The LAM is the oldest cultural institution in the area, and it is dedicated completely to California art. It has been known by various names, including the Laguna Beach Art Association and the Laguna Beach Museum of Art in Rancho Santa Margarita. The Laguna Beach Art Association was established in 1918 by a small group of artists who had relocated to Laguna Beach. Over time, the organization grew and developed into an exhibiting place where the best current works were displayed.
Edgar Payne, who eventually became the museum’s first president in 1920, transformed an ancient municipal pavilion into an art gallery where members’ artwork could be displayed and sold. He did this with monies raised by the artists.
Members launched a fireproof, custom-built gallery designed by famed Los Angeles architect Myron Hunt in 1929, thanks in great part to the efforts of the artist Anna Hills, who is credited with much of the funding. Meanwhile, the LBAA had begun to offer art workshops to both children and adults through its art program.
A gift from the estate of the artist Frank Cuprien served as the impetus for a fundraising effort aimed at expanding the gallery’s physical area, which began in 1948. Shortly after, the original structure was expanded by a factor of two, and the new addition was dedicated in 1951 with an exhibition arranged by Mrs. William Daniell. The selection of paintings from this exhibition by early Laguna Beach artists went on to become part of the Museum’s Permanent Memorial Collection after the exhibition ended.
By gradually expanding the size of the permanent collections and improving the quality of the shows, the LBAA was able to establish itself as a legitimate institution. Due to these developments, the Laguna Beach Museum of Art was established in 1972 and is currently known as such. The museum was temporarily closed for redevelopment in April 1985, and reopened in September 1986 following a significant $1.6 million expansion.
The museum’s floor space has more than doubled, from 9,000 square feet to 19,000 square feet, and the storage and administrative areas have been expanded as well. With the construction of a completely new facility, the Laguna Art Museum changed its name to Laguna Art Museum. This significant makeover was part of the museum’s ongoing endeavor to distinguish itself from other museums in the region as the foremost institution for California art.
A matching grant scheme worth $1 million to the Laguna Art Museum was approved by the Laguna Beach City Council in 2016. The program will be implemented over the next four years.