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The Times Orange County Poll : South County Residents More Likely to Attend Performing arts center : Survey Relates Interest in Culture to Education

Times Staff Writer

Women, south county residents and college-educated individuals are those most likely to attend the Orange County Performing Arts Center more than once, according to the Times Orange County Poll.

Translated, the demographics suggest that residents of affluent south county, living within a 20-minute drive of the Center, have the motive, means and opportunity to attend Center events, although money may not be as significant as some would think.

About half (47%) of those who said they are repeat Center attendees reported making more than $50,000 a year.

“We found that interest in arts and culture is more affected by education than by income,” said Mark Baldassare, the UC Irvine sociology professor who conducted the survey.

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Denise Valenti, Debby Lichtman and Karen Fullerton all fit the profile of most frequent Center users and each says the $73.3-million facility in Costa Mesa has greatly improved the quality of her cultural life in the two years since it opened.

“It’s really made a tremendous difference, having something like this in our own area,” said Valenti, 40, of Mission Viejo.

“I think we’re very lucky to have that caliber of arts center so close to home,” said Lichtman, 41, of Laguna Hills.

“This has been the most wonderful thing for Orange County for cultural progress, to have this beautiful center so close,” said Fullerton, 43, of Lake Forest.

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Like 29% of the women surveyed, Valenti, Lichtman and Fullerton said the performing arts and cultural events are a “very important” part of their lives. Only 17% of the men questioned rated the arts as highly.

The three women said they devote most of their time to child care and homemaking and to volunteering for various community activities, including involvements with the Center. Before the Center was built, they said, they traveled considerable distances, mostly to Los Angeles and San Diego, for cultural events. All three women were located for The Times through the Center. The women vary in their artistic preferences (the poll suggests that most frequent attendees prefer such “high culture” events as classical music concerts).

The three women’s suggestions for improving the Center also vary.

Before moving to California, Valenti, whose husband does executive consulting work, studied art at Pratt Institute in New York and worked as a commercial artist. Her tastes run to classical music (she subscribes to the Orange County Philharmonic Society series of concerts by nationally and internationally touring performers) followed by opera and dance. Most of these, she said, have been of very high quality.

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Valenti said she would be pleased by improvements, though, in the Broadway musicals presented at the Center. There were, she said, “a few disappointments” among the productions she saw, which she acknowledged might be a function of comparing the “road companies” in Costa Mesa with “first-run things in New York and London.”

With four children, including a new baby, Valenti agrees with the largest percentage of those polled (45%) that she doesn’t have as much time to use the Center as much as she would like.

Lichtman, a former teacher who said she prefers ballet, Broadway shows and the symphony, doesn’t think the Center’s offerings “could improve in any way. I think they’re wonderful.”

Lichtman’s only complaint is that, with three children and plans to re-enter the work force, time is a problem for her, too. She said she has had to cancel at least one subscription series and switch to attending single performances, in part to make time to attend performances at South Coast Repertory and the Moulton Theatre, as well as art films.

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Lichtman said that frequently she and her husband, an attorney, make an evening of Center performances, going out for dessert after performances. Once, they treated themselves to a night at a nearby hotel.

Fullerton and her husband, a construction executive, like Broadway shows and dance events. Sometimes it’s difficult, she said, to “drag my husband to an opera.” She gave up her subscription to SCR to make more time for the Center, subscribing to the opera and attending single ballet performances.

With two young children, she also is active in Center activities involving young people.

Although she said she is very satisfied with most of the Center’s programming, she would like to see it present hit shows, such as “The Phantom of the Opera,” sooner.

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