Cultural centers

Cultural Arts Center bringing back the artistic freshness of Laguna Beach

Founder Rick Conkey stands on the renovated stage of the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center in front of a 1996 photograph by John Hesketh from his “Los Angeles” series. The subject of the portrait is the late BC Space co-founder, Jerry Burchfield. Photo by Barbara McMurray

By Barbara McMurray, special for the independent

Rick Conkey is a man on a mission to allay your fears through art. His unwavering approach is rooted in a belief in curiosity, community building, and a thirst for challenge, edginess, and eyebrow-raising, even in Laguna.s occasionally stuffy, crowd-pleasing arts scene. His idea isn’t new, just refreshed and revitalized with a quiver of mediums, some of which barely existed decades ago.

Conkey continues Laguna Beach’s history as a free-thinking art colony with its Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center. Nestled on the second floor of a 1920 building on Forest Avenue, just off the Coastal Highway, LBCAC has been renovated. It sports a freshly painted and expanded 49-seat theater, lobby, offices, and sleek, updated bathrooms. From his clever facelift and Conkey’s inventiveness – plus a portion of his private tennis lesson income – come unpredictable artistic offerings that include live music, opera, plays, art exhibits, and more. visual and photo art, art house films and a live streaming channel, with more on deck for artistic smorgasbord as support grows. The LBCAC occupies the 2,400 square foot space formerly used by BC Space, which for 45 years served as the hub of Laguna’s funky underground art scene, a gallery and performance space founded by fine art photographers locals Jerry Burchfield (“B”) and Mark Chamberlain (“C”). A third major player in the creative place was the poet John Gardiner. All three are deceased, but their successor Conkey aims to honor their vision of pushing boundaries and presenting provocative and emotionally engaging ideas through art.

A look at the centerThe list of exhibitions and events for the next few weeks is proof of LBCACs ambitious range: an exhibition by visual artists Jorg Dubin, Carrie Zeller and Tom Lamb, Kalama Brothers, based in San ClementeHawaiian Music, Bare Bones Theater Groups Shakespeares Fool” with musician Jason Feddy, his wife and actor Ava Burton and friends riffing on The Bard on January 29, a Valentine’s Days Opera night centered around the day on February 5, musician James Clay Garrison and friends, singer-musician Beth Wood and a new dramatic work by local playwright Lojo Simon on February 22. Among the centers eclectic offerings of the past year, despite COVID-19, guests attended a concert by reggae legend Pato Banton, The Tin Drum,” a 1979 German film that was banned in Oklahoma, and a Roland-Garros watch party.

The center is a place of celebrations centered on artists and creativity: New Years Eve, Day of the Dead, a Bluewater Music Festival and auxiliary beach cleanup, plus community service benefit concerts. The space is available for event rental.

We seek to be an accessible and affordable epicenter for art by showcasing cutting-edge experiential art that drives positive change,” Conkey said. Positive change begins with creating a dialogue that stimulates a deeper understanding of things we may not fully grasp or even fear. If we approach our ignorance with increased knowledge, these fears can disappear and leave us with a higher consciousness brought to us through art.

Daytime Laguna Beach High SchoolA tennis coach, Conkey is passionate about music. Her single mother, a teacher at Tustin High School, also played the Spanish guitar, an instrument her brother, an art historian, played professionally.

Conkeys kinetic energy and dreams of a place that nurtures a Laguna’s artistic experience is compelling. He has assembled a board of directors passionate about the arts and attracted many donors to the non-profit organization he started last year. His hope is that word will spread about Lagunas active core of a diversified artistic offer.

Currently, all participants must present proof of vaccination or a recent negative test. Face masks are required inside the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center. For more information and tickets, visit lbculturalartscenter.org.

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