A PORTRAIT OF THE LA MIRADA FIESTA de ARTES
by Cathy Moses
IN THE BEGINNING... It wasn't long after La Mirada became a city in 1960 that their celebration of the arts began. By that time the beautiful rolling hills studded with olive orchards of the vast McNally Rancho had been supplanted by new tract houses, schools, and a new shopping center for the energetic young families moving into Southern California.
Keenly deciding they wanted to determine their own future, the residents soon incorporated La Mirada and elected their first city council--Jack Clifford, Jerry Resnick, Estelle Troup, Jim Jenkins, and Dick Danson--to set their city's future.
ESTABLISHING THE ARTS IN LA MIRADA... From their temporary storefront City Hall in the just-built shopping center, the newly elected La Mirada City Council wasted no time establishing an "Arts and Culture Committee" charged with setting the cultural tone of La Mirada and with founding arts organizations to carry it out.
Already, enthusiastic citizens had begun forming a fledging orchestra and a playhouse; and the women's club was hosting an art exhibit.
Fulfilling its purpose, the Arts and Culture Committee then formally founded the La Mirada Community Playhouse, the La Mirada Symphony, and the La Mirada Arts Colony.
THE FIRST ANNUAL ART FESTIVAL... Since there was obviously great interest in the arts, the Arts and Culture Committee proposed a La Mirada arts festival, the first of which was modestly presented in 1962. The second festival in 1963 was a much grander effort, utilizing colorful silk-screened posters, extensive local advertising, and an elaborate program of entertainment. Held in the sprawling outdoor central mall of the new shopping center for four days in May, it featured a juried art exhibition inside the cramped rooms of the storefront city hall, scenes from a play, a symphony performance at Biola College's Crowell Hall, bands, vocal performances, marionettes, a teenage dance, a moonlight "hootenanny", and, on the last day, an art auction. It was a huge success--and, most significantly, the blueprint for future festivals.
For the next four years the Arts and Culture Committee continued to produce the festival. Every year, however, the art exhibition became larger and more complex, requiring ever more equipment, space, volunteers, and security. But the committee had no budget, and it became obvious that the show was becoming impossible for their small group to handle.
THE FIESTA DE ARTES IS BORN... To solve the problem, a new autonomous group of innovative community leaders was formed in 1968. They chose a new name---Fiesta de Artes---to fit the romantic Spanish heritage of La Mirada and immediately set out to develop a Mayan design theme. Eight-foot-high banners were silk screened to be hung on major thoroughfares, along with giant 6-foot papier mâché Mayan face masks created by volunteer artists. In 1970 a special crew of artists created for the mall a colossal Mayan sacrificial temple scene complete with life-sized Mayan priests and priestesses and a reflection pool. In the same year a plaza for 83 artists was created with booths made of burlap-covered scaffolding pipes grouped on a colorfully painted parking lot near the main exhibition. A children's hands-on art area was also arranged. Paintings were hung on A-frames under colorful canopies on the mall, while craft items were displayed inside adjacent store windows. There were 888 artworks displayed in the exhibition, and a festival art catalog was published for the first time. The crowning event was a grand Artists' Ball!
Unfortunately, to showcase all these activities, the show had to be built anew every succeeding year, requiring a tremendous amount of volunteer labor. By 1973 everyone agreed that with all this work, the festival had to be increased from four days to ten.
LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION! . . . In 1975 the shopping center mall seemed to be a good place to have a festival--until the new owner decided to remodel! After much searching, the festival was moved into the La Mirada High School stadium, where it survived two disastrous years in murderous heat that caused oil paintings to melt, guard dogs to attack innocent nuns, and attendance to plunge.
But in 1977 the city came to the rescue! They invited the Fiesta de Artes to be part of the grand opening for the newly finished La Mirada Civic Theatre, offering the theatre as a permanent home. The offer was joyfully accepted--it meant the exhibition would be housed inside the theatre protected from the weather and easier to secure. The artist's village could be built outside on the grounds of the theatre.
But it also meant a major rebuilding effort to construct new equipment suitable for their elegant new home. The festival crew spent a grueling summer, but with design help David Cason, the theatre's superb architect-designer, they were ready for the grand opening in September 1977. Festive and colorful, the Artists' Village had old-wood booths and lovely gazebos sitting on sawdust-covered ground, flags flying overhead, with exciting entertainment for festivalgoers. And the art exhibition was safely ensconced in a beautiful gallery setting inside theatre lobbies!
