LONG BEACH — Last Monday afternoon, John Garcia, a dapper, 40-year-old local businessman, managed to steal the show from the entire Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, its massive deficit and its staunch supporters.
It was bleak and rainy outside the Port of Long Beach board room where the symphony task force was conducting hearings to decide the once-renowned orchestra's fate. And it was tense and gloomy inside, as speaker after speaker was grilled by task force members about how the symphony association possibly could have run up such a large debt in so short a time.
Then it was Garcia's turn to speak: "I am going to raise $25,000 in one weekend for the performing arts in Long Beach," he said.
Garcia owns Ripples, a beachfront bar and discotheque that he describes as "not your typical gay bar." Garcia plans three days of talent showcases and art shows to be held at Ripples over the Valentine's Day weekend to benefit the performing arts in Long Beach.
'Need More Input'
"I see a great need for the performing arts in Long Beach," Garcia told the task force. "It's equally as important as our financial district, federal building and the like. But they need more input from the gay community."
Garcia's announcement took the grim group by surprise. Not only was the offer a generous one, but one of the symphony's main complaints has been that local businesses and corporations have virtually ignored the arts here, adding to their financial difficulties.
Garcia calls the benefit "Have a Heart for the Arts," and he has already taken out advertising for the function in "DATA-BOY," an entertainment magazine serving the California and Nevada gay community. The ad features line drawings of a dignified conductor and the Ripples logo--a Tom Selleck-esque merman complete with fins.
Garcia plans to sell 450 memberships in the Ripples Row 14 Club, which, for a $50 donation, entitles members to buy two tickets for the price of one to Civic Light Opera performances, he said.
"This will get the gay community in there to support our arts in Long Beach," Garcia said in an interview. "I'm really trying to educate the gay community here."
Garcia, who has lived in this city for 23 years and run Ripples for 10 of its 12 years, is no newcomer to civic duty. In addition to his work for the arts, his Ripples-based benefits have raised money for local AIDS programs, collected toys for needy children at Christmas and collected canned goods for senior citizens during the holidays.