Hometown Hero: Wendy Larsen

Wendy Larsen with late partner Charlie Siemon at a Festival event

Together with her late friend and business partner, one woman has helped bring world-class art to Boca

Wendy Larsen commuted to Boca Raton from her law office in Chicago in the 1980s until 1994, when she moved here full-time. She and her longtime law partner, the late Charlie Siemon, with whom she had worked since 1975, were prominent land use attorneys and experts in vested rights litigation.

And they were also fierce advocates for the arts in Boca Raton.

Today, both are credited for spearheading the cultural dimension of Mizner Park, and more recently, the annual, highly regarded Festival of the Arts Boca.

HOW IT STARTED:

“Charlie and I got a phone call one day from Barrett Wissman, who was head of IMG Artists at the time. He said ‘I have a big idea.’ At the time he had just started a festival in Napa and one in Italy and he wanted [a Boca festival] to be the sister festival in the U.S. And so he really helped us that first couple of years. That first year, in 2007, we had pretty incredible artists—including Itzhak Perlman, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the greatest baritone of all time, and Salman Rushdie. It was an unbelievable year.”

WHY SHE AND CHARLIE WERE SO PASSIONATE ABOUT MUSIC:

“Charlie spent a lot of time in his early years with an aunt who sang at The Met. And his mother played the piano quite well. She was never a competitive pianist, but he remembered many, many years of a lot of joy with all of that. I was dragged to classical music and opera when I was young by a grandmother of a friend of mine, so I was exposed to that at a very early age. We, in some ways, thought it was our obligation to help keep classical music alive.”

WHY THE FESTIVAL IS IMPORTANT TO BOCA:

“I am actually sort of surprised at how the city has really adopted it as its own. Originally we didn’t get a dime from the city [They now support it financially, with a donation of about $200,000 a year—Ed.] and they soon realized that this was placing Boca on the map. And what Charlie and I always wanted to do and what was the whole point of developing the north end [of Mizner Park] was imbuing it with cultural activities. We wanted it to be the heart of downtown. And in some ways it has become that.”

AND THE FUTURE?

“After COVID [This year’s festival will be virtual—Ed.], I’m hoping we go back to normal. We’ve got a lot of young people on our board now; as we die off, I hope they’ll take over…”

This year’s Festival of the Arts Boca will take place virtually from March 5-14. For schedule details and to purchase tickets, visit https://festivalboca.org/.

This story is from the January 2021 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.

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Marie Speed is group editor of all JES publications, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Worth Avenue, Mizner’s Dream and the annual publication for the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce. She also oversees editorial operations of the company’s Salt Lake City magazines. Her community involvement has ranged from work with the Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce to a longtime board member position at Caridad Center. She is also on the George Snow Scholarship Fund review committee. She is a past officer of the Florida Magazine Association and a member of Class XVII of Leadership Florida. In her spare time, Marie enjoys South Florida’s natural world through hiking and kayaking, and she is an avid reader and an enthusiastic cook.