State Rates Arts Groups in O.C. : Funding: Council’s advisory panels praise and criticize Pacific Symphony, Newport Harbor Art Museum and Opera Pacific. The council will award grants next week.


The Pacific Symphony is “an ambitious orchestra with good players” but can sound “flat, uninspired and without energy.”

Newport Harbor Art Museum “has done many good, interesting shows in the past, but future programming does not seem as strong.”

And Opera Pacific “artistically . . . has come a long way from where they were a few years ago,” but part of its financial picture is “alarming.”

These are the judgments of California Arts Council advisory panels, which evaluated several of Orange County’s big-budget arts groups and came back with praise as well as some stinging criticism.


The council will award grants to state arts groups next week, determining amounts using recommendations from panels that judge and numerically rank the groups’ artistic and administrative strength and outreach efforts on a scale of 1, the lowest, to 4.

Comments made by panelists during their evaluation process were released last week.

The Newport Harbor Art Museum, which dropped from 3 to 3-minus in its artistic and administrative ranking this year, has mounted fine exhibitions in the past, “but future programming does not seem as strong” and the institution is “suffering” without a chief curator, panelists said of the post that has been vacant now for more than a year.

The museum also is “not seriously seeking out new (artistic) talent,” and its new director, Michael Botwinick, while “extremely capable,” sent a statement with the grant application that “provided no vision,” panelists said.


Financially, the museum experienced “decreased revenues,” has a “continuing pattern of deficits” and “flat memberships.”

Botwinick denied any weakness of future programming, citing “Devil on the Stairs: Looking Back on the Eighties” a traveling show scheduled for 1992. Describing it as a “major retrospective” international in scope, the show is the first attempt to categorize and analyze art trends of the ‘80s, he said. The long-term exhibit schedule has been kept somewhat “loose,” he said, to allow a new chief curator to make his or her own contributions.

The museum continues to seek new talent, he said. This fall’s “Third Newport Biennial,” for instance, will show aggressive efforts to showcase emerging and minority artists, he said.

Regarding criticism of his application statement, Botwinick said it was written within the first week of his arrival at the museum and that “I made no attempt . . . to proscribe an artistic direction” at that time. “That would have been naive,” he said.


Botwinick said he could not provide figures on the museum’s budget or membership levels. Other CAC or Newport Harbor officials were unavailable. But Botwinick said the panel had “a mistaken understanding” of the budget. What may have seemed to the panel to be a decrease in revenues was perhaps due to the fact that the exhibition budget takes the largest bite out of the overall budget, so that as exhibits change and “corporate support rises and falls,” budgetary fluctuations are created “that are not necessarily indicative of long-term trends.”

He predicted that there will be a “modest” deficit at the end of the fiscal year in September and said the museum has had deficits for the past two or three years. Botwinick said that membership has not increased recently but that officials are giving high priority to fund-raising and membership drives for the coming year.

The museum, whose outreach rating jumped from 2-plus to 3 this year, was praised for its “great movement forward and new leadership.” But panelists said they expect “more multicultural diversity on board, staff and programming in future,” a goal explicitly stated by museum officials before.

The Pacific Symphony, which received the same artistic and administrative score this year as last (3) was praised as “an ambitious orchestra with good players. The pool of players available to this orchestra is first rate and on a national scale. The conductor is also highly praised, well schooled and experienced.


“However,” the report continued, “the panel is puzzled by the (orchestra’s) artistic quality as evidenced on the tape” submitted with its grant application. “Music did not flow, there is no shaping, and while there is some voicing and phrasing, it does not appear to be in a controlled way. Panel finds the playing on the tape flat, uninspired and without energy.”

The orchestra should also “look at work by California and multicultural composers for inclusion in their main season,” panelists said. Although the orchestra’s outreach rating rose from 3-minus to 3 this year, the panel said “the organization continues to have pretty thin diversity on their boards.”

Louis G. Spisto, the orchestra’s executive director, disputed some of the panel’s assessments.

“Their judgment of the tape is drastically at odds with the reviews and responses we’ve gotten all year long from the critics and audiences,” Spisto said. He said that the orchestra’s chief commitment is to American music and that despite a strong familiarity with CAC grant requirements, he was unaware that the council wanted groups to focus specifically on California composers.


He took strong exception to the comment about board diversity, noting that five of 32 board members are minorities.

“The panels almost capriciously change from year to year as to what they are looking for,” he said.

Opera Pacific’s artistic and administrative rank jumped from 3 to 3-plus this year, and panelists touted its “high quality” and artistic growth. On the money front, the panel remarked: “While financial picture appears to be a stable one, with a good cash reserve . . . panelists nevertheless find drops in business/corporate and foundation support alarming.”

Company general director David DiChiera acknowledged that corporate and foundation giving has “petered off because of the recession.” In fiscal year 1989-90, corporate and foundation donations totaled $124,000, and in 1990-91, they reached only $100,000. But, DiChiera said, the decrease was offset by an increase in donations from individuals, which totaled $865,000 in 1989-90 and are expected to reach about $900,000 in 1990-91.


The opera also advanced its outreach rank from 3-minus to 3 and was praised for its Opera for the Mentally Challenged program, which introduces developmentally disabled students to music and theater, and progress made in board diversification. DiChiera said the company had gained one Latino and one Asian member, bringing to six the number of minorities on its 60-member board.