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THE CENTER : A Year of Discovery : RIVALS: CENTER ISN'T HURTING OUR BUSINESS

September 17, 1987|CHRIS PASLES

When the granite exterior was going up and the plum carpet was being installed, there were some who feared that the Orange County Performing Arts Center would lure audiences away from Southern California's other major arts halls.

But as the opulent hall in Costa Mesa prepares to celebrate its first birthday this month, its competitors say that the reality has been anything but gloom-and-doom for concert halls and arts centers from Pasadena to San Diego.

"On the contrary, the audiences, if anything, are getting bigger at the (Los Angeles) Music Center (and) at the (Hollywood) Bowl," said Ernest Fleischmann, executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Esther Wachtell, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Music Center's board of governors, had a simple explanation: "When you get people excited about the arts, they want more of it."

Indeed, the opening of the $70.7-million Center on a one-time bean field has meant a flowering of interest in music, dance and theater far broader than the Center's own offerings. Operators of the San Diego Opera and the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, among others, report an increase in Orange County patrons attending last seasons performances.

"We have noticed that more people are coming from Orange County," said Wayne Shilkret, the Ambassador's director of performing arts. The Center, Shilkret said, has "expanded the (regional) audience by having a wide spectrum of presentations. . . . Once people get into the habit of going out, they begin looking for other things to broaden their horizons."

The more competition the merrier, as far as the San Diego Opera is concerned--especially since subscriptions have continued to increase.

"Competition is extremely healthy for opera generally," said Brenda Hughes, the opera's director of marketing, "because it focuses on the art form (and) makes it better for all of us."

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