COSTA MESA — On the eve of the Orange County Performing Arts Center's fifth anniversary this Sunday, local arts groups credit the building for triggering their own dizzying spurts of growth. But at the same time, as they seek a financial base to maintain that growth, they find themselves fighting to emerge from the Center's shadow.
The Pacific Symphony went from playing an aging high school auditorium to 2,994-seat Segerstrom Hall, doubling and redoubling the size of its operation in the process. Nonexistent before the Center opened, Opera Pacific emerged in 1987 as a full-blown company with 30 performances and a $3 million-plus budget. The Orange County Philharmonic Society, which presents visiting orchestras at the Center and other halls, has tripled its budget in the past five years, while the Pacific Chorale and Master Chorale of Orange County also are growing.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday October 3, 1991 Orange County Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 2 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Chorale budget: The 1990/91 operating budget of the Master Chorale of Orange County is $355,000, $30,000 more than before the Orange County Performing Arts Center opened. Because of incorrect information given to The Times, an incorrect figure appeared in Calendar Friday.
But the groups--which operate independently of the Center--all say they must contend with a persistent identity crisis, fostered at least in part by the Center's formidable presence. The groups say they have found many people who mistakenly believe that their programs are being sponsored and staged by the Center, while in fact the groups are paying the Center rent.
This problem is particularly acute in the fund-raising arena. With an army of more than 4,000 volunteers and a board that boasts some of the most powerful business leaders in the county, the Center will raise about $5.1 million this year--more than the five regional organizations combined, even though the Center's own presentations constitute only about half the programs there.
Because ticket sales cover only a percentage of their expenses, each the groups and the Center all must go to corporations and individuals to raise the difference. Often, they find themselves tapping the same sources--and the Center, often, is winning out.
Pacific Symphony board president G. Randolph Johnson said that when he contacts corporations to solicit contributions, he frequently is given a variation on the old "We already gave at the office" line--"We've already given to the Center." Johnson said he still talks to potential donors who believe--again, incorrectly--that the Center acts as a sort of "United Way," dividing up its contributions and handing them out to participating arts groups.
In fact, while the Center's fund-raising machine has kept it comfortably in the black, four of the five regional groups find themselves with accumulated deficits--ranging from $8,000 for the Pacific Chorale to $800,000 for the Pacific Symphony.
Center officials tout the construction of their building as the most impressive fund-raising feat in county history: More than $72 million, all in private money, was raised to construct Segerstrom Hall.
Yet, according to several arts leaders, there was little realization among donors that substantial ongoing effort would be required to keep the Center up and running (the Center still receives no direct government assistance).
The Center's operating expenses for 1991 are forecast at just over $18.8 million, while revenues (including rent from the five local arts organizations, and ticket sales from the Center's own dance, jazz and musical theater offerings) will come in at about $14.8 million.
Added to that $4 million operating shortfall is about $847,000 needed for a repair fund and other capital costs, according to Center President Thomas R. Kendrick.
One of his "biggest hurdles" upon coming to Orange County, Kendrick said, was to take the sprawling fund-raising structure that built the Center and convert it into a volunteer organization that could help support the building on a yearly basis. He counts the effort as a success, noting that the Center has ended up in the black every year of its operation.
But some of the groups that use the Center have not done as well, especially during the lingering economic slump.
The Pacific Symphony came up $200,000 short in the fund-raising drive that ended June 30, and watched its accumulated deficit rise to $800,000. The Philharmonic Society ended the 1990-91 fiscal year with a $275,000 accumulated deficit. The two chorales are carrying small deficits, leaving only Opera Pacific currently in the black.
Part of the problem is identity. The distinctions between the groups' work and the Center's own productions are not always clear to audiences and donors.
David DiChiera, artistic director of Opera Pacific, said audiences often assume that the company's products are imports. But, he stressed, "the opera is truly a product that is both conceived and produced in Orange County" by Opera Pacific and not by the Center. "That's something that we have to continue to make the community understand."
"We continue to wrestle with the problem of identity," said Erich Vollmer, executive director of the Philharmonic Society. He thinks the Center has been better lately about explaining the relationships to prospective donors.