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ANN CONWAY

Doing Double Duty

Pre-Merger Plans Give Museum Supporters Coinciding Events

July 22, 1996|ANN CONWAY

It was a tough call for supporters of the newly formed Orange County Museum of Art: Go to an opening or a benefit?

Many did both on Saturday night.

They hit the launch of the "John McLaughlin: Western Modernism/Eastern Thought" exhibit at the Laguna Art Museum before attending the Black and White Bash--traditionally a fund-raiser for the Newport Harbor Art Museum--at Fashion Island Newport Beach.

The events were planned long before the museums merged last week.

Orange County Museum of Art's President Charles Martin and his wife, Twyla, enjoyed party-hopping along the coast.

"This is an exciting night for us," said Charles Martin at the Newport Beach bash. "But in the future, we plan to coordinate these events carefully. There will be no conflicts at the museum sites."

It was a heady week for museum visionaries. Not only did they celebrate the merger with a midweek champagne fest attended by arts leaders such as Henry Segerstrom and museum director Naomi Vine, but also they had their choice of "dueling events" on Saturday, joked a museum spokeswoman.

There are more to come. A gala celebrating the formation of the new museum will be held in November at Emporio Armani in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

And the arts crowd is already buzzing about the new museum's first black-tie event: the gala opening in January of the expanded Newport Beach site.

"We haven't set an exact date [for the gala] because we don't know for sure when the project will be complete," Vine said.

The Martins plan to use their future oceanfront estate in Laguna Beach--they break ground in the spring--as a party site.

"We want to use our home to support the visual arts much the same way Mark Johnson [board president of the Orange County Performing Arts Center] uses his [North Tustin] home to support the performing arts," Charles Martin said.

Minutes after the secretary of state's office approved the merger last week, more than 100 arts leaders gathered at the Isamu Noguchi Sculpture Garden in Costa Mesa for the museum's first social affair.

Guests toasted each other with tulips of champagne and feasted on appetizers arrayed on buffet tables scattered around the desert-like garden.

"I think this is wonderful," Segerstrom said. "This is where the county should be going. I am delighted that it has finally come to a conclusion."

For museum visionaries Charles Martin and Gil LeVasseur, the party marked the culmination of one dream and the beginning of another.

"The merger is done," said Martin, who presides over the museum's new 63-member board of directors. "It has been a long endeavor for all of us."

Said LeVasseur, museum vice president: "We want to bring all of the arts lovers together--the Joan Irvine Smiths, the Donald Brens, the Gerald Bucks. We want to put together an institution financially stable enough for these people to leave their art to.

"They made their money in Orange County," he continued. "So, I would think, they would love to leave some monument for their kids, family and community."

Of the merger, Vine said: "This is a great moment in the history of culture here. The original impetus for the merger was economic. It was a matter of combining all of our resources with one administrative staff to minimize expenses and maximize the services we can provide to the community."

Charles Martin recalled the night more than a year ago when the idea for the new museum was born.

"We were sitting at a dinner party with a few couples who were interested in the visual arts and having a conversation about the future of Orange County," he said.

"I think everyone saw the obvious; it wasn't any grand, new idea. They saw that the art institutions were divided and their support structures fragmented.

"It just made sense to bring these two leading institutions together to build a premiere one for the county. When I was driving home that night, I said to myself: 'I think I'm going to do that.'

"Fortunately, there were a lot of other people feeling the same way."

Never underestimate the power of a dinner party.

Support Groups Combine Ranks

Museum support groups have combined forces to raise funds for the new institution.

The Collectors group from the Laguna Art Museum and the Curator's Circle from the Newport Harbor Art Museum have been renamed the Collector's and Curator's Circle. Annual dues are $500.

The Visionaries support group (founded at Newport Harbor) will continue as a by-invitation organization with an initiation fee of $1,000 and annual dues of $500.

Other museum memberships: Fine Arts Patron ($250), President's Circle ($1,000), Director's Roundtable ($2,500), Distinguished Founders ($5,000) and Premier Founders ($10,000).

Also available: Exhibitionists Council ($125), Art Contemporaries ($75-$100), Docent Council ($50), Museum Council ($25), Contemporary Collectors ($175, $300 for a couple), Historical Collections Council ($75-$300).

Basic museum memberships are $45 per year. Family memberships are $65. Call (714) 759-1122.

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