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Orange County Art Scene

What do you need to know about the Orange County art scene? Mostly that there is a LOT to discover here, from simple art walks and gallery tours to more elaborate options including art festivals, classes, and events.

There is a large amount of public art as well as private studios and galleries operating alongside long-time operations such as the Orange County Center For The Arts, Laguna Art Museum, and the Martin Lawrence Gallery.

Orange County Art Scene

Laguna Beach First Thursdays Art Walk – On the first Thursday of each month from 6 to 9pm, you can get a walking tour of the Laguna Beach art scene, which you can top off with a visit to the Laguna Beach Art Museum.

The “First Thursday” concept is likely new to those who are new to the art scene, but it’s a handy way to remember this regular event, which has in the past featured open studio doors at venues including Sue Greenwood Gallery, Forest & Ocean, and Avran Art+Design.

Anaheim Garden Walk — The Art on the Walk program here is another of the walking tour variety, with murals, art displayed in storefronts, and installations you can enjoy from the outside. There is a rotating display of local artists here and you will find much to appreciate even if you’re just casually passing by on your way to the Disneyland Resort.

Many people visit the Garden Walk to take selfies with their favorite artwork; it’s customary to tag the artist you’re interested in when you post your photos to Instagram, Facebook, and elsewhere; show the artist some support via social media and you could help them reach more people interested in the Orange County art scene.

Laguna Beach Festival Of Arts — Since Laguna was originally an artist colony, it’s only fitting that this summer-long festival showcases more than 100 Orange County artists in an open-air exhibition space.

There is also a July-through-September nightly event called Pageant of the Masters, where actors recreate famous artworks on stage. These are known as “living pictures” and it’s a great way to experience the venue and the festival.

Orange County Museum of Contemporary Art (OCMA) – This museum was once located in Newport Beach, but it has since relocated to Costa Mesa.

OCMA features some three thousand contemporary art and modern artworks, and this art museum emphasizes California artists as well as those in the Pacific Rim. Explore works by Peter Walker, David Hockney, Hui Li, and many many more.

Brea Art Gallery — Another long-running fixture in the Orange County art scene, the Brea Gallery is a contemporary art gallery offering four major shows each year. The Brea gallery is a community-focused art space which does not offer artist representation or maintain a permanent collection. The facility also features a 200 seat theater featuring live performances in an intimate setting.

Martin Lawrence Gallery –This gallery hosts some impressive names; Warhol, Murakami, Picasso, and many more. But this is a commercial gallery selling lithos of famous works by these artists, if you are interested in a studio tour or something closer to OCMA, this is likely not the venue you’re looking for but if you want to buy prints, it is worth a look.

Laguna Art Museum – This museum was founded in 1918 and is focused on preserving and promoting California artists and those who make art that represents the state. There is no allegiance to one specific style, school, or genre of art–California is the common thread among the permanent collection.

The Laguna Beach Art Association built a gallery in 1929 that has been incorporated into the museum as it operates today; in addition to having a sense of history about California itself, the museum’s own journey is represented with that original building as it has been incorporated into the current version.

OCCCA – The Orange County Center for Contemporary Art is in the Santa Ana Artist Village, and offers a showcase for area artists and teachers as well as those active in the community. It’s a non-profit entity that functions not only as a display space but also as a sort of art lab and think tank.

You’ll find classes, concerts, publications, and special events here, along with open calls for art that draw participants from literally all over the world.

Sandstone Gallery –This is an abstract art gallery, so you won’t be seeing old Dutch masters or Warhols, but rather a collection of art meant to be lingered over and studied to interpret what the work means. This is one of the oldest (if not THE oldest) gallery in Laguna Beach’s Gallery Row.

Since the doors opened in 1981, this space has operated as a cooperative gallery. Today it features a group of local and international artists working in a variety of media. This is a good one to visit frequently since the rotating display changes monthly.

Palm Court Arts ComplexThis facility is located in the Orange County Great Park, and focuses on both community art as well as historic art. Located at the now-closed Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, the art calendar for this complex includes shows and exhibitions in the Great Park Gallery, Artist Studios, and Hangar 244.

As part of a former military base, there’s some “walking history” to be found here as well as artwork; you can also take in a large permanent public art display.

What To Know About Visiting The Orange County Art Scene

Those used to California weather know daytime wear isn’t the same as nighttime wear. If you are from out of state, be sure to plan your trip anticipating California’s nighttime cooler temps; the short sleeved shirt you wore to visit a gallery or two in the afternoon may not be so comfortable once the sun and the temps start going down. Light layers are recommended.

Parking can sometimes be an issue depending on the location of the gallery or studio; be sure to check ahead of time and plan accordingly during peak seasons including both summer and winter holidays.

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Joe Wallace
Joe Wallace has been covering real estate, mortgage and financial topics since 1995. His work has appeared on ABC, USA Today, The Pentagon Channel, plus a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.