* The Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera draws an estimated 36% to 51% of its audiences from Ventura County. Last year, under the name "Music Theatre of Ventura County, the group ventured south of the county line for the first time with a production of "Evita" that broke all Oxnard Civic Auditorium box office records.
* The Ensemble Theatre of Santa Barbara sells an estimated 10% of its subscriptions to Ventura County residents, and 40% of its single tickets.
* In the offices of the UC Santa Barbara arts and lectures program, officials estimate that 10% of the audiences come from Ventura County.
* The Santa Barbara Symphony sells 5% of its season tickets and 15% of its individual tickets to Ventura County listeners, by the estimate of marketing director Barbara Burger.
Light Opera, Heavy Competition
Among those who run arts groups, the issue of rivalry is usually a polite subject--until someone mentions the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera.
Authorities agree that the Civic Light Opera has capitalized on Ventura County audiences more than any other group, and many are braced for the group to take aim at an even larger share in coming months, perhaps with one or more productions here. In a county with just one available large venue--the 1,600-seat Oxnard Civic Auditorium--the prospect of an immigration raises red flags.
For audiences, this means more high-quality productions close to home. For some arts administrators, it means this area's own growth will be stunted.
"He will come down here, and he will make tons of money," said Cabrillo Music Theatre's Bill Benson of light opera executive producer Paul Iannaccone. "And he will take it back to Santa Barbara."
Karyl Lynn Burns, a spokeswoman for the civic light opera, defended its marketing and its Ventura County name change, saying it more accurately reflected the production, which relied heavily on Ventura County participants on- and offstage.
"I just feel that it benefits everyone," Burns said. "We're not looking to compete."
She noted that "Evita" ran in the summertime, so that it didn't compete with the Cabrillo company's offerings. She said, however, that the Santa Barbara organization is planning increased activity in Ventura County soon and intends to assemble a Ventura County board of trustees.
When Should Exits Sound Alarms?
Out-of-town arts leaders say they're doing what anyone would--reaching for the widest audience possible.
"If we offer things for people in Oxnard and Ventura to enjoy, that should really stimulate more activity there," said Richard West, former director of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.
Among local leaders, there is no party-line response.
When she hears Santa Barbara Symphony Executive Director Jim Wright talking about attracting more Ventura County listeners, "I growl at him," said the Ventura symphony's Beesley.
Yet at the Ventura County Museum of History and Art, Director Ed Robings offered that, "if you ask me to list my top 25 problems, this thing wouldn't be on my list."
And that position, too, has its backers.
"I think, if L.A. didn't exist on one side and Santa Barbara on the other," said Davidson of the Ventura Arts Council, "we wouldn't have the community of artists we have here."
What to do?
"The arts community has to become more cohesive and collaborate, and make its case to local business and local government. Because as long as they're fragmented, nobody has to deal with any of their issues," said JoAnn Anglin, spokeswoman for the California Arts Council.
Anglin's colleague Gloria Woodlock, who travels up and down the state as manager of the arts council's state-local partnership program, takes the call for cooperation one step further.
"If I were them, I would try to collaborate as much as I could with Santa Barbara," Woodlock said. "You don't need to be fearing or reluctant because there's a strong arts community next door. What you need to do is glom onto them, and learn from them, and work with them. And you'll get stronger, and they'll get stronger, too."
If the county's arts community doesn't make major advances soon, Woodlock warned, "it could be floundering around forever. . . . Time is running out."
Times correspondent Josef Woodard contributed to this story.
\o7 Text by Times staff writer Christopher Reynolds.\f7 Ventura County arts groups face an uphill fight for money and audiences.