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Laguna Beach

 Volume 13, Issue 95  |  November 26, 2021


Behind the scenes at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center

By MARRIE STONE

This story is a part of our Arts section. Visit www.stunewslaguna.com/arts for more arts stories as well as our arts calendars.

Even longtime locals might not know the hidden wonders behind the steel door on Forest Avenue. Look closely as you pass the Candy Baron. Sandwiched between the historic sweet shop and Violet Boutique lies the entrance to one of Laguna’s unintendedly best kept secrets. 

When Laguna Beach legend, and co-founder of BC Space, Mark Chamberlain passed away in 2018, the fate of 235 Forest Ave remained uncertain. Chamberlain’s gallery was a town treasure, hosting photography exhibits, film showings, poetry readings, concerts, solstice celebrations, and other artistic events for 45 years. What would happen to the iconic space after he died?

Enter Rick Conkey. Known around town as the beloved Laguna Beach High School tennis coach, Conkey is also an avid music fan, and an enormous supporter of the arts. He swooped in to save the space, transforming it into the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center (LBCAC) and expanding its offerings to include a wider array of arts. Today, the LBCAC has something going on nearly every night. 

Behind the door

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Submitted photo

LBCAC Director Rick Conkey shows the way inside the somewhat hidden gallery

Stu News sat down with Conkey to talk about what’s happening inside our town’s cultural treasure, and what might soon be in store. 

Stu News: Talk about your backstory with BC Space and how you came to launch the LBCAC. Did you have a relationship with Mark Chamberlain? 

Rick Conkey: Mark and I first met and became friends at Alta Laguna Park, on the tennis courts. We both shared a love for tennis and developed a friendship from there. Over the years, and getting to know Mark, I came to realize we had other common interests and ended up attending a few of his events. Over time, we became closer and eventually, he allowed me to showcase a few of the region’s most talented music acts. 

SN: Does the LBCAC’s vision differ from – or perhaps reinforce – the work Mark Chamberlain was doing at BC Space? What similarities do you share, and how do you differ?

RC: Both were rooted in driving change through artistic expression. Just like the BC Space, the LBCAC is a beacon and catalyst for advancing art appreciation, enhancing the quality of life, and promoting civic and cultural development. Where we differ is simply due to our evolution as a cultural arts’ hub. The original BC Space began by focusing on the photographic arts. While it expanded over time to include many other artistic mediums, its roots were in photography. That was Mark’s passion. Today, we still celebrate photography, but we don’t emphasize any particular art form. We showcase music from all sorts of genres, and we offer a diversity of other audio and visual events including film, television, dance, and poetry. I like to think that Mark would not only want to be part of this evolution, but he would be so proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far.

Behind the Tell

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Photo by Marrie Stone

A piece from Mark Chamberlain’s “The Tell,” a 636-foot-long mural installed on Laguna Canyon Road that helped stop development in the Canyon. Chamberlain’s “art as activism” led him to coin the term “artivism.”

SN: How would you describe the art, artists, and work you’re seeking? Laguna focused? Edgy? Thought provoking? Experimental? Entertaining or intellectually arousing? Is it creating an environment that promotes a marketplace of ideas where folks might debate art? Or is it more a relaxed atmosphere of pure entertainment?

RC: All of the above! We’re always on the lookout for local, regional, national, and even international artists. We search for exceptional individuals who are able to channel the spirit, while being humble enough to get out of the way of it. In other words, they are the most efficient conductors of something we all possess – the Spirit! Through their life experience, dedication, hard work, and pure love for what they do, they’ve arrived at a place many feel is inspirational. So, to say it simply, we want to bring attention to artists that can inspire, and harness the energy needed to drive positive change within our community. 

Behind the stage

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Submitted photo

LBCAC currently offers an intimate space and ample stage (with state-of-the-art audio, video, and lighting equipment). Continued renovation and expansion plans are in the works.

SN: What does the LBCAC look for when booking movies, exhibitions, poets, music, etc.? 

RC: At the LBCAC, we’re committed to the deep experience that comes from great storytelling and the ability for it to expand peoples’ minds…and maybe even inspire a few of them to change their own behavior. That’s powerful stuff. Mark would call it “artivism.” I like that term because it inspires a lot of what we do around here and our mission to be “harnessing the power of the arts for the benefit of the community.   

Growing up as a kid in Orange County, I always wanted to have a positive effect on our area and the world. Over the years (and after many ineffective approaches), a few realizations began to materialize for me. I came to the conclusion that the arts are key to affecting positive change. The LBCAC wants to demonstrate why Laguna Beach – a town largely founded as an artist colony – is the perfect place to start making that positive change and, simultaneously, offer Laguna up as an example to communities everywhere. 

