"Really strange" is how one artist described the scene last Friday night in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel.
A crowd of doctors and their guests--about 500 people in all--stood at tables or sat cross-legged on the floor in their evening attire, busily making art: painting, drawing, sculpting, making collages and gluing blocks of wood together.
Twenty artists, most from Orange County, were on hand to assist the visitors in their creative efforts. And when the budding artists finished a work, they proudly added it to a mural that has since gone on display in South Coast Plaza's People Corridor. (Here, works by local artists are featured in a temporary corridor in the mall).
The occasion was the first night of a weekend primary seminar on primary care sponsored by Encino-based Nu-Med Hospitals Inc. Rather than opt for the traditional cocktail party as an opening night icebreaker, organizers of the event decided to try a theme party.
Because of nearby Laguna Beach's reputation as an art colony, an art exhibit seemed a likely choice. But any thoughts of traditional landscapes and paintings of wave-swept beaches went out the window when Orange County artist Barbara Berk was asked to put the show together.
"I think they wanted something a lot more traditional, but I wasn't into doing it that way," Berk said during the event. "I made it a point to get the best work I could get." The artists she lined up represent an eclectic array of contemporary styles and media not usually found in garden-variety art exhibits.
Berk also suggested that guests be encouraged to create their own art rather than simply look at the works on display. The participating artists brought materials that the guests could use.
"Lunacy!" was guest Joel Moskowitz's reaction upon first hearing the plans for the evening. But there he was, patiently shading in his drawing of a cactus. "I get a kick out of it," the Woodland Hills resident admitted. "After you overcome the initial phobia, it's an interesting digression. . . . As a psychiatrist, I think it's a nifty way to loosen up and share some ideas."
His wife, Arlene Moskowitz, an attorney and financial planner, was drawing a clown nearby. "Normally, you couldn't get me to do this on a bet," she said. "But I think it's fascinating, as long as I don't have to sign it."
"It's a chance to do something creative," said Melvin Samules, a doctor from Woodland Hills. "We get bogged down in our jobs, so we don't really get a chance to do things like this."
Curiosity was artist Kathleen Sabine's reason for participating in the event. "I had no idea what to expect," she said. "I just wanted to see how they would react to us and how involved they would get."
Sabine, who teaches drawing and painting at Saddleback and Rancho Santiago colleges and at Cal State Fullerton, called the event an example of "art as entertainment." She added: "To me, it's a very new concept."
Sculptor Craig Cree Stone, who said he was participating mostly as a favor to Berk, welcomed the opportunity to see other artists. "We're so busy, it seems like the only situation where you can interact with your peers is some kind of business," he explained.
Stone described the event as "really strange . . . just a quirky thing," and added that he was initially skeptical about how much interaction there would be between the artists and the guests. But by the end of the evening, he appeared relatively pleased. "The people seemed content with something other than a bunch of landscape paintings," he said. "I was surprised at how much interaction there was."
Artist Slater Barron, who shared a table with Stone, shared his surprise. "It went off better than I expected," she said. "It was really fun. I think most of the people really got into the spirit of things."
Berk, who ran a sculpture workshop for an earlier conference at the Ritz-Carlton, hopes to organize other art-related events for the hotel. She has even started a business, called Art al a Carte, to do just that. "I think it's a natural for this area," she said.
For the time being at least, she plans to work only with the Ritz-Carlton. "I'm not a businessperson," she admitted, explaining why she wants to keep the business small. "I'm an artist, so I don't have a lot of business sense."