Times Staff Writers

Three Southern Californian arts organizations are among the 50 recipients of matching challenge grants expected to be awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts today in Washington.

South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa will receive a $350,000 grant; the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles($500,000), and the education division of the Performing Arts Council of the Los Angeles Music Center ($300,000).

The challenge grant program, established in 1977, is designed to assist arts organizations in achieving long-term financial stability. Recipients of NEA challenge grants have three years to generate three times the amount of the grant from new or increased sources of funding.

David Emmes, the producing artistic director and co-founder of SCR, said that the theater was “tremendously honored” by the NEA grant. “This is an endorsement on a national level for our theater,” he said. “We consider it an endorsement of what we have done in recent years to make this one of the best resident theaters in the country.”


The South Coast Repertory Theatre’s $350,000 grant is considered the largest NEA grant of any type given to an Orange County organization, NEA aides in Washington said.

SCR, which received a $30,000 NEA challenge grant in 1977, is also thought to be the only Orange County organization to receive NEA challenge grants--one of the most prestigious awards in the country.

Also, SCR is one of only four stage companies to receive 1985-86 challenge grants, NEA aides said. The others are the American Repertory Theatre ($750,000) in Cambridge, Mass., Oregon Shakespearean Festival ($350,000) in Ashland, Ore., and Long Wharf Theatre ($300,000) in New Haven, Conn.

Emmes announced that the monies will be used for the creation of a new endowment, the earnings from which will launch a new play-development program at the theater. Some of the funds will also be used for the expansion of the SCR’s Fourth Step Theatre complex and for collaborative workshops for artists from various disciplines and new plays and playwrights.

Geoffrey Stack, SCR board president, said that the 3-1 matching criteria means SCR has to raise $1,050,000 over a three-year span to receive the $350,000 NEA grant. “We’re ready to accept this challenge. This theater has a history of tremendous support from the community. This is an historic step for SCR,” he said.

Stack and Emmes pointed out that SCR has a “strong track record” in previous major fund raising. The two-playhouse Fourth Step complex was built in 1978 in Costa Mesa for $3.5 million--the largest arts campaign up to that time in the county.

Last year, SCR announced that it had already raised $3 million in a previously announced campaign to raise additional funds for program, technical and structural expansions, including a new “artists’ center wing.” (This is in addition to SCR’s annual operating budget, which is now the largest of any artistic organization in the county at $3.8 million. To help underwrite that budget, SCR has also received a separate $60,000 operational grant from the NEA for 1985-86.)

Richard Koshalek, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, said of the museum’s first-ever challenge grant: “We’re extremely pleased. The grant will give us the initiative and the recognition we need to finalize our endowment.” MoCA is in the midst of a $35-million fund-raising campaign and expects to open its new downtown facility in late 1986.


The grant to the education division of the Performing Arts Council is also the first challenge grant the organization has received from the NEA. Said Michael Newton, president of the Performing Arts Council: “We are very happy that the NEA so visibly shares our concern for and commitment to the development of future arts audiences.”

The education division, Newton said, will use the funds to establish an endowment to maintain existing programs and meet demand for services, such as the division’s children’s arts education program.

Frank Hodsoll, NEA chairman, said in a written statement: “In a time of severe federal budget constraints, we can point with pride to the achievement of the Challenge Grant Program as one of the most effective uses of federal funds. The catalytic effect of these grants attracts an average of seven to eight dollars in match--a highly effective yield, and more than double the required amount.”

Since 1977, NEA challenge grants totaling $151 million have attracted more than $1 billion in new donations, according to NEA spokeswoman Kathy Christie.


“ ‘Thanks a billion,’ ” Hodsoll said in the prepared statement, “is our message to the businesses, corporations, foundations and individual private citizens in all parts of the country, who have answered the endowment’s challenge by matching these grants with extra new levels of support for the arts. Congratulations are also in order to the grant recipients--which include the nation’s most prestigious arts organizations--whose innovative and extensive fund-raising campaigns have exceeded all expectation.”