80 Years of Magic
Our mission is to promote, produce, and sponsor events and activities that encourage the appreciation, study and performance of the arts.
Since the first painting was created here in 1878, the exquisite natural beauty of Laguna Beach has been a magnet for artists. Artists flourished in the small village, supporting themselves through sales to tourists who flocked to the beach for vacation. By the early 1900s, the village had gained a reputation as an art colony, and in 1918, with the entire population numbering only 300 residents, the community established the Laguna Art Association to promote and support the fine arts.
In the mid-1920s, the Art Association turned the town’s old community center into a small one-room gallery. The gallery’s popularity led to the artists’ raising money for a larger permanent home, which they eventually secured at the corner of North Coast Boulevard and Cliff Drive, the present-day site of the Laguna Art Museum.
The small seaside village took great pride in its cultural establishment, which attracted visitors from all around. However, when the Great Depression swept the land, tourists had little money to spend and Laguna’s residents struggled. As a means to draw much-needed business back to the art colony, the Art Association struck on the idea of a summer art festival, to be held the week following the1932 Los Angeles Olympics in hopes that visitors would travel south to Laguna Beach before journeying home.
A smash hit at the festival was the Living Pictures show created by artist and vaudevillian Lolita Perine. She dressed local residents in costume and seated them behind a makeshift frame. These paintings that came to life fascinated viewers of all ages.
In 1935 Roy Ropp, a local construction worker, realtor and amateur artist, expanded Perine’s concept and developed the performance into its present-day format. Ropp renamed the new and improved event “The Spirit of the Masters,” and continued to design and produce it with resounding success until 1941. In 1936, the production was renamed yet again, for the last time, the “Pageant of the Masters.”
On July 30, 1941, the first Festival of Arts and Pageant of the Masters held on the site marked the park’s opening to the public. News stories claimed the spectacle was a magical creation and word traveled fast that it was a “must see.” The show closed on August 8, 1941, a great success for the artists and residents.
The site served as Laguna Beach’s community park for many years. From the 1940s to the 1960s the park was used year-round for a variety of events, including the community Easter Egg Hunt, carnivals, the Goat Show, and the Scottish Festival. In the ’60s, with the Festival’s continuing success and popularity, the event was expanded to six weeks, and the temporary wooden artist booths that were installed each summer were replaced with permanent structures.
From its humble beginnings as a means of promoting and sustaining the fine arts in Laguna Beach, the Festival of Arts has matured into a world-renowned cultural institution drawing visitors from far and wide. The Festival – with its premier attraction, the Pageant of the Masters – has shared its success, awarding millions of dollars over the years in the form of scholarships to art students and grants to art and cultural organizations, and hosting cultural events on the grounds throughout the year. The Festival of Arts and the City of Laguna Beach have grown up together, becoming inseparable in the eyes of residents and of the many patrons who return year after year to enjoy the world-class art of the Festival and unique tableaux vivants of the Pageant.
An attempt in 2000 to move the Festival and Pageant away from Laguna Beach was met with swift and widespread resistance. Happily the will of the membership, artists and patrons prevailed, and the 80-year old tradition shall remain squarely where it belongs – nestled in the seaside hills of Laguna Beach – for the enjoyment of generations to come.
The Festival of Arts gratefully acknowledges the extensive input of lifelong Laguna Beach resident Belinda Blacketer, of the Laguna Beach Historical Society, in the preparation of this article.