Curtain falls on Orange Coast arts series

Times Staff Writer

With state budget cuts looming, Orange Coast College officials have been forced to eliminate a popular performing arts program, a mainstay on the Costa Mesa campus that has drawn audiences from across the Southland for more than 20 years.

The program, which features such performers as Debbie Reynolds, flamenco guitarists and the Peking Acrobats in its 2002-03 season, initially fell victim in November to a funding shortfall caused by the scaling back of a weekend campus swap meet, which had subsidized the performances.

In May, the city asked the college to cut Saturdays from its swap meet schedule to conform with its city permit. In February, the full weekend swap meet schedule will resume, but the college will have lost $419,000, undercutting its ability to stage the arts program for the 2003-04 season, said Jim McIlwain, Orange Coast's vice president for administrative services.

Now, because of the state's budget deficit and proposed cuts in education funding, college officials decided to permanently divert to the general fund the $700,000 a year it raises from the swap meet, he said.

Some of those funds also have helped subsidize non-credit community education courses, and those too are likely to be cut back this year, McIlwain said.

"The college could no longer afford to do that," said college spokesman Jim Carnett of the subsidy given the arts program. "For the local community, it was a good mid-range entertainment program. We always tried to hold ticket prices down, and it attracted a lot of senior citizens. It has been very successful over the years."

The decision does not affect performances given by the college's theater, music and dance programs, which will continue to be held on campus, Carnett said.

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