THE ACCLAIMED ART EXHIBITION. . . Widely esteemed for its quality, the art exhibition was designed to encourage participation by a wide range of artists. Included was a Juried Show, an Open Show, a Young Artists Show, and a Handicapped Artist's Show, with artworks of any media accepted in all shows. Entries came not only from throughout California but from several states and foreign counties, as well.
The Juried Show was the most prestigious, with only a limited number of entries being accepted for exhibition. The remaining shows were divided into several categories, with all entries exhibited. Judges for all the shows were carefully selected from the ranks of university art professors, renowned artists, and top art experts.
Winners of each show were awarded ribbons and generous sums of money. The top award was the City of La Mirada's Purchase Award, which rose from $500.00 in 1962, to $1000.00 in 1971, and to $2000.00 in 1980.
ENTERTAINMENT UNLIMITED. . . From the Festival's inception, music and dance performances, concerts, competitions, and other events featuring outstanding talent from local and regional areas were presented every day in the Artists' Village. Numerous young people's events such as sidewalk painting, a battle of the bands, scholarships, art workshops, and many more provided a stage for aspiring performers and artists, Lamplighter newspaper editor Dick Hurley printed front-page coverage of all activities.
A NEW NAME AND NEW DIRECTIONS. . . After nearly 20 years of success, Fiesta de Artes members in 1981 decided to update their image and changed their name to La Mirada Festival of Arts. The Mayan theme was eliminated, and a new rainbow-tree logo adopted. New emphasis was placed on making the festival an inviting place to be, as the colorful Artists' Village became the scene of ever-more exciting live performances daily with outstanding dance bands featured every night--a great way to spend a balmy summer evening after pursuing beautiful art!
THE FESTIVAL SAYS GOODBYE...Despite the Festival’s success, as society changed and more and more women went to work, it became increasingly difficult to recruit new festival leadership, especially young people. The festival was also slowing losing its most dedicated leaders to exhaustion and age. By 1987 it was apparent that the 26th Annual festival of Arts would be its last in La Mirada.
THE LASTING LEGACY. . . The Fiesta de Artes left an extraordinary legacy for the people of La Mirada. The city, through its purchase awards, acquired 26 valuable works of magnificent art, now displayed in the public spaces of the City Hall and the La Mirada Theatre. The Theatre also has a splendid sculpture on its front lawn entitled "Canto 79", created by the renowned Festival judge Joseph Young. Many young people received art scholarships and an opportunity to exhibit their artwork. Best of all are the beautiful memories the residents of La Mirada still have of the "Fiesta de Artes."
THE LA MIRADA FIESTA DE ARTES. . . Holds a a special place in the hearts of La Mirada residents who have lived here for many years. Conceived in 1962 by La Mirada citizens and presented annually for 26 years until 1987, the Fiesta de Artes was a widely acclaimed art festival known throughout Southern California. From the beginning, it was a true labor of love, organized and staged by La Mirada volunteers for the purpose of presenting an enriching cultural experience for the public, and for providing a showcase in which artists of all abilities could exhibit their artworks.
The complexity of the festival required year-round planning for leaders of the organization, and 400-500 volunteers to do a myriad of jobs during the event. Credited with establishing the size, quality, and scope of the event were early planners Gil Larson, Mary Schultz, Gwenn Hurley, Cathy Moses, Howard Jacobson, and Verna Shannon, all members of the La Mirada Arts Colony.
A nonprofit event, the festival was funded by art entry fees, booth rentals, sales of tickets, catalogs, food, and other items, plus a grant from the City of La Mirada and donations from businesses and individuals. The city also assisted with hanging street banners, tearing down the festival, and storing equipment.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? . . . Although the Festival retained the same basic format throughout its history, it was not always called the "Fiesta de Artes," though that is the public's most remembered name. The succession of names began with "La Mirada Arts and Culture Festival" in 1962 and 1963, "La Mirada Fiesta de Artes" from 1968 to 1980, and "La Mirada Festival of Arts", from 1981 to 1987. The term "Fiesta de Artes" often refers to the festival in general.
This is a brief history of the Fiesta de Artes as experienced by La Mirada resident Cathy Moses, an original member of the La Mirada Arts and Culture Committee in 1962. Cathy worked integrally with the festival for 25 years. She is a graphic designer.