The Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association aims to create unity through art, music and travel, highlighting places that aren’t so different from our coastal town.
By Ashley Ryan
One of the greatest things about traveling the world is experiencing culture in foreign lands. But the Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association is bringing that concept back to home base, partnering with cities around the globe to offer a little insight into their ways of life without ever leaving town.
Hands down the biggest event of the year is the Fête de la Musique, which celebrates the beauty of music along Laguna’s streets. The 2022 iteration will take place June 18 and, although it is what the association is best known for, it’s not the only thing in the works.
Maggie Hempen is currently serving her third term as president of the LBSCA board of directors, having joined the association around 2015 on the recommendation of her friend, Karyn Philippsen, who also happens to be the founder of the group. As a retired event/meeting planner and caterer, the extensive planning that goes into the events was right up her alley. “I discovered, after I joined, a whole bunch of fantastic people and a beautiful philosophy of coming together in art and culture with other countries,” Hempen explains. “… It is just a real dream come true.”
Read on to learn more about the association and the types of experiences it offers locally; for information about becoming a member, visit lagunabeachsistercities.com/membership.
What is Laguna Beach Sister Cities Association’s mission?
Maggie Hempen: We are trying to unite people through culture, art and music, and education.
What is the Fête de la Musique?
MH: It entails basically a whole year of coordination—with the local merchants, with the city, with the police department and our musicians. There’s a lot to it logistically, so it takes about a year to put all those pieces into place. … When they started this event 15 years ago, it was kind of just a harebrained idea. Somebody had heard that they do it in France, so a couple of the founding members said, “We’ll just put a musician on the corner of Forest [Avenue] and Second Street, we’ll put a musician down here and we’ll put one here and it’ll be great. And pretty much without even involving the city, they did that. And now, 15 years later, it’s a signature event for Laguna. … Free music all over town? You know, on a sunny Saturday in June—doesn’t get much better than that.
Were you able to host the festival the last two years?
MH: Actually, we did—we did a virtual one in 2020, which was kind of weird and everybody was trying to view it from their laptops, you know, from home. We had a few musicians who showed up at the cultural center in Laguna, so they just went there and somebody taped it. I never left my house, to tell you the truth. And then last year, … yes, we did it and it was so joyful because everybody was ready to just rip off their shoes and dance in the street.
Which cities do you partner with?
MH: Menton is our city in France, St. Ives in England and then San José del Cabo [in Mexico]. And all three of those cities were chosen by us because they are so similar to Laguna. They’re all coastal cities … and they all have a strong art influence and a strong surfing influence. And Laguna is a small organization when it comes to sister cities. There are cities around the world that have 30 or 40 other sister cities. … So we’re small in comparison, but we’re mighty because of our Fête de la Musique. We stand out because of that festival.
Does LBSCA host any other events?
MH: As a matter of fact, just a couple months ago, we had a beaujolais nouveau event. … It’s a young French wine that is just literally off the vine, in the crusher, in the bottle. And it’s a big deal in France. Because one of our sister cities is in France, we have an annual event, a beaujolais release party. So we have that and then we usually have something that honors our sister city in England … and then something to honor our city, San José del Cabo. So we always try to have something French, something English and something Mexican.
And members are also able to go on preplanned trips?
MH: We have a travel planner as one of our board members and he works very hard on putting trips together that all of our members can enjoy. It puts a little money back into our treasury, which is great because we’re not a fundraising organization. … If you’ve got the time and the money, get a ticket and go along with us. [It’s] a lot of eating and drinking, a lot of frivolity, touring—we always try to do some art gallery stuff, and we try to meet with the mayors, tell them we’re coming, you know, and extend our goodwill; it’s a cultural exchange opportunity.
Could you tell us about the Sister Cities Garden in Heisler Park?
MH: It’s at the end of Jasmine Street and it is beautiful. We tend to it weekly and we are supported by the Laguna Beach Garden Club. That’s been there, I want to say 10 years. And it’s real pretty.
Are you currently running the Artist in Residence program?
MH: It’s been a little bit of an issue these last couple of years to get the exchange program to actually function because nobody was traveling. But we’re hoping to be able to resurrect that again this year. But … one of our members is Gianne de Genevraye. … She’s been in all three of our sister cities. They’re in residence so sometimes they stay in peoples’ homes. For a while, … [she] painted the Hortense Miller Garden. She’s a wonderful artist. So we’re very lucky to have her as a member.