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OC Performing Arts Center appeals for $1 million to avoid further cuts; spare change welcome

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Trying to balance a nonprofit arts budget in a down economy is like rowing upstream, so the Orange County Performing Arts Center is trying to recruit many more paddlers -- that is, donors willing to kick in whatever they can.

The usual suspects for emergency giving, the center’s own board members, say they’ll ante up a dollar for each buck that others contribute between now and June 30, the end of the Costa Mesa center’s fiscal year. The goal is to raise $2 million, including the board members’ matching amounts, while also using the “challenge” to attract first-time donors, no matter how modest the amount.

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“More than ever, every gift matters,” chairman Thomas V. McKernan said in a statement announcing the fundraising push. A successful campaign, he added “will go a very long way towards maintaining our artistic programs” and educational offerings.

The center also has moved to cut expenses, with layoffs earlier this year of seven full-time and three part-time workers out of a full-time staff of about 100; more recently, officials said, they instituted a 14% across-the-board reduction in salaries and benefits, with senior staffers taking a 16% cut.

Despite the economic woes, the center has had no programming cuts, spokesman Todd Bentjen said. Expenditures totaled $68.8 million in 2007-08, according to the center’s financial statement, making it by far the largest arts organization in Orange County.

— Mike Boehm

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