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Orange County Performing Arts Center 5th Anniversary : Arts Center Gives and Takes Away : Performance Hall Helps Groups Grow but Overshadows Them

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On the eve of the Orange County Performing Arts Center’s fifth anniversary this Sunday, local arts groups credit the building for triggering their own dizzying spurts of growth. But at the same time, as they seek a financial base to maintain that growth, they find themselves fighting to emerge from the Center’s shadow.

The Pacific Symphony went from playing an aging high school auditorium to 2,994-seat Segerstrom Hall, doubling and redoubling the size of its operation in the process. Nonexistent before the Center opened, Opera Pacific emerged in 1987 as a full-blown company with 30 performances and a $3 million-plus budget. The Orange County Philharmonic Society, which presents visiting orchestras at the Center and other halls, has tripled its budget in the past five years, while the Pacific Chorale and Master Chorale of Orange County also are growing.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Oct. 03, 1991 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 3, 1991 Orange County Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Chorale budget: The 1990/91 operating budget of the Master Chorale of Orange County is $355,000, $30,000 more than before the Orange County Performing Arts Center opened. Because of incorrect information given to The Times, an incorrect figure appeared in Calendar Friday.

But the groups--which operate independently of the Center--all say they must contend with a persistent identity crisis, fostered at least in part by the Center’s formidable presence. The groups say they have found many people who mistakenly believe that their programs are being sponsored and staged by the Center, while in fact the groups are paying the Center rent.

This problem is particularly acute in the fund-raising arena. With an army of more than 4,000 volunteers and a board that boasts some of the most powerful business leaders in the county, the Center will raise about $5.1 million this year--more than the five regional organizations combined, even though the Center’s own presentations constitute only about half the programs there.

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Because ticket sales cover only a percentage of their expenses, each the groups and the Center all must go to corporations and individuals to raise the difference. Often, they find themselves tapping the same sources--and the Center, often, is winning out.

Pacific Symphony board president G. Randolph Johnson said that when he contacts corporations to solicit contributions, he frequently is given a variation on the old “We already gave at the office” line--"We’ve already given to the Center.” Johnson said he still talks to potential donors who believe--again, incorrectly--that the Center acts as a sort of “United Way,” dividing up its contributions and handing them out to participating arts groups.

In fact, while the Center’s fund-raising machine has kept it comfortably in the black, four of the five regional groups find themselves with accumulated deficits--ranging from $8,000 for the Pacific Chorale to $800,000 for the Pacific Symphony.

Center officials tout the construction of their building as the most impressive fund-raising feat in county history: More than $72 million, all in private money, was raised to construct Segerstrom Hall.

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Yet, according to several arts leaders, there was little realization among donors that substantial ongoing effort would be required to keep the Center up and running (the Center still receives no direct government assistance).

The Center’s operating expenses for 1991 are forecast at just over $18.8 million, while revenues (including rent from the five local arts organizations, and ticket sales from the Center’s own dance, jazz and musical theater offerings) will come in at about $14.8 million.

Added to that $4 million operating shortfall is about $847,000 needed for a repair fund and other capital costs, according to Center President Thomas R. Kendrick.

One of his “biggest hurdles” upon coming to Orange County, Kendrick said, was to take the sprawling fund-raising structure that built the Center and convert it into a volunteer organization that could help support the building on a yearly basis. He counts the effort as a success, noting that the Center has ended up in the black every year of its operation.

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But some of the groups that use the Center have not done as well, especially during the lingering economic slump.

The Pacific Symphony came up $200,000 short in the fund-raising drive that ended June 30, and watched its accumulated deficit rise to $800,000. The Philharmonic Society ended the 1990-91 fiscal year with a $275,000 accumulated deficit. The two chorales are carrying small deficits, leaving only Opera Pacific currently in the black.

Part of the problem is identity. The distinctions between the groups’ work and the Center’s own productions are not always clear to audiences and donors.

David DiChiera, artistic director of Opera Pacific, said audiences often assume that the company’s products are imports. But, he stressed, “the opera is truly a product that is both conceived and produced in Orange County” by Opera Pacific and not by the Center. “That’s something that we have to continue to make the community understand.”

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“We continue to wrestle with the problem of identity,” said Erich Vollmer, executive director of the Philharmonic Society. He thinks the Center has been better lately about explaining the relationships to prospective donors.

“It wasn’t always that way,” he said. “There were some problems early on.” Still, he thinks it is “an ongoing problem that’s never going to be resolved.”

Kendrick concedes that such issues crop up but says there is no effort by the Center to mislead donors.

The arts groups “don’t think we do enough for them, and we think we do too much for them,” Kendrick said. “There is an inherent tension in these relationships.”

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Kendrick argues that the Center subsidizes the local groups, to the tune of about one-third of their performance costs, as rents do not cover all of the Center’s operating expenses. But Johnson chafes at calling the Center’s operating deficit a “subsidy,” because, he says, the rents are equal to or higher than those at equivalent halls across the country.

