Local Couple Supports Thriving Arts and Culture Scene in Newport Beach

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Carmen and Bob Smith in the Sculpture Exhibition

By Elizabeth Rose Sutton | Special to the NB Indy

Although many associate Newport Beach with its beautiful coastline, exquisite cuisine, unique shopping and connected community, the city also has a thriving arts scene and community members who are involved in promoting the arts.

One opportunity is to serve on the City Arts Commission, which encourages programs for cultural enrichment of the community.

Newport Beach showcases visual and performing arts activities, including concerts, plays, dance and art education programs. What many do not know is that these colorful endeavors are funded by generous donors in the community via the Newport Beach Art Foundation. Involvement in the foundation offers an opportunity for residents and arts lovers to make a positive impact on the community.

When it comes to art, two of the kindest philanthropists we know are Bob and Carmen Smith. These avid art fans and collectors have and continue to be dedicated to elevating culture in Newport Beach. They appreciate how art is everywhere, and, how it has the power to affect people in profound ways, often inspiring more creativity.

“Hurricane,” by Ray Katz, from phase IV of the rotating sculpture exhibition, in front of the Newport Beach Civic Center. / Photo by Sara Hall ©

Bob resonates with a quote by Karl Kraus, from Dicta and Contradicta: “Art serves to rinse out our eyes.” To which he added “having art and culture in a city enriches all of us, giving us fresh perspectives on our world”.

Like her former arts commissioner husband, Carmen is a community leader who currently serves as secretary on the Board of Directors for the Newport Beach Arts Foundation, which was formed in 1998. As the Arts Commission develops new programs—be it art, sculpture, dance or song—the Arts Foundation works as a fundraising arm to provide resources for those programs.

Over the years, many ideas have become reality helping to showcase Newport Beach as a destination for art and culture. One such idea is the sculpture garden, Newport Beach’s unique and safe outdoor museum which lies on the 14-acre park adjacent to City Hall.

The Sculpture Garden features an exhibition of 20 sculptures, 10 of which rotate out every year. The everchanging natural backdrop in the park allows viewers to experience different perspectives of light and shadow as form meets nature.

Artist David Boyer with his sculpture, “Getting Your Bearings,” at the Sculpture Exhibition / Photo by Sara Hall ©

Bob welcomed the community for the grand opening in September of 2014; however, the concept and planning began years prior when Bob was Chair of the Arts Commission’s Sculpture Exhibition Committee.

“When the Civic Center was built, Peter Walker, (the landscape architect), had developed a master plan for sculpture in the park which called out for about 40 different locations where you could put sculpture,” explained Bob.

The first year’s 260 submissions were narrowed down to 10 by an expert art panel jury who examined the art to ensure outdoor durability as well as suitability to the audience.

With differences in medium, aesthetic and background, the garden creates community conversation while representing diversity and inclusion. Artists from anywhere are welcome to submit their works. As a true public art installment, all citizens are welcome to vote on submissions for consideration.

We are currently in the fifth phase of the Sculpture Exhibition, with 10 new sculptures to be showcased beginning this May.

The Smiths see the sculpture garden as a meeting place, a venue for learning, and, possibly a site for art and music education.  Carmen agrees with Arts Commissioner Arlene Greer, who said “the sculpture in the Civic Center Park is a type of museum without walls.”

Sculpture needs to be seen both up close and from a distance to get the full impact. So often, when it is locked up in a room in a regular museum, you can’t get a full perspective. The sculpture exhibit is a place where families—and even their pets—can come morning, noon, and night to examine the art without feeling they need an advanced degree in art to appreciate it.

Art in the Park

Newport Beach also looks forward to welcoming back Art in the Park, probably in 2022. This fun family event showcases artists and artisans who display for sale their art or craft. The Newport Beach Arts Foundation invites all members of the community to increase arts and culture in Newport Beach. There are myriad opportunities to expand efforts with more presentations for music, dance, poetry as well as the visual arts.  All promote inclusion, diversity, equity and access, so that Newport Beach continues to be a rich destination for tourists and Orange County. All are invited to get involved as volunteers, board members, advisors, members or donors.

To learn more please visit: https://newportbeachartsfoundation.org or contact NBAF Board Chair, Juanita Holley at [email protected]

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