Center's Topping Out Topped Bright Arts Year

January 01, 1985|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

When discussing Orange County's achievements in the arts in 1984, you begin--and end--with the most dazzling, promising and ballyhooed cultural venture in county history.

Yes, we're talking about the Orange County Performing Arts Center, now being built in Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza Center and set to open in less than two years.

After all, 1984 did represent something of a landmark for the Center:

The 10-story framework for the 3,000-seat main theater and entryway was erected; fund-raising topped the $55-million mark, and the search for "world-class" attractions was well under way, fanning speculation on just how friendly Orange County competition will be with other Southern California complexes.

But there were, to be sure, milestones in 1984 for other arts organizations in the county:

- South Coast Repertory won eight Los Angeles Drama Critics' Awards for its production of "The Playboy of the Western World" and reached its $3-million goal in an endowment fund-raiser.

- Newport Harbor Art Museum's 1950s retrospective was the only Orange County entry in the Olympic Arts Festival, the biggest, most prestigious arts celebration ever in Southern California.

- Laguna Beach Museum of Art's plan to completely overhaul its permanent facilities won city approval, while supporters moved closer to raising the $1.5 million needed for both structural and program expansions.

- Orange County Pacific Symphony greatly expanded its budget (now $1 million) and its season (concerts in several new locales, including the Pacific Amphitheatre) and put in its bid to be named "resident orchestra" by the Performing Arts Center.

These arts groups expect to maintain the same tempo in creative and fund-raising efforts in 1985, even though they must compete for monies with the Performing Arts Center's own massive campaign.

"Overall, don't anticipate any great leaps forward in the county's (arts) image in 1985. It will be a time for improving quality and solidifying fiscal bases," said Kevin Consey, director of the Newport Harbor Art Museum. "What Orange County is waiting for, naturally, is the opening of the Performing Arts Center in 1986."

And gearing for that much-awaited opening, Center officials say that organizationally, at least, it will be all stops out in 1985 as construction continues on one of the largest such complexes to be built in the United States in the past decade.

"Our construction is assured. It's there for everyone to see. In the new year, we will be putting our full staff in place (a new executive director is expected to be named this month) and determining who will be playing our Center," said William Lund, president of the Center's board of directors. "It will be a year for fine-tuning our Center."

Although the fiscal competition with other arts projects is expected to increase--most significantly, the Los Angeles Music Center plans a huge three-facility expansion--Lund and other Orange County Center leaders express nothing but confidence about raising monies in 1985.

More than $42 million has been raised of the $65.5 million needed to build the entire Orange County complex--the 3,000-seat main theater is to open October, 1986, the 1,000-seat second theater is to be built later. An additional $13 million has been raised toward a $20-million endowment fund to help subsidize operations. All monies are being raised from private donors only.

Such fiscal and construction prowess was duly noted by Frank Hodsoll, the Reagan-named chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, who spoke at an Orange County Arts Alliance conference last October. He had only praise for the Orange County Center, which he compared favorably with the Los Angeles Music Center, Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington.

"This (Orange County Center) especially signifies the cultural development that it is now being centered in the suburban regions of this country," said Hodsoll. "This is where so much of the (arts) action and innovation are now taking place."

With anticipation mounting over the Orange County Center's opening, the focus in 1985 will, no doubt, be on the Center's booking line-up and on the impact--positive or otherwise--on the other complexes in the Southern California market.

Officials of the Orange County Center argue that their booking premise is to offer nothing but "world-class" attractions in symphony concerts, opera and dance, plus the top flight in musical theater. They contend that the Orange County venture will be a boon--not a threat--for Los Angeles and other areas, because major touring organizations would now find it more profitable to play a Southern California "circuit" of arts complexes.

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