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Venue will blend art and commerce

Planning Commission OKs plan to turn space on Forest Avenue into e-commerce hub and showcase for Laguna College of Art + Design.

August 08, 2013|By Bryce Alderton

Laguna College of Art + Design students will soon get a new space to show off their work — in downtown Laguna Beach.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved at its regular meeting Wednesday night Firebrand Media chairman Allan Simon's proposal to turn a 5,640-square-foot, two-story space at 225 Forest Ave. into an art gallery downstairs and an e-commerce hub upstairs.

Community members gave glowing recommendations for the project, which will be operated by Firebrand in partnership with the design college.

Commissioners approved Simon's request for a one-year temporary-use permit.

The space, previously occupied by a clothing store, will cater to residents and visitors, with rotating and curated art exhibitions from students and LCAD faculty and alumni, electronic and multimedia displays and an artist reception area downstairs, according to a staff report.

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Upstairs will feature touch screens that will allow people to search for items from a variety of businesses, such as where to buy a bathing suit, Simon said.

"It will direct buyers to a particular store, bringing merchants and customers together," Simon said in a phone interview Thursday.

Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau representatives will also be on-site to educate the public about the city's entertainment, lodging and restaurant options.

Monitors will feature videos and short films on Laguna Beach's history, performance clips from the Laguna Playhouse, area chefs and designers, the staff report said.

Simon would also like to hold artist talks, demonstrations and poetry readings.

"We hope to have both areas [upstairs and downstairs] open before the first of the year," Simon said.

Laguna Playhouse Executive Director Karen Wood supports the project.

"Allan's thinking is a collaborative way to represent all of the different artistic components of our community in one place," Wood told commissioners and the audience.

Architect Horst Noppenberger, a former Laguna Beach Design Review board chairman, agreed with Wood.

"It will enhance the identity, heritage and pedestrian experience of the city," Noppenberger said.

Admission will be free.

LCAD President Jonathan Burke said he and Simon worked on the project for the past year.

Burke says he hopes that moving the gallery from the main campus in Laguna Canyon to Forest Avenue would boost attendance.

"[The galleries] are not attended by the public," Burke said. "This is an opportunity to place a gallery in the heart of downtown. For the community and visitors, this is an opportunity to share the work we produce."

Types of art will include installation, photography, animation and game art. The college is working on a loan program that would pay students for lending their work for temporary display at businesses or homes, said LCAD gallery director Andrea Harris-McGee.

She said the downtown location will also be a boon for recruiting and attracting potential sponsors.

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