They call themselves the Museum Council of the Newport Harbor Art Museum. But Ginny Shaw has another name for the women who raise big bucks for the museum of contemporary art: the defenders.
"I frequently find myself defending the museum," said the Museum Council member on Tuesday, balancing a cup of tea in the facility's leafy Sculpture Garden. "I'll be with a group of people who start asking me questions like: 'Why doesn't the museum have the Old Masters, the Impressionists?'
"I try to explain to them that we chose to be a contemporary museum, that not many museums can afford to purchase Van Goghs. And I tell them what we have is what's happening in the world today."
Old and new members of the Museum Council had come together to sip tea, polish off dainty sandwiches and talk shop.
"The museum has a wonderful national and international reputation," said June Donovan, a council member for seven years. "But I don't think we're appreciated enough in the county. That's where we come in. Council members not only make money for the museum, they act as a liaison. We're good-will ambassadors. Personally, I like modern art because it's a challenge. It keeps me open to new things."
New member Charlotte Wood said she joined the council for the chance to learn about contemporary art. "We can't afford the Impressionists, the Old Masters," she said, "so we'd better enjoy this. It's the art of our time!"
After the group had a chance to chat, council President Peggy Spiess told new members about the council's accomplishments. "We've had glamorous garage sales, antique shows, Christmas tree galas, and now we have our Consignment Shop in Costa Mesa," she said proudly. "Last month alone, it made $17,000 for museum operations."
Earlier, Spiess explained that the shop, on 17th Street in Costa Mesa, had raised $100,000 for the museum from the time it opened in March, 1989, until the end of the year.
It's secret? Quality merchandise. "We began with a marvelous collection of Steuben crystal--148 pieces--donated to us by Pacific Mutual," Spiess said.
"It took us a year to sell it. One of the reasons we made so much money last month was that we sold 50 pieces of the Steuben. The crystal gave us a wonderful start."
The Consignment Shop is currently the council's largest fund-raising effort. But the group has its eye on other projects, Spiess said. "Two years ago, we had an event called a Suite Affair," she said. "Six premiere hotels opened up their rooms, their kitchens, their suites, and let hundreds take a peek. They enjoyed wonderful champagne and food. We plan to do that again next year. We're waiting because you have to give the community and the hotels a chance to breathe!"
To become a member of the council, a woman has to be sponsored by two members, Spiess explained, adding that membership dues were an ultra-reasonable $35 per year. "We try to keep membership at no more than 125 to 150 members. That's all we can really handle for our projects."
Spiess said the group tries to steer away from the clique image. "But with a museum, you always have the elitist factor," she said. "Our group attracts the well-educated, interested-in-the-arts type of person, the achievers. My only problem as a president is, I have too many chiefs!"
The chiefs must be doing something right. They raise so much money that "every month the museum board gives us a round of applause," Spiess said.