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CENTER OF ATTENTION: A Decade at the O.C. Performing

Peers Proffer Hearty Bravos for Job Done

September 02, 1996|CHRIS PASLES

The Orange County Performing Arts Center gets high marks from some of its peer arts institutions around the country.

"Orange County is a highly respected regional performing arts center that has very high quality programming," says Lawrence J. Wilker, who has been president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington for five years.

"They have, as they should, a fairly eclectic programming. They are probably known as one of the few institutions that will present the big international dance companies. Very few centers these days will take on the financial risk. We're always glad to see it. Certainly when we consider which companies to bring in, it's one of the centers we talk to. I congratulate it on its 10th birthday."

Says William Murray, a spokesman for the Brooklyn Academy of Music: "The Orange County Performing Arts Center certainly contributes to the overall arts scene in the country.

"We are aware of their contribution and their presentations. Arts administrators and performing arts patrons are always looking for organizations who are willing to undertake adventurous programming, and Orange County has done that. Certainly it has an impact on the overall development and growth of the performing arts in this country."

The center's reputation, however, apparently hasn't made it across the East River: Nathan Leventhal, executive director of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, declined to comment on the Orange County facility because, a spokesperson said, "he feels he doesn't know enough about [it], and he doesn't like to comment on what he doesn't know."

But William Wright, executive director of the Wharton Center for Performing Arts at Michigan State University, East Lansing, says "absolutely, I'm aware of [the Orange County center], primarily through our national organization, [the Assn. of Performing Arts Presenters]. We crib each other's brochures. I think their programming is tremendous. They're obviously a major center in the United States. They've had a brief but remarkable history."

The association, based in Washington, D.C., is made up of "25 to 30 major performing arts centers, self-selected," says executive director Susan Farr.

"What makes a prominent arts center exemplary," Farr said, "is its position in its local community, the extent to which it serves its local audience and fills its local mandate. And that means that there are no national standards for what makes one center good and another less good.

"So what the Orange County center presents is vastly different from what the Brooklyn Academy of Music does. One is not better than the other. One is only better to the extent that it serves the community's interests. And it certainly has seemed to me . . . that the board of the Orange County center identified a specific segment of the community that it wanted to serve, and it did that in a very effective way, with high quality, well-recognized, high-profile arts activity."

What is that segment?

"It look like it's targeted to a well-educated, reasonably affluent arts audience. I don't know enough about the community to know if that's elitist. The most important thing for arts organizations is to be very clear about their mission and then deliver programs that fit it.

"I don't know what the mission of the Orange County Performing Arts Center is. If the mission is to serve all the public that exists within a 100- or 200-mile area, then perhaps it's not doing that. But I suspect that's not what its mission is."

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