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Soviet Official’s Delay Stirs Nervousness for Festival

Irina Mikheyeva, the Soviet official in charge of North American cultural exchanges, was due in town last Thursday to discuss next year’s San Diego-Soviet arts festival with Mayor Maureen O’Connor and local arts leaders.

But Mikheyeva, who accompanied O’Connor’s party of arts leaders and other city officials on an 18-day tour of the Soviet Union last summer, postponed the visit. “Pressing business” kept her at home, O’Connor’s press secretary, Paul Downey, said.

With less than 12 months before the festival’s Oct. 21 opening, plenty of details need to be nailed down. Plans were for Mikheyeva and local officials to:

* Discuss specifics of the exhibits and performances.

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* Schedule negotiations for contracts.

* Revise the original San Diego-Soviet cultural agreement.

* Inspect likely exhibition and performing arts venues.

* Schedule return trips to the Soviet Union for arts leaders.

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Downey said this week that the delay is not critical and that Mikheyeva is expected to visit within a few weeks.

“We don’t see it as significantly slowing anything,” he said. “It gives us some more prep time. We have a commitment to get (the planning) done as quickly as possible. So do the Soviets. . . . They have as much work to do as we do.”

However, leaders of the city’s four largest arts institutions--the San Diego Symphony, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego Opera and San Diego Museum of Art--stressed the importance of Mikheyeva’s visit in an Oct. 5 letter to city arts officials, going so far as to say they will be unable to provide “the best possible arts festival” for San Diego if Soviet artists, fees, dates and logistics are not confirmed by Oct. 31.

When asked about the impact of the delayed visit on the festival, symphony spokesman Les Smith noted that the symphony usually works with a three-year lead time.

“Anytime the planning process falls under 12 months, it makes it difficult to put something together,” he said.

Ian Campbell, general director of the opera, called the delay irritating but said it is “out of our control. From our point of view, we are as advanced as we can be” in planning for the festival, he said.

Meanwhile, festival administrative director Bruce Herring has filed papers incorporating a nonprofit festival organization, met with 30 to 40 arts leaders to “put together an all-inclusive collaborative effort” and begun work on administrative matters such as determining what kinds of and how much insurance will be needed.

O’Connor is selecting the members of a key panel that will advise the festival corporation, Downey said. But no interviews have been scheduled to fill the festival artistic director’s position, he said.

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Challenge grants work very well for radiothons and telethons. Now, arts institutions are using them to stimulate increased giving for their annual fund-raising campaigns.

The San Diego Opera and San Diego Symphony harnessed challenge grants to kick off their recent annual fund drives to raise $1.2 million and $1.25 million, respectively. The James Irvine Foundation sweetened the opera’s campaign with a two-year, $150,000 challenge. Great American First Savings Bank ponied up a one-year, $120,000 challenge to boost symphony fund raising.

Gordon Luce, chief executive officer and chairman of Great American’s board, chose to switch to a new form of support for the symphony’s winter season because the challenge concept was a “new idea” in fund raising. The grant will replace the symphony’s underwriting of winter concerts, he said.

The two challenge grants work like this:

The Irvine Foundation will match dollar for dollar every new or increased donation to the opera of more than $1,200, up to the $150,000.

The Great American grant works in a similar way, except that the match is 50 cents on the dollar. It applies to all new contributions and increased donations from existing donors.

The symphony is seeking to raise its total contributed income this year, including government grants, from $2.4 million to $2.7 million.

The new challenge grant has already made a difference, according to the opera’s fund-raising director, Domenick Ietto, who has seen “quite a few first-time gifts come in, with the match being mentioned as a strong incentive for the gifts being given.”

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Ietto asked the Irvine Foundation for the challenge grant to assist the opera’s goal of increasing support from the business community. “We thought if we put that challenge grant in front of a business that hadn’t supported the opera directly, it would broaden our support,” he said.

For the symphony, which is embarked on a major program to rebuild its public image, the Great American imprimatur may generate more than the added bucks.

“We do have faith in the symphony management,” Great American’s Luce said. “I read good things ahead for the symphony.”

You can bet that kind of talk is music to the symphony’s ears.


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