Among state and local government officials, discouraging words are seldom heard when the topic is the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
When asked about the center, most officeholders are quick to hail the impending opening as a cultural milestone in the county's history. The facility's privately funded construction also draws bravos, no surprise in a county dominated politically by fiscal conservatives.
Sifting through the mountain of acclaim does reveal glimmers of caution and misgiving, but always tempered by words of praise. The message is clear: In a world of political hot potatoes, it's safe to like the center.
"It's a real high point in the cultural history of Orange County," says State Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim), whose district includes Costa Mesa. "A particular point of pride is the fact that it was community built and community financed. I stand in awe of that commitment: When they want to do something, they just roll up their sleeves and they do it. It's a real red-letter day for Orange County."
Assemblyman Nolan Frizzelle (R-Huntington Beach) concurs. "I think the opening of the Performing Arts Center is a high-water mark for cultural awareness in Orange County," the legislator says. "And the Performing Arts Center, in its present location in Costa Mesa, becomes the hub for much future cultural development as well as business development." Frizzelle saves special praise for the center's financial support in the community and "the enthusiasm with which so many hundreds of people have devoted their time."
"I think that we've always had a heartbeat in this county, but I think this center will really be the heartthrob," says County Supervisor Harriett Wieder. "You really have a feeling that Orange County has come of age." Wieder calls the opening of the center "a historic event for the county that will be remembered for years to come" and predicts that the center will become a force in the arts "for the Northern Hemisphere, if not the world."
"It's very significant," says Supervisor Bruce Nestande of the center's opening. "We're now a fully integrated community with a full range of cultural institutions." For Nestande, the center's opening means the county no longer needs to play second fiddle to Los Angeles. "For years we've been known as a bedroom community. This (the Performing Arts Center) puts Orange County down, in my estimation, as a great international community." And what about the private funding? "I think that's the most positive aspect of all. It demonstrates what Orange County is all about."
"Some 21 years ago, when I first arrived in Orange County, an effort was being made to put a music center in Fashion Island," Supervisor Thomas F. Riley recalls, "but it didn't work out. I guess it was just too early." Riley has watched the county grow in the intervening years, and "it simply became time for us to have the arts flourish here." The center, Riley says, is the county's crowning achievement. "I think this Performing Arts Center just puts the cap on it. This gives us this final touch. And on Sept. 29, we'll all have a chance to observe the handiwork of those who put the center together . . . some of the most dedicated people you can imagine. They have to be rather proud.
"I just think it does make Orange County what many of us claim--the best place in the world to live."
"I think it's a wonderful opportunity to present Orange County with a window to all of the opportunities in music and dance that other communities closer to music centers have enjoyed," Costa Mesa Mayor Norma Hertzog says of the center's opening. "This is something that will round out our personality as a county." As mayor of the center's home city, Hertzog allows herself a touch of civic pride. "I'm very pleased that it is in Costa Mesa," she admits.
Hertzog does caution that those who work and live near the center will need to be patient in the first months of the center's operation. "We will need to allow ourselves a little more time to get around until traffic patterns are developed. I think once the traffic patterns are worked out we'll all be fine."
Costa Mesa Councilman Dave Wheeler has a reputation for being outspoken and controversial, and he doesn't disappoint when speaking about the Performing Arts Center. "Well, I'm tremendously proud to have the center in Costa Mesa, but I have some concerns about what audiences will be served by the center and the high cost of tickets," says Wheeler. "I'd like to see a facility that has the courage to try new things, ala South Coast Rep's Second Stage--the type of works that challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. I think that there's a duty to test boundaries.