As many as 900 party-goers are expected to turn out at the South Coast Plaza Crystal Court in Costa Mesa tonight for a New Year’s Eve gala that will raise money for the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The organizers of the black-tie affair hope to net about $15,000 for the Center’s operating fund.
“This is the first year for the gala, and it’s kind of a trial balloon,” said Ken Sethney, a board member of the Center 500, the support group sponsoring the event.
So far the balloon is soaring. Invitations to the affair, which is being billed as a “Classic Evening of Rhythm ‘n’ Blues,” were sent out just after Thanksgiving, offering mail-order tickets at $75 each. More than 700 checks came winging back, Sethney said. Tickets available tonight at the door will cost $100.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if we get 900 people,” Anton Segerstrom, the operations manager of Crystal Court and a board member of the Center 500, said earlier this week. “It’s not going to be a tea dance.”
What does surprise Segerstrom, who is credited with the idea for the New Year’s Eve fund-raiser, is widespread gossip that donors have begun to show flagging enthusiasm for giving to the Center.
He also discounts the pessimistic conclusion of the 1987 Orange County Annual Survey, conducted by the Public Policy Research Organization at UC Irvine and released earlier this month, that county residents prefer not to make charitable donations to any arts institutions.
“I see very strong support,” he said. “I haven’t really been aware of any falloff. We’re certainly holding our members.”
The Center 500 has about 300 single men and women who pay annual dues of $250, of which 90% goes to the Center’s operating budget. Sethney said the group raised $95,000 last year in charitable donations and expects to raise $100,000 this fiscal year (July through June).
The Center’s two “donor groups"--the Center Stars and the Performing Arts Fraternity--contribute a combined total of about $300,000 through their annual dues of $1,500, but they do not sponsor fund-raisers, according to the Center’s director of support groups, Roberta Minkler. The Stars has a membership of 125 women. The Fraternity has 125 men.
In view of the UC Irvine survey, it’s the apparent grass-roots strength of the Center’s key support group--the Guilds--that is most striking.
A countywide organization with about 4,000 members (mostly women), the Guilds raises most of its donations through fund-raising campaigns held year-round with little fanfare and less glory.
On Tuesday, for instance, the Toscanini Chapter of the North Central Guild netted “about $10,000" for the Center by selling about 450 tickets at $40 each to a dinner and show (“Disney World on Ice”), according to Mary Bouas of Anaheim.
“We were very pleased by the turnout,” said Bouas, a past president of the chapter, noting that the amount raised matched last year’s total.
Georgia Spooner, a founder of the Guilds, pointed out that the organization had donated “well over $3 million” to the Center since it began raising funds 10 years ago.
“We’ve been over $500,000 for the last four years and right around $600,000 for each of the past two,” Spooner said. “Every year we’ve raised more than the previous year. We haven’t found our activities falling off at all since the Center opened.”
Interviews earlier this week with other representatives of the Guilds and a telephone survey of 14 of the 43 chapters throughout the county echoed Spooner’s optimistic assessment of the support group’s continuing strength.
Although many chapter chairwomen acknowledged hearing tales of declining interest in the Center--as evidenced by some losses in membership and greater resistance to fund-raising in the last year--most claimed to have matched or exceeded last year’s fund-raising efforts.
In the Irvine Guild, for example, the Applause chapter expects to raise $48,000 with a Beaux - Arts Ball in May, according to chairwoman Mary Kunz. “This will be our largest fund-raiser ever,” she said. The chapter raised $23,000 last year.
“We had a really good year,” said Claire Burt, chairwoman of the Crescendo chapter in the Central County Guild. Crescendo, which operates in the Santa Ana area, nets at least $10,000 every year for the Center through a celebrity lecture series, she said.
The Guys and Dolls chapter of the Newport Harbor Guild is arranging a fund-raiser for March, tied to the opening of a new restaurant-cum-nightclub. “Last year we made a donation of $8,000,” chapter chairman George Harris said. “We’re planning to exceed that.”
Still, some chapters are anticipating a decline in the funds they can raise, and others have already seen one. Thelma Friedel, Ways and Means chairman of all chapters of the Guilds, said: “The second year for the Center is naturally a testing time.”
Kathryn Sims, chairwoman of the Sonata chapter of the North County Guild, concurred: “It’s very competitive for charities. We did $7,000 to $8,000 last year. We’re hoping for $5,000 to $6,000 this year.”
In the Huntington Harbor Guild, three chapters--La Traviata, Madame Butterfly and Flying Dutchman--pooled their efforts and netted $19,000 with a “home design” fund-raiser at the county fairgrounds last September, La Traviata chairwoman Jacqueline Ross said.
“We had a Masquerade Ball for three years in a row before that, and we raised $25,000 each year,” she said. “The home design theme was a first. We felt if we didn’t end up in the red, we’d be doing well. So donating $19,000 turned out to be super.”
On a less cheery note, the Rhapsody and Cantata chapters of the North County Guild had to combine their memberships because of people leaving.
“I don’t think anybody can really put their finger on why they’ve dropped out,” said Mary Witte, a chapter official.
But some active Guilds members who asked not to be named cited the lack of Center perquisites such as priority seating (which some members believed had been promised them but had not been delivered), disenchantment with Center programming and the mistaken notion that once the Center was built it no longer needed charitable donations.
One said: “The Center took a high-and-mighty attitude toward small donors at the beginning, which didn’t earn them any points. But they’ve been trying to change.”
UPCOMING BENEFIT PARTIES Here is a sampler of upcoming benefit parties by Orange County Performing Arts Center guilds.:
Who: Crescendo chapter,
Central County Guild.
What: Fitness lecture by Sheila Cluff.
When: Jan. 21.
Where: Ebell Club in Santa Ana.
Who: Sonata chapter,
North County Guild.
What: ‘20s theme party.
When: Feb. 6.
Where: The Plaza in Fullerton.
Who: George Gershwin chapter, South Coast Guild.
What: Valentine Ball.
When: Feb. 13.
Where: Dana Point Resort Hotel.
Who: Beethoven chapter,
What: Leap Year Gala.
When: Feb. 29.
Where: Clubhouse 3 at Leisure World.
Who: South Pacific chapter,
Newport Harbor Guild.
What: Bridge Luncheon and Fashion Show.
When: March 24.
Where: The Registry Hotel in Irvine.
Who: Guys and Dolls chapter, Newport Harbor Guild.
What: Party at nightclub opening.
When: In March.
Where: Not available.
Who: Con Brio chapter,
Central County Guild.
What: Champagne brunch dansant .
When: April 10.
Where: Turnip Rose Elite Catering Co. at the Orange County Medical Conference Center in Orange.
Who: Alla Gitana chapter,
Central County Guild.
What: Casino night (black-tie).
When: April 16.
Where: Hotel to be decided.
Who: The Sound of Music chapter, Newport Harbor Guild.
What: “Jungle Fever” dinner-dance.
When: April 30.
Where: Newport Marriott.
Who: Applause chapter, Irvine Guild.
What: Beaux-Arts Ball.
When: May 7.
Where: Design Center South in Laguna Niguel.