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Bold Strokes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Robert Williams exhibit, opening Sunday at the Huntington Beach Art Center, is perhaps the first evidence of the influence a new board of trustees might have in taking the institution to the next level.

“We want to expand our regional and national profile,” said center director Naida Osline, who assembled the 12-member panel that met for the first time this month.

The 3-year-old center already has a track record of staging some of Orange County’s most adventuresome exhibits featuring work by living artists, including the nationally recognized Kara Walker and Thomas Woodruff, who examine politics, race, sexuality and community.

And it will get nationwide television exposure this spring when the Bravo cable channel begins to air an “ArtsBreak” news magazine spotlighting five Orange County cultural programs.

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Osline views the new board of arts collectors, artists and business professionals as key to enhancing the institution’s reputation and strengthening the city-subsidized operation artistically and fiscally.

The trustees will not pay dues at this time, as they do at most arts institutions, said board chairman Greg Escalante. But some, including Escalante, already have donated $500 each toward the brochure for the Williams show, and they will help raise private funds and provide technical assistance and the sort of connections that secured the Williams exhibit.

Escalante, a former Orange County Museum of Art trustee who collects Williams’ work and knows him well, helped to arrange the show.

“I’d like to help the center get more quickly to where it’s obviously going to go,” Escalante said.

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The new board will not replace the private Huntington Beach Art Center Foundation, but an expected agreement with the city will restore the foundation’s original sole mandate to raise funds for renovation or expansion and a planned endowment, said Ron Hagan, the city’s community services director.

The foundation, which raised $1.3 million to convert a former Edison building into the center, was forced by the recession to raise about $100,000 over the past two years to subsidize the center’s $350,000 operating budget, Hagan said.

The new board’s role will be to assist in raising such operating funds, he said, particularly for exhibits.

In fact, City Councilman Dave Garofalo suggested that the new board “will ultimately save the center,” which “should be moving away from public subsidies” to become self-sustaining. The city’s subsidy this year totals about $86,000, which covers building maintenance and salaries.

Hagan, however, said a council majority supports continuation of the subsidy. Mayor Shirley S. Dettloff would not rule out the possibility of eventually diminishing city support--depending on the board’s success. But, she said, “I see total support for the institution now,” noting that the city money it receives only may be spent on cultural activities.

Among other members of the new board:

Art collector and philanthropist Anton Segerstrom, whose father, Henry T. Segerstrom, donated the land on which the Orange County Performing Arts Center stands; actor and performance artist Paul Zaloom, host of the children’s television show “Beakman’s World”; John Gunnin, director of the William J. Gillespie Foundation, which has given several million dollars to county arts groups; Huntington Beach attorney Shelley M. Liberto; and Los Angeles art collector Stuart Spence, who has loaned works to such major institutions as L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art.


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