Laguna Canyon Project

The Laguna Canyon Project: The Continuous Document (1980-2010), an environmental art project, inspired Laguna Beach, California residents to take charge of their own destiny and to change the course of history. With the Canyon Project’s 1989 outdoor art photomural/installation, The Tell, as a backdrop and stimulus, Laguna citizens forged a partnership with local and countywide political forces to stop unbridled development in the area.

As a result, Laguna Canyon, within the 7,000 Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, was saved from the proposed 3,200-unit Laguna Laurel housing project. Today this canyon, one of the last natural corridors to the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, is designated as open space.

Origins of the Laguna Canyon Project

In 1980, Laguna Beach photographers Mark Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield formally commenced this project to document changes in Laguna Canyon over time. Their goal was to create broader awareness of regional and global environmental issues, and to stimulate public debate about these concerns. They believed that the canyon was crucial to the identity of their community. Over a period of 30 years, they executed 16 phases of the Laguna Canyon Project. (See below.)

By 1987, the proposed Laguna Laurel housing project threatened to consume the region. In response, Burchfield and Chamberlain lobbied Laguna Beach to gain permission to execute The Tell photographic mural, as Phase 8 of the Laguna Canyon Project. Their ultimate purpose in erecting this installation was to draw attention to this proposed housing project—to be built across Laguna Canyon Road—which they felt would decimate their beloved canyon. Two years later, supported by an army of volunteers, they completed The Tell. Faced with an estimated 100,000 personal photographs, it undulated across the landscape, with a shape resembling the surrounding canyons.

The Walk to Save Laguna Canyon

The Tell became the logical destination for the 1989 “Walk to Save the Canyon.” On Veterans Day, 1989, 8,000 to 11,000 people walked, biked, roller-skated and skate-boarded from downtown Laguna Beach out to The Tell. They then held a daylong demonstration there, protesting construction of the housing project. Largely as a result of this “Walk” and demonstration, the Irvine Company abandoned its plans to build the housing project. One year later, Laguna residents voted to tax themselves to purchase the canyon land formerly in dispute.

Today, Laguna Canyon Road and its surrounding hills are designated to remain undeveloped in perpetuity, largely through the efforts of artists and volunteers who participated in an extraordinary environmental art project at a crucial time.

For more information check out Laguna Canyon Project Wikipedia page.

Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism

A soon to be published book, “Laguna Canyon Project: Refining Artivism," by Laguna Wilderness Press, relates the profound influence that this project had on environmental debates and on decision making by community leaders, ultimately resulting in the preservation of the canyon.

The word "Artivism" describes the activist work that Chamberlain and Jerry Burchfield have pursued since the early 1970s. This neologism refers to methods they used in their collaborative art projects and installations to address critical environmental and social issues, with the hope that these methods would in turn inspire others to pursue a better world.

An item from the March 14, 1929 issue of Laguna Beach Times reads, “Laguna Beach is at its prettiest just now, and many regular summer tourists who own cottages here are running down on weekends. The Laguna Canyon is lovely. What a pity not to preserve it forever as a park!”

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