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Behind the scenes at the Sawdust Festival: a look at some of the people who keep it running

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Alive and well, the Sawdust Art Festival has been going on for more than six decades. The magic behind the way the Sawdust Art Festival comes together – both in summer and winter (for the Winter Fantasy) – involves neither spells nor potions. The “magic” is a group of dedicated folks, many who have been at the Sawdust for years, who keep it in tip-top shape.

At its inception, the Sawdust culture was about creating an environment for the public to view – within a concentrated time and space, a dazzling variety of artistic forms and expressions in an emotional environment where the art is actually produced. The staff does an incredible job of sustaining the environment that has allowed the Sawdust to flourish.

behind the Hartmann

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General Manager Tom Hartmann

At the helm is General Manager Tom Hartmann, who started in April. Before coming to the Sawdust, he served in a variety of roles with the Boy Scouts of America.

Hartmann explained the opportunities and challenges of his new position.

“I was born and raised in Orange County,” he said. “As a kid, I was brought here to the Sawdust, and later I brought my kids. That’s the fun part. I see my role here as a dual mission – to oversee the staff and operations and also the artists and membership. There are decisions made for the festival as a whole –and the individual artists, who are each different.

“This is an amazing opportunity to support and maintain the vibrancy of our community. They are all Laguna Beach-based artists – which helps keep Laguna, Laguna. The cool part is that the festival keeps it an artist enclave. The long-term challenge is that times are different now. The cost of housing is an impediment for everyone, including artists. That’s even more reason to do everything we can do to maintain the Sawdust’s vibrancy and stay rooted in keeping the culture alive.”

behind the Crivella

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The plant whisperer, Tom Crivella, has been with the Sawdust for 53 years

Waiting in line to enter the Sawdust, the first thing visitors see is the luscious garden. The wizard behind the garden is Tom Crivella. Previously with the Laguna Beach Recreation Department, he’s been with the Sawdust since 1970. Born in Maryland, he came here when he was 17 years old. “My parents bought in Newport Beach, my dad was stationed at Camp Pendleton. Ken Frank hired me. I started here when I was 20 years old, maintaining the front entrance to keep it looking good and raking the sawdust. It’s been a pleasure working here.”

A huge advocate of using fish meal to fertilize, which seems to have some mystical growing power, Crivella said, “It’s safe environmentally and for animals.” Good to know for the many dogs who stroll by on the pathway.

behind the plant

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As evidence of Crivella’s skills, this plant with the purple flowers started as a tiny sprout in April

This is Art Education Director AnnJo Droog’s seventh show. Droog, who organizes classes during the festival in Studio One, started in the office as an administrator. “I get to know the artists on a one-on-one basis,” she said. “Knowing the fundamentals of how the Sawdust runs made the transition easier, since I had already established relationships with the artists.”

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behind the Droog

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AnnJo Droog gets Studio One ready for a class on painting ice cream cones taught by artist Joan Gladstone

“The classes in Studio One are artist driven, holding classes is part of the artist’s obligations,” Droog said. “It’s part of their mission statement to work in educating the public on art. Some artists do classes every week.”

For Carlos Guzman, being part of the staff is a family affair, since his mother works at the Sawdust too. Recently promoted to grounds manager, Guzman started in 2009 (spreading sawdust) when he was 19 years old.

behind the Carlos on roof

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Evidently, being grounds manager involves cleaning the signage. Carlos Guzman is seen here on the roof.

Guzman’s fellow staff member Kevin Tovar said of him, “Carlos is a really great guy to be taking over as grounds manager. I’ve worked with him for 10 years, and he’s like a brother. He’s a great mentor. He’s also a builder. After watching others build booths, he put his mind to it, learned how and now he builds booths for the artists. We’re here because we love the Sawdust, staff is like family.”

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Guzman hoses down the sawdust before opening

As part of the staff for 12 summers, this is Tovar’s first year as Saloon Manager in the newly renovated Saloon. Jesse Miller and four other artists recently remodeled it. “I started as a freshman in high school, maintaining the grounds. When I graduated high school, I began working full time. It’s been a really great summer so far,” Tovar said.

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Saloon Manager Kevin Tovar in the newly renovated Saloon

Tovar is singlehandedly in charge of putting up all the lights for the Winter Fantasy, and he admits that he sometimes drives by at night during the Fantasy to see them. “It’s really great off season,” he said. “It’s a different atmosphere during the festival and off season. It’s very quiet when the show is over and it’s like a little ghost town. Raccoon and deer come down from the hills, we hear coyotes howling, and it’s refreshing to see and hear wildlife.

behind the Katherine and Kevin

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Katherine Kurz, a second-year Sawdust staff member, in the Saloon with Tovar

As stated on the Sawdust Festival website, “When we look to the future, we know that Art is essential. Art lifts our spirits, affects our emotions and is a form of expressing our sense of Self. Art influences society and has always been crucial to our development. Sawdust Art Festival is and has always been an experience.”

The behind-the-scenes staff is dedicated to making that experience a great one – in every possible way.

For more information about the Sawdust Festival, go to www.sawdustartfestival.org.

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

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