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Attendance Is Average at AIDS Events : Arts: Holiday weekend may have been a factor, local official says. But those who did visit facilities voiced appreciation for efforts made to raise awareness.


A Day Without Art didn't draw record crowds to two Orange County arts institutions, but visitors who showed up on Sunday indicated they appreciated efforts to observe the toll that AIDS has taken in the art world, museum officials said Monday.

For Sunday's event, arts organizations nationwide dimmed gallery lights, shut down, covered artworks or staged special activities. Locally, attendance was about the same or slightly higher than on a typical Sunday at the Fullerton Museum Center and Newport Harbor Art Museum. Both waived admission for the day.

(Charles Desmarais, director of the Laguna Art Museum, said Sunday's attendance figures at that institution were not available.)

On the other hand, compared with last year, fewer or the same number of people came to AIDS-themed performances at each site, officials said.

Joe Felz, director of the Fullerton Museum Center, said attendance of about 50 people was consistent with any normal Sunday, while spokeswoman Maxine Gaiber at Newport Harbor said 110 visitors on Sunday was higher than usual.

But the museum center's 7 p.m. performance, which consisted of poetry readings, live music and a performance-art offering, attracted only about 30 people, whereas some 75 made up a standing-room-only crowd at a similar presentation last year, said Felz. But he said he hadn't expected a bigger turnout this year.

"I wasn't disappointed with the attendance," he said. For one thing, last year's performance was held on a Friday night; in addition, Sunday's showing "reflects the fact that this was a holiday weekend and people were out of town (or that holiday traffic) made it hard to get places."

Gaiber said that, like last year, only about 20 people came to the Newport Harbor's performance-art presentation. She believed that a packed UC Irvine ceremony observing World AIDS Day, with which A Day Without Art was coordinated, may have posed competition.

In any case, both officials said visitors voiced appreciation for the efforts made to raise awareness of AIDS.

AIDS educational materials benefited one patron, a mother of four grown children who wanted to learn more about the disease, Gaiber said. The woman's interest seemed to indicate "we're not preaching (only) to the enlightened," she said.

Felz agreed that visitors were glad to get AIDS pamphlets and that many were particularly touched by an open letter from Carolyn Nizzi Warmbold, the widow of art collector Ted Warmbold, from whose collection came some works in the museum center's current exhibit about the Latino Day of the Dead tradition. Ted Warmbold died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989. The delicate works he had collected were covered in black paper on Sunday. His widow's letter was enlarged and displayed next to the exhibit.

"I am grateful that a Day Without Art has allowed one small venue to break through the silence enveloping the greatest medical disaster and human tragedy of our time," Carolyn Warmbold wrote.

Visitors commented that the letter "personalized the AIDS crisis" for them, Felz said.

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