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A Coming Together for Long Beach Arts : Renaissance Fest Helps the Homeless

August 27, 1987|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

It was a weekend of contrasts.

At Rainbow Lagoon in the shadow of the elegant Hyatt Regency Hotel in Long Beach, wandering minstrels strolled past handmade musical wind chimes selling for $19.95.

Less than a mile away, barefoot, bedraggled men wandered city streets exposed to the wind itself.

It's a safe bet that many of the homeless people downtown had never heard of the Long Beach Renaissance Arts Festival. Yet during the coming year, it's likely that at least some of them will directly benefit from it.

In three years, the annual festival has become one of this city's major art happenings, a blossoming of local performing and craft arts that, to many, symbolizes a cultural renaissance in Long Beach. In the same period, it has also become a major source of revenue for an organization dedicated to aiding those least able to participate in that renaissance.

"It's allowed us to help more of the homeless," said Bob Lloyd, assistant executive director of Travelers Aid Society of Long Beach/Orange County, which sponsors the event. "Travelers Aid has always had to struggle. The festival has played a tremendous part in pulling us out of a rut."

Until 1985, he said, that rut consisted of an endless series of modest fund-raisers, each netting a few hundred dollars. Squeezed by a rising demand for its services and by expenses that were outstripping its income, the nonprofit agency--which gets more than half of its $250,000 annual budget from United Way--decided to try something new.

Result: the Long Beach Renaissance Arts Festival, inspired by the much-larger Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura, which began 25 years ago as a fund-raiser for Pacifica Radio. Held initially at Shoreline Aquatic Park across from Shoreline Village, the Long Beach festival has grown steadily. In two years, it doubled its profit from $15,000 to $30,000. It attracted an estimated 12,000 people in 1985 and 13,000 in 1986.

Last weekend's festival took place at Rainbow Lagoon because of a city ordinance prohibiting the sale of liquor during the summer at Shoreline Aquatic Park. Nonetheless, organizers said, it attracted about 20,000 people and netted between $50,000 and $55,000.

"I think it's saved us," said Norma Mueller, executive director of Travelers Aid, saying the event now ranks second only to United Way among the agency's fund-raising efforts.

Mueller said the money will be used to provide referrals, counseling, clothing, medicine and transportation for the homeless and, in some cases, help in finding jobs. Last year, she said, the agency served 10,500 homeless individuals or families in Long Beach and Orange County--a number expected to increase by 20% this year.

The festival has also become important to local artisans, who sell their handmade wares after paying fees of $75 per booth; to performing artists, who donate their services for a chance to play before appreciative audiences; and to the thousands of patrons, many in Renaissance garb, who for $3 admission can spend the day shopping, eating, listening and watching.

"There aren't enough (events) to support our local artists and musicians," Lloyd said. "This is one way of letting them shine."

Said Fredrik Sante', who directed this year's festival and heads a modern dance company that was featured on its stage: "Long Beach has a very active arts community, but we're scattered. This is an event that brings the arts together."

Browsers attending this year's festival seemed to take it all in stride.

"It's fun," said Jerry Baker, 54, a math counselor at UC Irvine, who came dressed as a medieval magician in a bird's mask and spent much of his time sitting in front of a stage featuring jugglers, magicians, singers and swordsmen. "Everybody's in a good mood."

Well, maybe not everybody.

Nancy Mintz, 36, is a professional fund-raiser for a nonprofit agency in Santa Barbara who on weekends sells hand-painted women's T-shirts for $19 apiece. She spent part of Saturday moving her booth to what she hoped was a more lucrative spot but still registered sales she considered disappointing. "It seems sparse," said Mintz, glancing at the crowd. "Things are a little slow."

Other vendors, whose products ranged from antique swords to crystal-tipped walking sticks to meditation tapes, agreed that sales could have been better.

But most said they expected to at least meet expenses. And by most accounts, the weekend was a success--less historically accurate than the Agoura fair, some said, but cooler in temperature and definitely more artsy.

"This makes Long Beach feel more important," said Shannon Hunt, 17, of Second Chapter Singers, a Lakewood High School madrigal group featured at the festival. "Not a hole in the wall, but more of a real city. We have culture too."

Concluded Lee Ann Goldstein, 30, an eight-year veteran of the Agoura fair who came all the way from Tarzana to look at this neophyte to the south: "It's pleasant. It's right by the ocean. It's cool. It's a nice start. It'll be interesting to see what they do with it."

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