Three Southern California arts organizations are among 50 recipients of $21 million in challenge grants expected to be awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts today in Washington.

They are the Museum of Contemporary Art ($500,000), the education division of the Performing Arts Council of the Music Center ($300,000) and the South Coast Repertory Theatre ($350,000).

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

“We’re extremely pleased,” said MOCA director Richard Koshalek of the museum’s first challenge grant. “The grant will give us the initiative and the recognition we need to finalize our endowment.” The museum 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 endowment. “We are very happy that the NEA so visibly shares our concern for and commitment to the development of future arts audiences,” said Michael Newton, president of the Performing Arts Council.

The education division 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, Newton said.

David Emmes, producing artistic director and co-founder of South Coast Repertory, said the theater was “tremendously honored” by the 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.”

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

Frank Hodsoll, NEA chairman, in a written statement, said, “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,’ 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,” Hodsoll said. “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.”

Six arts organizations were awarded matching grants of $1 million. They are the San Francisco Opera, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the St. Louis Symphony Society, the Philadelphia Orchestra Assn. and the Houston Grand Opera Assn.


Hodsoll will appear at the Music Center on Saturday as a participant in a “20 Years of Partnership.” The event, scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. on the Music Center Plaza, will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the endowment and launches National Arts Week, which runs through Sept. 29.

The NEA became an independent agency of the federal government in 1965 and has since seen its budget grow from $2.5 million to today’s $163.6 million.

Times Staff Writer Herman Wong contributed to this story.