Every time salesman Shan Schannep drove by Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre on his way to work in Costa Mesa, he'd see the dates of the next Pacific Symphony summer concert listed on the marquee and think about taking his wife to hear the orchestra.
"I'd see it and I'd go, 'Oh, that would be fun,' " Schannep said recently. "But we never did it, we never did it, we never did it."
Finally, however, Schannep did it. He bought tickets and went to see the orchestra's "Immortal Beethoven" concert a few weeks ago.
What made him turn the corner? The Internet, says the 25-year-old cyber-surfer. The orchestra now has its own home page on the World Wide Web. Click and see a color photo of the orchestra's music director, Carl St.Clair. Click and get a list of upcoming concerts. Click and learn about the orchestra's in-school, volunteer and donor programs.
"It gave us all the information we wanted," said Schannep, "pricing and seating and everything. On the billboard [outside Irvine Meadows], it just says [when] they're playing; it doesn't say anything else. We didn't know if they played the same music every time."
Schannep exemplifies the sort of untapped, younger ticket buyer that the Pacific Symphony hopes to attract with its month-old home page, the first such site from an Orange County arts organization.
Roughly half the orchestra's audience is 55 and older, but Internet users' average age is from 20 to 40, said Diane Moore, the orchestra's director of finance.
"We recently heard that 300,000 people in Orange County have access to the Internet," Moore said, adding that the number is growing. "There's obviously a lot of potential out there."
Not that attracting Internet users 40 and over isn't of interest as well, but "there is a whole market out there we might not be able to gain with brochures" and other traditional marketing tools, Moore said.
The orchestra also intends to let Internet users hear the orchestra at home. Plans call for audio samples of previous recordings, upcoming concerts and its soon-to-be-released CD of Elliot Goldenthal's "Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio" to be available on the home page starting in November.
Nearly all of the county's larger arts groups are considering creating a presence in cyberspace; many said they plan to set up home pages in the next few months.
What most have in mind, at least initially, is something similar to the Pacific Symphony's combination of text and graphics outlining such basic information as ticket or admission prices, upcoming exhibits or events and educational programs.
Arts OC, the countywide arts agency, has held two meetings with local arts officials to explore the collaborative development of a web site that would represent the entire arts community.
The superhighway already is loaded with arts and entertainment programming--from interactive debates on censorship to virtual gallery tours--from around the globe. Among those on line: the Louvre, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Atlanta Symphony and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington reportedly has the largest World Wide Web site, with more than 300,000 paintings and sculpture catalogued.
Pacific Symphony spent about $3,000 on its home page, created by Pacific Blue Micro of Newport Beach, and expects to pay out about $1,500 a year to maintain it, Moore said. All told, that's about one-tenth what it costs the orchestra ($45,000) to design and print a season brochure--which cannot be instantly updated as special events or discounted tickets are announced--as a home page can.
"We'll be updating monthly, at minimum," Moore said.
In its first three weeks, the page received more than 11,000 "hits," which means Net users gave it a gander that many times. (The address is http://www.pso.org.) "That makes us very happy," Moore said. "We had not anticipated that high of a rate at first."
The next step will be to determine to what extent hits translate into ticket sales. The orchestra doesn't expect to have a good idea about that for at least two years, Moore said. During that time, she said, shopping via the Internet could become commonplace.
Still, the relatively low cost of establishing an on-line presence mitigates the difficulty measuring precisely how much bang groups get for their Internet buck, Moore said. "We're really happy with what we came up with for the budget."
Of course, nothing is perfect, especially in its infancy. The orchestra's on-line materials include several spelling and typographical errors, such as references to Tchaikovsky's "Pathtique" rather than "Pathetique" Symphony, "Schuberi's" rather than Schubert's Symphony No. 9, "Guiseppe" rather than Giuseppe Verdi, and "Grecki," rather than Gorecki.
Obviously, generating ticket sales and developing audiences is the primary goal of the orchestra's home page. But the orchestra, and other groups planning a Web site, sees it as more than that.
"We also wanted to be able to keep communication lines open," Moore said. "For instance, people can [e-mail] comments to Carl St.Clair and the orchestra" and get information, such as how to become a volunteer, that doesn't fit on the orchestra's season brochure.
The Fullerton Museum Center plans to have a home page carried by the city of Fullerton's Web site, which is still in development. Museum officials have been creating a prototype by computerizing images from a recent exhibit about coffee and hope eventually to give users access to images and text from other projects, including its popular 1994 show about pioneering electric-guitar designer Leo Fender.
The site would mean more exposure for the center, said director Joe Felz, but more important, "be another research tool for people locally or worldwide."
The Laguna Art Museum likewise plans a home page, unafraid that some users may consider an electronic visit to the museum preferable to a physical journey through its galleries.
"In my experience," said director Naomi Vine, "the more information you put out there about a work of art, the more interest you create in it and the more people will want to see the original.