For its 25th anniversary, the Orange County Performing Arts Center is giving itself a new name: Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
The change went into effect Wednesday with a late-afternoon ceremony on the center's plaza in Costa Mesa. The name honors the family that provided a home and support for Orange County's leading arts district by making periodic donations of land and money since 1974 that now total 14 acres and $75 million.
"Segerstrom Center for the Arts" has been used since 1998 as a relatively low-profile name for the arts district, but it now also becomes the organizational name of its chief inhabitant. The district also includes South Coast Repertory and a parcel reserved for the Orange County Museum of Art, which plans to relocate from Newport Beach when it can raise the money for a new building; projected to cost $70 million or more, it has been on hold since the economy nosedived shortly after it was announced in 2008.
"Time and time again the Segerstrom family has inspired us all with their leadership and generosity," said Thomas V. McKernan Jr., chairman of the center's board. "We are honored to have that commitment reflected in the name of this institution."
Typically, when nonprofit organizations name themselves or their new facilities after a family or individual, it's a direct act of reciprocity for a large new donation. In this case it's more of a lifetime achievement honor for the family whose arts philanthropy has been spearheaded by 87-year-old Henry Segerstrom.
"I'm very proud of what the Segerstroms have done in creating these institutions, and seeing them as successful as they are," Segerstrom said in an interview Tuesday at his Balboa Peninsula home. "We've provided a lot of leadership and made these things happen."
The performing arts center is $51 million short of its $240-million goal in a campaign, now in its 13th year, to fully pay for the 2,000-seat Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, which opened in 2006.
Segerstrom said he won't use the center's renaming as an occasion to increase the $50 million he personally has given toward the concert hall. As for future gifts, he said, "I'm not in a position to make any comment."
Overall, Segerstrom said, the value of what he and his family have given to the arts — land, cash and a towering Richard Serra sculpture on the center's plaza — comes "pretty close to $150 million." The Segerstroms arrived in Orange County from St. Paul, Minn., in 1898; branching from farming into real estate, they opened the South Coast Plaza shopping center in 1967, and the arts district, along with office towers and a hotel, have risen across the street.
Segerstrom said his own cash gifts to the performing arts center, its tenants and SCR total about $60 million. The family's ongoing giving includes annual grants from the Segerstrom Foundation, which donated $300,000 for the arts in 2009, and the Hal and Jeanette Segerstrom Family Foundation, which donated $3.3 million to the arts from 2007 to 2009, according to federal tax returns.
The family's major arts philanthropy dates from an initial gift of land to South Coast Repertory. SCR's largest stage and the center's two main theaters already bear the Segerstrom name. When the center opened in 1986, its arrival was widely proclaimed as signaling Orange County's cultural coming of age. Naming the organization for its community was an important part of telling the world that Orange County was emerging from L.A.'s shadow and aiming for a spot of its own on the cultural map.
Now, said Terrence Dwyer, the center's president, de-emphasizing geography to honor benefactors "is a reflection of the growth and development of the community."
Does the change risk fueling a perception that the center's fiscal fate is ultimately one family's responsibility, impairing the odds of attracting other multi-million-dollar donors?
Segerstrom and Dwyer discounted that happening. "It's what you put on stage that makes a difference," the philanthropist said.
To that end, the center on Wednesday announced a new performance initiative — the commissioning of a full-evening dance program starring Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, independent of their work as leading dancers with the Bolshoi Ballet. The choreographer has not been chosen. Dwyer said the program will premiere in October 2012 as the latest in a series of dance commissions by the center that includes "Reflections," an assemblage of mainly new pieces the Bolshoi will premiere in Costa Mesa next week.
For its 25th anniversary season, which starts in September, the Segerstrom Center will price some tickets for every performance — 10,000 in all — at $10. Dwyer said that the distribution method is being worked out, with an eye toward reaching new audiences but also toward thanking existing patrons.