When a 17-day "Festival of Britain 1990" comes to Orange County next year, it will bring arts enthusiasts a chance to experience some United Kingdom culture.
More to the point, it will bring shoppers the chance to own some.
The festival, described by organizers as one of the biggest British consumer product promotions ever staged in the United States, is to be centered at Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza mall. Many of Orange County's most prominent arts organizations plan to present "major events" in visual arts, theater, pop and classical music, film, dance and opera featuring British artists, themes or both.
But "the principal ingredient of the festival will be the consumer goods promotion," John Houlton, vice consul at the British consulate in Los Angeles, said Tuesday in a phone interview. The consulate and mall are sponsoring the festival.
While the form and content of the festival may evolve considerably by the time it begins on Oct. 12 of next year, 25 local arts institutions now plan to participate. Included are South Coast Repertory, the Newport Harbor Art Museum, the Laguna Art Museum, the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, the Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Pacific Symphony, Opera Pacific, the Orange County Philharmonic Society and the Stop Gap drama-therapy troupe, according to Kevin E. Consey, chairman of a committee of local arts officials organizing the festival's art component.
In two months, each of these institutions will announce the projects it plans to present, said Consey, who is director of the Newport Harbor Art Museum. Consey expects as many as 50 groups ultimately to participate. Some art events may begin before Oct. 12, and some may run beyond the festival's formal conclusion on Oct. 28, he added.
South Coast Plaza is owned and operated by the C.J. Segerstrom & Sons Inc. development company, whose managing partner, Henry T. Segerstrom, and his family have donated millions of dollars in cash and land to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, South Coast Repertory and other local arts organizations.
Consey said he isn't bothered by the idea of coordinating arts programs to match a shopping mall promotion.
"I think it's an advantageous, planned coincidence," he said. "Bringing attention to British culture seems to be perfectly appropriate, whether it be British consumer goods or British visual and performing arts."
Consey added that he would "probably" take part if the festival were centered at any other mall, such as Santa Ana MainPlace or Fashion Island in Newport Beach.
"There is a commercial aspect (to the festival)," Consey acknowledged. "On the other hand, there is a good opportunity for all the arts organizations in the community to coordinate around a central theme. From my point of view, the commercial or retail end is secondary to what the arts committee is planning to do."
Judith Peterson, director of Fullerton's Muckenthaler Cultural Center and arts committee vice chairman, said the festival could benefit a decentralized local arts community.
"I really feel strongly that we need to unite the county," she said. "Lots of time people think of just South County (as active in the arts), and there are a lot of things going on up here."
Funding for "Festival of Britain" has not been determined, Houlton said. Consey's committee wants to raise $500,000 through public and private sources in Southern California and Britain to support the art component. Fund raising is expected to begin in two weeks.
A mall spokesman said all eight South Coast Plaza department stores and, to date, more than 50 smaller shops have agreed to take part in the festival by selling everything from British antiques to British food to contemporary British fashion.
"There is considerable potential for further business between Britain and Orange County," Reg Holloway, British consul-general recently told the Orange County Board of Supervisors in announcing the event.
Applications soon will be sent to about 150 Orange County arts organizations inviting their participation. Meanwhile, all groups are encouraged to apply, Peterson said. While specific criteria for admission haven't been set, "it's safe to say we will be shooting for the highest level of competence," Consey said. For application information, call the British Consulate: (213) 385-7381.
Festival planners also envision school programs and lectures on such topics as British technology and industry, and cricket or soccer games.
"We hope to encourage people in Orange County to take part in any way they may wish," said vice consul Houlton, "to develop their own ideas of what they would like to contribute as a British event."
The festival's genesis dates to 1972, when the consulate first teamed up with South Coast Plaza to present "British Expo," a shorter affair confined to consumer promotion. Last year the consulate co-sponsored "UK/LA '88--A Celebration of British Arts," a 12-week, $7.2-million gala in Los Angeles, prompting Plaza officials to contact the consulate again (though that celebration emphasized arts over commerce).
The appearance of the Duke and Duchess of York (Prince Andrew and the former Sarah Ferguson) highlighted the 1988 affair in Los Angeles. Can Orange County expect royalty?
"We can only hope," Houlton said with a laugh.