Two years ago the fledgling Orange County Chamber Orchestra realized that to keep operating harmoniously it needed more than violins and cellos.
The nonprofit group required legal assistance for a myriad of tasks, from drawing up contracts with visiting artists to negotiating with the musicians union.
A call for help was answered by the Costa Mesa law firm of Rutan & Tucker, which donated a lawyer to serve on the orchestra's board of directors.
Conductor Micah Levy figures that so far the orchestra has received "thousands of dollars" in free legal advice from the staff of Rutan & Tucker. "This is the kind of thing that makes it possible for nonprofit organizations to exist," he said.
It is also one of the reasons why Rutan & Tucker numbered among 10 Orange County businesses that were honored Sunday by the Orange County Business Committee for the Arts at its fifth annual awards ceremony.
Founded in 1981 by Fluor Corp. Chairman David S. Tappan Jr. and a group of other Orange County businessmen, the committee is a local branch of a national organization that encourages business support of the arts with both service and cash contributions.
"It is an increasingly aware corporate world we are dealing with," said Betty R. Moss, executive director of the Orange County committee, which she said has grown to a membership of more than 100 corporations. The organization, she said, does not collect or distribute donations to the arts, but instead acts as a "broker" to put arts groups in touch with businesses.
In turn, she said, the committee helps companies in selecting what groups to assist by keeping a master file of the county's more than 200 legitimate nonprofit artistic organizations, ranging from symphonies and city cultural programs to museums and dance groups.
And each year the committee holds an awards function "in recognition of innovative work in developing business/arts partnerships," Moss said. Companies are selected to receive the awards for their support of the arts based on a wide variety of criteria, including direct cash grants, loaned personnel and products and impact on the community. Also, the sizes of the companies are taken into account in evaluating their contribution.
This year's "first time award winners" were Tony Alamia Audio and TG Marketing & Advertising for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and AirCal and Mervyn's Department Stores for businesses with more than 500 employees.
"Return award winners" were VitaTech International Inc. for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and Peat Marwick Mitchell & Co. and Rutan & Tucker for businesses with between 50 and 500 employees.
Named as "distinguished award winners" were C. J. Segerstrom & Sons, in the category of 50 to 500 employees, and the Irvine Co. and Mission Viejo Co., with over 500 employees.
Winner of the only award for an artistic enterprise was the St. Joseph Ballet Company, which was cited for providing free dance instruction and field trips to professional dance performances to youths, most of whom were from low-income minority families.
The kinds of corporate-sponsored support for which businesses were commended ranged from paying the cost of transporting children to an art exhibition to providing free marketing services to a theater company.
C. J. Segerstrom & Sons, Costa Mesa's leading developer, was cited for providing more than $2.6 million in support for the arts, including the purchase of a collection of five "museum quality sculptures" for display at the company's Center Tower office project and "direct cash contributions to virtually every major arts organization in the county."
Award recipients stressed that their involvement in the arts is mutually beneficial.
"The lawyers want to contribute to the arts in the community and I think that pays off in terms of enhancing the reputation of the firm," said Michael McCormick, managing parter of Rutan & Tucker, which volunteers legal services to numerous arts groups and this year has helped them with almost $27,000 in cash, in addition to purchasing $10,000 in tickets.
Like many other award winners this year, McCormick said Rutan & Tucker also has provided free services to assist in the creation of the Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa. And he said the company has developed an extensive collection of paintings in its Costa Mesa offices for the enjoyment of its employees and clients.
Mission Viejo Co. spokeswoman Wendy Wetzel said her firm similarly has a self-interest in supporting the arts. The community development company's policy, she said, is to "create and support a vigorous cultural life as an integral part of our hometown." Marking the Mission Viejo community's 20th anniversary, the company this year staged a visual and performing arts series for the public that was attended by an estimated 7,500 people.
Tony Alamia of Anaheim, who donates his own sound equipment and expertise to the Buena Park Civic Theater, said he likes the "technical challenge" of making actors heard despite the less-than-perfect acoustics of the facilities used by the nonprofit stage organization.
Joane Evans, a recreation supervisor for the City of Buena Park, said Alamia's free help is "essential" to the city's arts program. She said he has provided the audio for at least 60 performances a year, in addition to rehearsals, over the past seven years.
"I enjoy doing it," Alamia said. "I meet a lot of friends. Otherwise I would be sitting at home doing nothing." Besides, he takes pride in his rather unique role in the theatrical performances. "They can't do it without me," he said. "Some of the plays I don't like. But I'm there."