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Laguna Beach Live! co-founder and president Cindy Prewitt on the importance of building community, sharing music, and giving back
Story by MARRIE STONE
Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Ye cannot live for yourselves,” Henry Melvill wrote in an 1855 sermon. “A thousand fibres connect you with your fellow-men; and along those fibres, as along sympathetic threads, run your actions as causes, and return to you as effects.”

If Lucinda (Cindy) Prewitt lives her life with an internal code in mind, it might be this. So strong is her sense of community, and the importance she places on philanthropy, that she’s already instilling those values in her two-and-one-half- month-old grandson. OshKosh provides clothing to needy families and Paul isn’t too young to ceremoniously contribute. She recently captured a photo of him handing over his donated pajamas. “As I look at my grandchildren and what we want to instill in them, what we want them to do, it’s always community involvement and giving back.”

Laguna Beach grandson

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Cindy, holding grandson Paul, reflects on the values she wishes to instill in the next generation

Cindy’s parents imparted these values. Her mother, active in the PTA and scouting, paved the way for Cindy’s own involvement in the Laguna Beach schools, SchoolPower, and other community organizations when she became a mother herself. These ideals likely guided her decision to pursue a career in counseling. They certainly led to her nearly two-decade commitment to Laguna Beach Live! and her unwavering dedication to bring high quality, affordable, and diverse live musical performances to our town.

Alongside that altruistic streak runs Cindy’s tenacity, efficiency, and amazing ability to multitask. Words like formidable and pitbull appear in articles about her. “Talk about tough women,” said former LCAD President Dennis Power in a 2009 Daily Pilot article about Cindy, “she’s frightening.”

There’s something about women who came of age in the 1960s – particularly those who pursued higher education and embarked on careers that, until then, had been reserved for men. These were America’s first women who wanted it all, but then had to manage it. They didn’t have older generations to rely on for guidance. Instead they seemed hardwired to juggle, seeking out creative solutions to complex problems, all while managing households, husbands, and children.

Laguna Beach Watson

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Cindy poses with international trumpet artist Bijon Watson, a staple performer at Laguna Beach Live! events

In virtue, one gains knowledge

Cindy attended Smith College – a private, liberal arts school in Massachusetts – graduating in 1967 alongside alums like Betty Friedan, Sylvia Plath, Gloria Steinem, and Catharine MacKinnon. An all-women’s institute instills a certain confidence that gender is no barrier to opportunity. The college also likely reinforced Cindy’s innate belief in the necessity of community involvement. Their motto: “In virtue, knowledge.”

“Educate a boy, and you educate an individual,” said Canadian educational reformer Adelaide Hoodless. “Educate a girl, and you educate a community.” Cindy brought her education back to California and put it to work across a spectrum of causes. Having majored in psychology as an undergrad, she acquired her master’s degree in family therapy at Hunter College in New York. Cindy moved with her husband, Dr. Paul Prewitt, to Laguna in the 1970s. Here she worked in both private practice and at the Orange County Mental Health Department. She started a youth shelter. She helped schools set up group counseling support services. And she volunteered at Human Options, a Laguna Beach shelter for abused women and their children.

 “Back then, you could get to adolescents early,” says Cindy. “If children were truant or stayed out late, they were considered status offenders and we could counsel them and get them on track. Today, there’s no funding for that. Offenses must be much worse. Then we could be preemptive. Now everything is done after-the-fact.”

Cindy’s curiosity and quest for knowledge set her apart. Dean Corey, executive director of the Philharmonic Society, said in that same Daily Pilot article that Cindy’s greatest attribute is her desire to learn. Deeping her education, in whatever field she enters, is ingrained in her DNA. “If she doesn’t know it today, she will know it tomorrow,” Corey said. 

Building community begins at home

Cindy met Paul on a blind date in college. He was at Yale, working on his Bachelor’s degree in pre-med before getting his Medical Doctorate at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York. Paul practiced internal medicine at South Coast Medical Center (now Mission Hospital) for over 33 years, serving as their Chief of Staff. They were married 51 years until his passing last February due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.

When their two children arrived (Sean in 1976 and Jennifer in 1977), Cindy moved to private practice so she could work part-time. But by 1982, with the takeover by HMOs and funding cuts for mental health, the situation became untenable. 

Laguna Beach view

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The view from Cindy’s living room

Cindy committed herself to the community, becoming the President of SchoolPower and devoting herself to the Laguna Beach school system, as well as scouting.

It was also the time she began her involvement in the arts. Appointed to the City’s Arts Commission and instrumental in the formation of the Laguna Beach Alliance for the Arts, she further developed her reputation as the one with resilient grit who could get things done. While working at the Artists’ Theatre, she received the wrong fax one day and became aware of a position at the Philharmonic, writing press releases for the House of Design. “It was one of those serendipitous things,” Cindy says. “Like meeting my husband on that blind date. Things just fell into place.” So began her career in music.

