" in the press because organizers put sawdust on the ground to tamp down the blowing sand.

But artists of a feather must flock together, and a year or so later, a band of "traditionalist" artists broke away from the Sawdust's more provocative wing and formed their own show, Art-A-Fair.

Among the radical ideas promulgated by Sawdust artists was doing away with the "jurying" system, whereby artwork is judged and artists given a thumbs up or thumbs down based on the judge's determination of the quality of the work. However, Sawdust artists must live in Laguna Beach, and, because the show has limited booth space, are subject to a lottery system. They also must abide by strict rules regarding the hand-crafting of the items they sell.

The Sawdust Festival also marks its 45th anniversary this year but has no plans to celebrate the occasion, according to spokeswoman Cynthia Fung.

Sawdust manager Tom Klingenmeier did not return a request for comment about the evolution of the show; perhaps because he is busy handling the fallout of an apparent artist-led revolt over a yarn art installation that resulted in the work of a number of local knitters being trashed — and a lot of backlash. Apparently the spirit of revolt — in this case against fellow artists — still thrives at Sawdust.

For their part, Art-A-Fair artists decided back in 1967 to continue with the jury system, but to open their show to any artist anywhere, in contrast with the Festival of Arts, which limits participants to those who live in a select number of Orange County cities.

That formula has served Art-A-Fair well, resulting in a show with an international feel, according to President Mike Cahill.

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