The director of Laguna Beach’s Most Forward Thinking Art and Event Space Reflects Back on
the Business’s First 15 Years of Operation
DORA WEXELL REMEMBERS the day she was hired on as the executive director at [seven-degrees] —when the art and event venue was still getting its sea legs.
“In 2001 they knew what they wanted to do with the space,” she explains, “they had a vision. The questions were about implementing it.”
The vision for [seven-degrees] had been provided by Mark Orgill, managing partner for DeeMark LLC. His plan was to create a multi-use space that was intrinsically connected to the arts—hosting both artists-in-residence and gallery shows. He called it an “Idea Lab” where artists could think outside of conventions and share their work directly with the public. Rather than going the 501c-3 route like many artist-friendly concepts, [seven-degrees] would generate a revenue stream as a venue for weddings, parties, and corporate events. It was the bohemian dream for the 21st century: art and commerce in harmony.
From the outset, Orgill wanted the building to feel as forward thinking as the business itself. He conceived of a property with indoor and outdoor spaces, digital display, a sleek design, and floor plans that could adapt to the needs of each particular client. The buildings themselves would emphasize seven-degree angles and be built with shape of the number seven integrated into their architecture.
Initially, some community members worried that the venue was overly modern compared to its folksy neighbor, the Sawdust Art Festival, but Orgill stayed the course. The final design of the 25,000 sq. foot facility would go on to win the Architecture Guild Award.
Wexell still vividly recalls the curiosity that Orgill created around town in those early days. “Combining arts and events wasn’t something that people could put in a box. And the space, which still looks futuristic in 2015, was way ahead of design trends in 1999, when they started construction. We had to give people a chance to get to know us.”
In order to connect with the community, Wexell reached out to local organizations—hosting events for The Friendship Shelter, My Hero Project, Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts (LBaa), Laguna Beach Live and other community organizations. The “[seven-degrees] of Inspiration” grant, awarded annually, became a means for local artists to conceptualize and implement artworks that would directly impact the city.
“We wanted to be a part of the fabric of Laguna,” Wexell says, “and that means being involved and plugged in to what is going on. I think that’s the responsibility of any business in this town.”
As for Orgill’s dream of mashing up an art exhibition space with an event venue, it’s fair to say that it has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Resident artists often work with the design team to conceptualize elements of the events, and under Wexell’s guidance [seven-degrees] has staked a claim as one of Orange County’s premier wedding + event spaces. The TV shows “My Super Sweet Sixteen”, “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County,” and “Real Housewives of OC” have all filmed on site.
“It’s strange to look back for a moment and say: we wanted to be this 14 years ago and now that’s exactly what we are,” Wexell says. “How often does that happen in life, that a vision is so fully realized?”
The journey has been enriching in other ways too—Wexell and Orgill fell in love and were recently married. Dora Wexell is now officially Dora Wexell Orgill. Her daughter Alyssa was married at [seven-degrees] and works there side by side with her mom.
“It’s a special place that captures the exact energetic, creative feel we’d hoped for,” Dora Wexell Orgill concludes. She flashes a broad smile. “That comes from staying true to the original dream while also being ready to evolve.”
That commitment to growth might just be the secret to [seven-degrees]’s success—they’ve turned being ahead of the curve into an art form all its own.