Although she’s not a musician herself, claiming the only thing she plays is the radio, her tastes are wide and her interests diverse. It makes her ideally situated for her role at Laguna Beach Live! 

The origin story of Laguna Beach Live!

All of Cindy’s skills and values coalesced one day in 2000 when her friend, Sam Goldstein, approached her with an idea. Laguna had plenty of art, but it was primarily visual. Where were the live performances? Where was the music? “Sam has wonderful ideas,” says Cindy. “Then he gives them to me to implement.”

Laguna Beach jazz

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Cindy introducing a Laguna Beach Live! jazz event

Alongside partner Joe Byrne, the trio put in money and launched Laguna Beach Live! in August of 2001. They started with free chamber music on the first Sunday of each month at the Laguna College of Art & Design. Sally Kellerman came after, offering a cabaret performance at [seven-degrees]. Their partnership with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County began in 2003. 

Today, Laguna Beach Live! brings more than 30 concerts to town each year. From bluegrass to blues, gospel, jazz, big band, chamber, and pop, they hold events in partnership with the Laguna Art Museum, the Playhouse, LCAD, [seven-degrees], and more. “I love bluegrass,” says Cindy. “We do a concert in the LCAD parking lot with that enormous sycamore tree as the backdrop. It’s lovely. We have local barbeque, wine, and beer. It’s a real community event. And we’re now the only bluegrass concert in Orange County.” 

They’re also committed to education, holding informative and interactive events at the Boys and Girls Club, in our schools, at Glennwood House, and other outreach programs. “Some of the kids are very serious,” Cindy says. “Even if they saw the same group at El Morro and are now at the Boys and Girls Club, they’ll sit right up in the front row and listen again.” Students have access to some incredible talent. Renowned violinist and conductor Joshua Bell joined high school students for pizza one day, answering their questions and just hanging out. Small lectures, conversations, or demonstrations also accompany many of the performances, giving the audience an education alongside their entertainment.

Laguna Beach Live! is also committed to keeping their concerts affordable and accessible to the entire community, and outlying communities as well. “It’s important that cost not be a barrier. But it’s difficult to get young people to concerts. If they have families, if they’re paying a babysitter and dinner and ticket prices while both parents are working, it’s not feasible. But we do bring the same music, the same quality performances that they offer at Segerstrom, where you’ll pay $60, to Laguna for $30 a ticket. That’s a service we provide.”

Laguna Beach volunteers

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Cindy poses with Laguna Beach Live! volunteers Maura McDonald and Carole Boller 

 As she reflects back across her many accomplishments and points of pride, it is the moments of musical joy she’s brought to Laguna that bring her the most satisfaction. “Counseling was gratifying,” she says, “but this is pure happiness. Rarely did I hear from patients after I treated them. Now I hear from people every day telling me how much they enjoy the events.” One happy regular referred to Cindy as “Mrs. Rose Garden,” associating her with the live music in the park. 

“I feel good about giving back to the community and watching the success of Laguna Beach Live! If I see someone who came through a trauma, or I’m able to help someone realize their potential, it’s gratifying.”

Being involved in the local community, as opposed to international organizations or large-scale global projects, allows Cindy to witness the effects of her actions. “If we do an event at Glennwood House, we can see the impact immediately,” she says. “Everybody needs music, especially in bad times. If there’s something bad going on in the family, or illness, music helps. It brings people together.”

Finding music in nature

As we wrap up our nearly 90-minute interview, I ask Cindy if there’s anything else I should know. I’ve already heard a remarkable amount. Cindy shrugs, looking out her plate glass window at an expanse of ocean and says, “What else?” Not until now does she mention her extensive international travels, running a marathon, and jumping out of a plane when she turned 50. I settle back down. Clearly we should keep talking.

Turns out, Cindy is also a nature enthusiast. She’s an avid hiker, biker, runner, surfer, and snorkeler. Trips have taken her to Patagonia, Africa, India, and Turkey. She’s barged the canals of Europe and hiked the hills of Peru. How many countries in all? Cindy can only laugh and throw up her hands. Who knows? 

Laguna Beach close up

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Cindy in her south Laguna home where she’s lived since 1982

Her next adventure will take her to Sicily with her sister, but her goal is to see the northern lights and dog sled through Scandinavia. 

Of course Cindy uses her time outdoors to multitask. Meetings are conducted while hiking. Press releases are mentally composed on a run. And every new country explored opens up new opportunities to learn. “I’m not a foodie,” she says. “But I’m very open minded.” There’s almost nothing she won’t try.

If Cindy were to rewrite Melvill’s sermon, she might say it’s a thousand musical notes – instead of fibres – that connect us to our community. For every act Cindy takes to support the musical arts our town, the effects return. They’re seen dancing in the aisles. They’re heard in the applause of the crowds. They are children smiling, musicians playing, and singers singing. They are troubled souls who can’t help but sway in their seats. They are friends gathered together at a concert. They are strangers who bond over a song. 

Music might be the antidote we need to unite us. And Cindy intends to continue delivering it all across our town.

 

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

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