In any case, the quest for funding will only tighten if and when the Center launches its capital campaign for a planned concert hall, which could cost as much as much or more than Segerstrom Hall.

A topic that continues to crop up is government assistance. The Center’s continuing lack of direct government funding makes it unusual, perhaps unique, according to John Swinburn, executive director of the International Assn. of Auditorium Managers.

Kendrick further notes that the Center is one of the few halls in the country that does not take a share of parking revenue (parking facilities are owned by the Segerstrom family construction firm, developers who have been a driving force behind the Center).

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“We only have two sources of revenue,” said Kendrick: operating income from rentals and ticket sales, and private fund raising.

While backers of the Center take “great strength and pride” in operating without government help, it goes beyond that, Kendrick said. There simply is no large-scale help available, he maintained. And the Center is not willing to sacrifice any of its prized independence in exchange for small-scale grants.

“There are prices paid for government assistance,” Kendrick said, asserting that grants could impinge on artistic decisions and the hall’s ability to act quickly and independently.

Identity Crisis Donations to the Center itself have exceeded those to groups presenting programs there. Who Gets What Private contributions-1990 Five regional groups: $4.0 million Orange County Performing Arts Center: $5.1 million Who Does What Number of performances-1990 Rentals to outside promoters: 14 Five regional groups: 127 Orange County Performing Arts Center: 128 Source: Individual organizations

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Growing Up Overall, budgets for local arts groups surged dramatically with the opening in 1986 of the Orange County Peforming Arts Center. The Center itself, meanwhile, has watched its own operating budget climb steadily in the past five years. Because the groups vary widely in budget size, the charts below are set on different scales. Total Operating Budgets (1985 to present) The Center In millions of dollars ’86: 5.1 ’87: 12.0 ’88: 14.7 ’89: 17.2 ’90: 16.7 ’91: 18.9 * Center began operation on Sept. 29, 1986 NOTE: Operates on the calender year Pacific Symphony In millions of dollars ’85-'86: 1.0 ’86-'87: 2.2 ’87-'88: 3.9 ’88-'89: 4.8 ’89-'90: 5.0 Opera Pacific In millions of dollars ’85-'86: 3.2 ’86-'87: 4.0 ’87-'88: 3.3 ’88-'89: 4.8 ’89-'90: 4.2 *Opera Pacific started producing in 1987. Pacific Chorale In millions of dollars ’85-'86: 237 ’86-'87: 326 ’87-'88: 400 ’88-'89: 454 ’89-'90: 375 ’90-'91: 394 OC Philarmonic Society In millions of dollars ’85-'86: .89 ’86-'87: 1.6 ’87-'88: 1.9 ’88-'89 :2.4 ’89-'90: 2.5 ’90-'91: 2.6 Master Chorale In millions of dollars ’85-'86: 325 ’86-'87: 540 ’87-'88: 405 ’88-'89: 332 ’89-'90: 380 ’90-'91: 220 Source: Individual organizations

Five Years at the Center

SOME BIG BOX OFFICE HITS...

The Chicago Symphony, Sir Georg Solti conducting, Feb. 2, 1987.

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Luciano Pavarotti, Jan. 4, 1988.

“Cats”, May 1988, September 1988 and September 1989.

The Leningrad Philharmonic, Yuri Temirkanov conducting, Nov. 4, 1990.

“Carmina Burana”, played and presented by the Pacific Symphony with the Pacific Chorale, Carl St. Clair conducting, May 9, 1991.

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In 1988, the Center and the Orange County Philharmonic Society co-sponsored the three-week New World Symphony Festival, featuring a training orchestra. Poor tickets sales contributed to a reported loss of $300,000.

The Center’s co-production with the La Jolla Playhouse of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in July, 1990, though enjoyed by critics, was a financial bust and led to a loss of about $400,000.

ARTISTIC TRIUMPHS...

“The New York City Ballet wasn’t just back at last. It was back ensconced at last in a worthy luxurious, receptive showplace: Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center... the impact was compelling... Ah, the lavish decadence of it all!”

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-- Martin Bernheimer, October 17, 1986

The Kirov ‘Corsaire’ is thoroughly, unabashedly, whole-heartedly, shamelessly, passionately, unrepentantly tawdry. And it is wonderful.”

-- Martin Bernheimer, August 25, 1989

“International Festival of Music and Dance”

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”... an embarrassment to anyone with a serious interest in ethnic music and dance. ... Intended to celebrate the ethnic diversity of Orange County, the event actually managed to demean it.”

-- Cathy Curtis, August 31, 1988

“Meet Me in St. Louis”

“White bread to the max...(Debby) Boone virtually exemplifies blandness... A Hallmark card... ... Audiences deserve better. This kind of artistic complacency is one of the principal resons the Broadway musical...(is) in such trouble.”

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-Sylvie Drake, May 16, 1991

Source: Los Angeles Times Researched by DALLAS M. JACKSON/Los Angeles Times

Five Years at the Center


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