We have art all around us in Newport

Do you agree with me that being surrounded with art and cultural opportunities enhances and stimulates our daily lives? Well, the good news is that, living in and near Newport Beach, we have those things all around us. But the less than good news is that many people are not aware of that fact, other than seeing the bushes on Coast Highway in Corona del Mar that have been shaped into the form of dolphins.

Much of the credit for the art around us goes to the Newport Beach City Arts Commission, which was formed in 1974. It is composed of seven volunteers who are appointed by the City Council, and serve up to two four-year terms.

Their formal function is to act in an advisory capacity to the City Council on all matters pertaining to artistic, aesthetic and cultural aspects of the city. Therefore, the commission recommends the adoption of such ordinances, rules and regulations as it deems necessary for the administration and preservation of fine arts and performing arts, and all of the historical, aesthetic and cultural aspects of the community. The group’s meetings are at 5 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Newport Beach Central Library Conference Room.

The commission also oversees the providing of grant money from the city to art organizations that have a connection to the city. Some of the recipients have been the Newport Beach Film Festival, Opera Pacific, local ballet companies, Pacific Symphony and Stop Gap Theatre.

Those are the formal functions. But that’s really just the beginning, because the commission also puts on Summer Concerts in the Parks, arts educational programs, Shakespeare by the Sea, and art exhibitions in the City Hall and the Central Library. And it also worked closely with local volunteers on the design and installation of the McFadden Square Centennial Legacy Monument near the Newport Pier.

So when it comes down to it, the commission really represents genuine community spirit in action, and demonstrates a passion to bring an art element into our public lives. And it is successful in its efforts. In fact, it is unusual to have so much activity in the arts in such a relatively small city.

For example, Summer Concerts in the Park has been going on for nine years, admission is free and the concerts are family friendly. This summer the concerts are scheduled at Mariners Park on July 19 with “Night & Days with Kevin Spirtas,” and at Bonita Canyon Sports Park on Aug. 23 with the Susie Hansen Latin Band. Both concerts are on Sundays, and begin at 6 p.m. This year’s Shakespeare productions are scheduled to be “Love’s Labour’s Lost” on Aug. 1, and “As You Like It” on Aug. 2, and both will also be at Bonita Canyon Sports Park, and begin at 7 p.m. But you will probably want to arrive early for each event and enjoy a picnic dinner — and don’t forget to bring your children and some friends!

In addition to the performing arts, the commission every year sponsors a “Juried Art Show.” This event accepts work from any artists who reside within about 50 miles of Newport. The commission volunteers set up the artwork, and then it is judged by two art professionals. Thereafter all of the artwork is for sale to the general public, with portions going both to the artists and to the Newport Beach Arts Foundation, which is a local nonprofit dedicated to enhancing arts in our city. And at the end of the event there is a ceremony with prizes awarded.

Before I inquired into the work of the arts commission I was simply unaware of the existence of the wonderful McFadden Square Centennial Legacy Monument. So I went to the Newport Pier, right in front of the dory fishermen’s market, and took a look.

It made me feel proud, and I’m sure you will feel the same.

The motto of the monument is “Remembering the Past; Acknowledging the Present; Looking Toward the Future,” and it is made up of a sea-green sphere that depicts some of the most important aspects of the city’s history.

In fact, you can follow the city’s “footsteps through time,” beginning with its founding by the four McFadden brothers as the “new port,” its incorporation in 1906, and all the way up to the present.

The institutions that are featured are the red cars, Rendezvous Ballroom, dory fishermen, Fun Zone, Balboa and Newport piers, surfing, the McFadden brothers and John Wayne.

As the commission Chairwoman Robyn Grant told me, our city cannot be just made up of beautiful beaches and parks, and world-class shopping and restaurants, it also needs to be immersed in art, because art entertains, enriches and enhances our lives. She is right, and she and her fellow volunteers have truly increased the quality of life for everyone in our area.

So take advantage of their efforts. Go to a summer concert or one of the nights of Shakespeare, devote a few minutes next time you are at the Central Library or City Hall to view the work of the local artists on display, or take a walk down by the Newport Pier and experience the history of our great city at McFadden Square.

And join me in giving each of the members of the City Arts Commission a hearty, well-deserved, and continual chorus of appreciation.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)