SN: Tell us about a few of your favorite past events. 

RC: Although these events were organized before the birth of the LBCAC, the “Here Comes the Sun” Flood Relief Concert, Blue Water Music Festival, and Earth Day Beach Cleanup are all great examples of art benefiting the community. 

--The “Here Comes the Sun” Flood Relief Concert was a great way to showcase our local music scene and dedicated individuals coming together to help those most devastated by the December 2010 flood. If you’ll recall, this was the year the Main Beach parking meters were completely submerged. The mayor at that time was Elizabeth Pearson and she sent out a plea for the community’s help. I responded by throwing a benefit concert for those most in need of support. In just over two weeks, we gathered renowned musical artists for the concert, and encouraged visual artists and local businesses to contribute to our silent auction (which was largely organized by the late Sue Pons). Ultimately, we raised close to $20,000 for the families most devastated by the disaster. 

--In 2006, The Earth Day Concert was created as a reward for those who participated in a beach cleanup. Those who helped make Laguna a cleaner place were invited to a free concert on the Moss Point Estate featuring Common Sense. We ended up with the largest cleanup volunteer turnout in memory. 

--The Blue Water Music Festival (BWMF – 2005, 2013 and 2014) was one of my all-time favorite events to pull together. The BWMF was originally organized to acknowledge the musical aspect of Laguna’s world-renowned arts’ scene, shine a light on issues vital to the town, and help protect our most vital resource: the ocean. I really look forward to the day when we can host this festival again, so we’re looking at some dates in 2023 to make it a reality for this next generation of “artivists.”

SN: Any exciting upcoming events? We encourage readers to follow your calendar by clicking here, but what’s particularly noteworthy? 

RC: Well, a few upcoming events we are hosting in September have me really excited. First up, we are screening the arthouse film Tell No One on Wednesday, September 8th, at 6:30 p.m. 

We have ukulele virtuoso, Andrew Molina, leading a workshop where attendees can actually learn to play the uke or fine-tune their skills. Then, he’s going to perform for us. That’s on Thursday, September 23rd. And a few days later, we have the one-and-only, Grammy-nominated, reggae legend Pato Banton gracing our stage. 

I also can give you a heads up to an outdoor “Mask-a-rade” fundraiser we’re holding at the seaside, picturesque Moss Point Estate, just before Halloween on October 30th. We’re looking forward to a great program with a silent auction for this one, and we’ll be able to update your readers with details in the coming weeks.

Behind the sign

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Photo by Marrie Stone

Rick Conkey showcases the LBCAC’s rich calendar of events 

SN: Any standout moments or things of surprise that have come up since your inception? 

RC: Of course, COVID came as a complete surprise to all of us, but especially those of us tied to the arts. The good news is, we were driven to launch our “Anything Goes” online TV program and we have over 20 episodes you can watch on our website. During this program, I interview some really interesting guests including Rick Graves, Kurtis Gentile, Tom Lamb, David Kizziar, the Kalama Brother, and our very own Laguna Tenor, Rick Weber.

Behind the TV

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Submitted photo

Visit the LBCAC from home by watching “Anything Goes.” Almost two dozen episodes can be viewed online through their website.

Then, after the restrictions were lifted and we were able to get back to hosting events, I was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support from all over Southern California. I’ve long dreamed about what this place could be and now we’re recognizing how much the town appreciates all the arts and how this is a gem that needs to be preserved. 

SN: Anything else we should highlight, know about, or share with our readers? 

RC: I guess the most important thing I want your readers to understand is that we have a lot more programming coming, and we need everyone’s support, especially in these initial launch stages. Attend an event or two, volunteer to help us pull off an event, keep the LBCAC in mind for end-of-year tax donations, and encourage friends and family to do the same. We are a volunteer organization and are looking for artists who have a particular skill that’s aligned with our mission. Even if it’s only for an hour or two, here or there, the commitment of time makes a huge difference. 

For more on the BC Space backstory, watch the Mark Chamberlain Tribute here.

Visit the LBCAC website atwww.lbculturalartscenter.org for more information about the organization and a complete calendar of events, updated frequently.

This story is a part of our Arts section. Visit www.stunewslaguna.com/arts for more arts stories as well as our arts calendars.

 

Lana Johnson, Editor - [email protected]

Tom Johnson, Publisher - [email protected]

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

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