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THE KEY PLAYERS : Gatherings of the Guilds

September 21, 1986|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a Times staff writer.

Mostly, they throw parties--and mostly black-tie. But they also sponsor lecture series and circus openings, sell sweat shirts and cookbooks and even conduct tours of old water towers. In fact, the 4,205 members of Guilds will do anything within reason to raise money for the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

"We've worked longer than anyone else and we've worked more steadily," says Pat Rowley of Corona del Mar, outgoing Guilds chairman. "We've been in existence longer than any of the other center support groups. We may not be the most elite from the financial standpoint, but we're the backbone."

Even after the center's opening, when fund-raisers involved in the building campaign can sit back and, one hopes, enjoy their handiwork, there will be no rest for the Guilds. The money they raise goes toward the operating budget of the facility; that work will continue.

According to the most recent Guilds report, 168,054 volunteer-hours were spent, and more than $527,000 was raised, in 1985. More than $2.5 million has been contributed toward the center's operations by the Guilds since their inception in 1978.

Guilds founder Georgia Spooner, also of Corona del Mar, agrees with Rowley that despite an emphasis on fund raising, that is not the Guilds' claim to fame.

"Since the beginning, we didn't need only financial support for (what was then called) the Orange County Music Center," Spooner says. "Visibility and credibility were also essential for the success of the project. At that time, remember, we had no site. Until we did, media coverage of our activities kept the center in the forefront."

Another past Guilds chairman, Carol Wilken of Irvine, elaborates.

"We used to have a booth at South Coast Plaza, just to say, 'Hey, this is who we are and this is what's going on.' It was amazing the number of people who would come up and say, 'Oh, gosh, we've been there. . . . ' Well, we hadn't even broken ground yet. They weren't aware.

"Operations aside, without the Guilds, the center would not have been able to secure the dollars that have been generated toward construction. If we hadn't been out there raising friends for the center, there never would have been enough people aware of the project to come up with the ($70.7 million) needed to build the building."

The Guilds organization is broken into 10 area guilds, which in turn comprise 43 fund-raising chapters. (Chapter membership can be set as low as $35.) There are also six Performing Arts Juniors chapters for young adults, seventh grade through high school.

Last year, there were 64 guild-sponsored activities. Chapters vied with one another in imagination and ingenuity in planning fund-raising activities. Several chapters developed products such as cookbooks, center-logo jewelry and a center calendar, complete with a "Centerfold" seating chart.

This year, the Cabaret chapter attracted thousands of young single professionals to its Cinco de Mayo and Black and White Casino Night celebrations. The Allegro Animato chapter, made up mostly of young married couples, sponsored a 5K and 10K "Run for Orange County." Four hundred friends and members of the Sound of Music chapter raised $75,000 at the Atlantis Ball--the most from an individual event.

Spooner assessed Guilds' growth: "By June, 1981, we had in essence organized the county. There were 2,500 members, and that year we raised $250,000. This year, we raised well over $500,000. The structure has not changed. Involvement and support have doubled."

Involvement and support for a variety of charitable causes in Orange County have in fact skyrocketed to the point that there is talk that the philanthropic wells are drying up.

"We're not concerned," Rowley says. "It's true that we've been in the limelight so long that there are people in the county who feel let's give something else a turn. But as far as our own membership is concerned, they haven't lost interest and support."

Or as Guilds Chairman-elect Barbara Steinberg of Huntington Beach put it, "I hear the fear in the board rooms, but that's as far as it goes. I know that I haven't experienced that in my own life."

JoAnn Boswell of South Laguna, who will serve as Guilds chairman for the center's first year, looks beyond the opening.

"Our biggest challenge is going to be scheduling our fund-raisers on nights other than those of center performances. We can't put ourselves in competition with the very thing that we've all worked so hard to see come to fruition.

"Perhaps people will start planning activities around center events--theater parties, that sort of thing. It's also been suggested that the chapters within each of the area guilds combine efforts, so that we'll have one date instead of four or five to worry about. In any case, I anticipate that the creativity will continue to flow."

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