Laguna Beach is a town of many faces. It’s world-renowned in both real and plastic senses, a veritable Eden of genuine coastal beauty and tourist oft-kitsch.
The medley of famous personalities that have claimed temporary-to-permanent residency in its rolling hills is a list that features names as disparate as Timothy Leary (LSD Advocate and social disruptor), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters drummer), Christine Jorgensen (Transgender Pioneer), John Steinbeck (Writer), Warren Buffet (Investor), and Steve Bannon (Crook).
As a nucleus of cultural influence across decades, it was the epicenter of southern California’s plein-air painting movement in the early 1900’s and it was the epicenter of MTV’s Laguna Beach: The Real OC in the early 2000’s.
It’s a place that, when it comes to the humans who have settled it, is arguably best known and most favorably represented for its status as a historically creative “art colony”, former and current home to a myriad of passionate working artists. It’s also a place that becomes less and less hospitable to these artists by the year.
As a resident of Laguna Beach for my entire young life, at least until I booked it off to my big-city college existence, I’m able to see the town without the rose-tinted glasses someone visiting might wear. I first must acknowledge how incredibly lucky I was to grow up in such an environment. I could swim, surf, and vibe out to my heart’s content, all with year-round near-ideal temperate climates. All with some of the most incredible people I’ve been fortunate enough to call my friends. I was also blessed by the unique brand of weirdness Laguna Beach has to offer. Unlike the coastal cities that surround Laguna Beach, such as Dana Point, Huntington Beach, or Newport Beach, Laguna Beach has real personality. Sure, these other cities have their personalities, but they’re the type of personalities that pair overbearing, white-privilege narcissism with halitosis. Laguna Beach has always been a largely liberal, arty ocean-town hamlet in the historically conservative “Reagan Country” of Orange County.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen things that make me scared for its future, and even skeptical of its mythologized past. Laguna Beach is currently, and has been for quite some time, experiencing an influx of affluent whites who seek to bottle its special blend, and who bring with them their own special blend of blandness, not to mention a more sinister undercurrent of ignorance and insensitivity. Housing prices in Laguna Beach continue to soar; gone are the days when the aforementioned struggling artist such as Steinbeck could afford even a tar-roof shack downtown. We’ve priced out much of the potential artistic greatness that could bolster our communities in favor of the people who can only consume. The original artists who still carry the torch only get older, and while sometimes their daughters and sons are thankfully there to continue the legacy of artistic expression, more often than not those daughters and sons want lives of their own. Charged with the creativity of an artist’s child, but wary of the lotus-eater-island sweetness of Laguna Beach, they leave.
A smattering of brilliantly curated Art museums still festoons our streets. Walk around in downtown Laguna and you’ll find standouts like the Wyland Galleries, the Kush Fine Art Museum, and the Laguna Art Museum, among a number of other great galleries. The local celebrations of Arts and Culture such as the Sawdust Art & Craft Festival and the Festival of Arts still provide opportunities for artists to sell and showcase their works, and for art-lovers to see great art. However, the real heartbeat of Laguna Beach’s artistic culture is represented by its resident artists, which refers to a myriad group encompassing painters, sculptors, musicians, and theatrical performers of all kinds, among others. These are the people who are primarily responsible for the uniqueness Laguna Beach holds over other coastal communities in its vicinity. And these are the people who our town is in danger of losing. I just don’t want to see us lose what makes us, us.