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Arts Plaza Backers Turning Up the Lights on Quest for Money : Thousand Oaks: In an effort to raise a $3-million endowment, boosters are looking for donors throughout the region.


After months of low-key salesmanship, fund-raisers for Thousand Oaks' Civic Arts Plaza are embarking on a showy campaign to drum up dollars--an ambitious regional effort that relies heavily on donations from outside the city.

At an upcoming cocktail party in Camarillo's posh Spanish Hills Country Club, the project's backers will promote the $64-million facility to civic and business leaders from western Ventura County, Malibu and Santa Barbara.

The reason: Thousand Oaks alone simply cannot generate the funds necessary to support a multimillion-dollar endowment for the performing arts center.

"We're still at the stage of trying to seek out major donations," said attorney Charles Cohen, an influential fund-raiser. "Our mission is to raise the endowment, and in doing so, our vision has been regional in scope."

To snag the interest--and the checkbooks--of arts patrons west of the Conejo Grade, the project's boosters will tout the Civic Arts Plaza as the premiere cultural center between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

During the July 21 party, they will show off new marketing material describing the 1,800-seat auditorium and 400-seat theater as first-class, state-of-the-art facilities. With the building's steel structure finally complete, they hope arts aficionados will begin to get excited, even though the grand opening is still 16 months away.

"We have to make friends, to let people know what this facility is," said Dick Johnson, executive director of the Alliance for the Arts' fund-raising campaign. "We'll move on from there."

Deliberately shunning politicians, organizers have invited only prominent private citizens to the cocktail hour, hosted by rancher Jack Broome and real estate broker John Brown.

Johnson described the party with the aphorism "Fund-raising is friend-raising." And to achieve its ambitious fund-raising goal, the Alliance for the Arts will have to do some serious friend-raising.

Straining to come up with an endowment of at least $3 million during the current economic doldrums, alliance members have already secured pledges from Thousand Oaks' major employers, including $150,000 from GTE and $100,000 from Amgen.

They have also tried to tap donors beyond the city. But so far, relying on personal connections, they have looked primarily to the San Fernando Valley.

Courtly Homes, a Los Angeles-area developer working on a project in Newbury Park, has pledged $250,000, the biggest donation from a private company. Calabasas-based Lockheed has also kicked in a substantial sum, promising to boost the endowment by $100,000.

"We'd like to see the Civic Arts Plaza prosper," said Barbara Reinike, Lockheed's manager of advertising and special projects. "Many of our employees live in the Conejo Valley, and they would rather go to shows closer to home. We think it will be a big hit."

But despite such ringing endorsements, the Alliance for the Arts remains more than a $1 million shy of its goal. The endowment fund currently stands at just over $1.5 million, counting pledges not yet in the bank. Ultimately, the group would like to triple that amount, although its formal goal remains $3 million.

To close that gap, the fund-raisers are turning westward.

The Camarillo cocktail hour--featuring music by the Ventura Symphony, rather than Thousand Oaks' own Conejo Valley Symphony--will be the group's first attempt to make a splash west of the Conejo Grade.

In an effort to reach likely donors, Alliance for the Arts leaders asked Broome and Brown, both well-connected citizens from prominent Ventura County families, to draw up a guest list of several hundred.

"We're hoping to interest someone in enhancing the endowment, and this is where we have to start," said Brown, a longtime Thousand Oaks resident and the founder of Brown Realty.

Although Broome said he doesn't plan to hit up his friends for funds, he promised to do his best to make sure they learn more about the Civic Arts Plaza.

"I feel confident that people in Ventura County who are now going to Santa Barbara or Los Angeles for performances will support this facility also," Broome said. "There has always been a little bit of a psychological barrier at that grade, but I'm sure people will be interested enough to cross it."

Leaders of the arts communities in western Ventura County, the San Fernando Valley and Santa Barbara agreed that the Thousand Oaks auditorium could draw spectators from an hour's drive away with big-name performers and varied programming.

But they were less certain that outsiders would be willing to ante up funds for an endowment.

"It's a lot easier to raise money for capital projects, like the building itself, or for a programming budget," said Ross Hopkins, executive director of the Cultural Foundation, which is working to build a performing arts center in the Sepulveda Basin.

"Endowments are always hardest to raise because people don't see any immediate result for their money," he said.

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