Times Staff Writer

Orange County’s first major arts festival for children--part of a nationwide program founded by the Kennedy Center--is still 5 1/2 months away, but organizers are already talking of making the festival an annual event, and of making the Orange County Performing Arts Center the festival’s principal facility after 1986.

Like similar festivals held at large arts complexes in Seattle, Denver, Milwaukee and Louisville, the Orange County “Imagination Celebration” next March 8-15 will showcase community education efforts in the performing and visual arts. Sixteen organizations, including the Newport Harbor Art Museum, Laguna Beach Museum of Art and Orange County Philharmonic Society, have agreed to participate in the event, which will offer workshops and classroom visits, as well as concert performances and art shows.

Other participants are to include the Orange County Arts Alliance, Orange County Opera Company, Irvine Fine Arts Center, Laguna Beach College of Art, Junior League and Fairview Development Center.

The March 8 opening-day program, to be held at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, will feature singer-actor Burl Ives (chairman of the National Alliance for Arts Education) and SCR’s newest musical for children, “Imagine That!” In addition, a production staged originally at the Kennedy Center and still to be announced, is also scheduled to be performed.

Other programs, including artworks by both able-bodied and disabled persons, are set for the Brea, Mission Viejo and South Coast Plaza shopping malls.


But local organizers hope the proposed 1987 festival will be held chiefly at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now under construction in Costa Mesa and scheduled to open in fall, 1986. Orange County festival coordinator Lis Dungan said that under the proposal for an annual children’s arts festival, concerts and other productions, plus art exhibits and workshops, would be held at the new complex. Additional programs would again be presented at museums and other “satellite sites” throughout the county, she said.

Executives at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington said the possible availability of the Orange County Center in 1987 was the pivotal factor for choosing Orange County as a festival locale in 1986.

(In 1981, Orange County was picked by another Kennedy Center affiliate, the National Committee/Arts for the Handicapped, as the site of a Kennedy-sponsored “A Very Special Arts Festival” for the physically and mentally disabled. Co-sponsors of the event, the largest of its kind presented in California, were the state Education Department and various Orange County organizations, including the Orange County Department of Education.)

Since 1978, “Imagination Celebration” festivals have been held in 30 different areas in 12 states under the auspices of the Kennedy Center. To date, the only “Imagination Celebration” festivals in California were held in Marin County in 1983 and 1984, chiefly at the Marin Center in San Rafael.

But last year, Kennedy Center executives said, the program received a $12,000 grant from an “anonymous foundation” that stipulated the grant be used only for a future Southern California festival.

The Los Angeles Music Center, which had declined to participate in earlier efforts, again took itself out of the running. One reason, a Music Center administrator said, is because the Los Angeles complex already sponsors one of the largest arts-education programs of any U.S. center, including festivals, teacher institutes and artists’ tours.

“It also seemed to us that Orange County, a newer area with a growing (arts) program and a new center, would be more ideal for such a (festival) program,” said Joan Boyett, the Music Center’s education division director.

The Orange County choice wasn’t based solely on the availability of the Orange County Center in 1987. “Another factor is that Orange County’s efforts in that (arts education) field are already noteworthy,” said David Humphrey, director of the National Alliance for Arts Education, the Kennedy Center affiliate that administers the program.

The Orange County Department of Education, along with the Orange County Performing Arts Center and the Kennedy Center-affiliated California Alliance for Arts Education, are sponsoring next March’s “Imagination Celebration.” The festival is now budgeted at $140,000.

As a co-sponsor of the event, Orange County Center officials have agreed to provide managerial and other “technical assistance” for that initial program. But center officials, still in the midst of booking regular attractions for its 1986-87 opening season, have not decided whether to offer its complex for the 1987 arts education festival.

“We will most certainly explore that (1987 festival) possibility. But we believe any consideration at this time would be premature,” said Thomas Kendrick, the Orange County Center’s executive director and, until recently, Kennedy Center director of operations.

(According to Kennedy Center executives, the approval of Orange County as an “Imagination Celebration” site was made last year when Kendrick was still director of operations of the Washington complex and before he became an active candidate for the Orange County Center post. Kendrick, who had been with the Kennedy Center nine years, assumed the Orange County post Sept. 9.)

The Kennedy Center provides local festivals with “seed money” grants, technical assistance and managerial support, plus the staging of a Kennedy-presented musical or other children-oriented production.