Henry Segerstrom to receive arts philanthropy medal from Carnegie Hall


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Henry Segerstrom is about to fulfill an old punch line, but not in a way that will do any harm to his reputation as Orange County’s leading arts philanthropist.

Q: How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

A: Practice.

In Segerstrom’s case, it’s the practice of giving a bundle to the arts that led to Friday’s announcement that Carnegie Hall will award him its annual Medal of Excellence, conferred on people ‘whose accomplishments in the corporate sector complement Carnegie Hall’s stature as one of the premier performance venues in the world.’


Segerstrom, developer of South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, began his big-dollar arts philanthropy in the mid-1970s, when he donated land near the shopping center as a site for South Coast Repertory, whose largest venue is the Segerstrom Stage. Since then, gifts of adjoining parcels owned by the Segerstrom family enlarged the arts district to include the Orange County Performing Arts Center and a site reserved for a new home for the Newport Beach-based Orange County Museum of Art. The district’s formal name is the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and the performing arts center’s two large auditoriums are the 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall and the 2,000-seat Rene and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. The construction fund for the latter included $51 million donated by Segerstrom.

His philanthropic connection to Carnegie Hall became high-profile last year when OCPAC and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County collaborated with the New York City venue to bring a version of the Carnegie-organized Ancient Paths, Modern Voices festival of Chinese culture to Costa Mesa. Next up: JapanNYC and JapanOC, which will repeat the bicoastal arrangement by bringing a series of events, including a recital by violinist Midori, to Orange County from October to April, 2011.

In point of fact, Segerstrom, 87, will receive his medal not at Carnegie Hall but at the Waldorf Astoria, in a June 7 gala to raise money for Carnegie Hall’s artistic and education programs. We just didn’t want to spoil the punch line.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured with Segerstrom at the 2006 dedication of OCPAC’s concert hall) is one of the gala’s honorary co-chairs, with Carnegie Hall Chairman Sanford Weill and last year’s Medal of Excellence winner, Macy’s boss Terry Lundgren.

-- Mike Boehm


Changing times challenge Segerstrom

Front view of concert hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Credit: Los Angeles Times