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Finding Donors for Arts Is an Art in Itself

He's done well in education fund-raising, but doing so for culture is harder, and his record there is not that good.


COSTA MESA — With fund-raising for expansion the paramount issue facing the incoming president of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Jerry E. Mandel seems a reasonable choice for the post.

But Mandel's success as a fund-raiser has come largely in the education field, where private donors can give to any number of causes from medical research to high-technology development to sports complexes.

Raising money for the arts, viewed in many quarters as a luxury, is more difficult. And it is here that Mandel's track record is less imposing.

Before coming to UCI, Mandel was directly responsible for construction of the Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center--the centerpiece of a $32-million arts and music complex at Cal State Long Beach--and for getting the center up and running.

The Carpenter center ran into financial difficulties halfway through its first full season in April 1995, a month before Mandel took his job at UCI. Cost-cutting steps were taken to keep the center open, including staff layoffs, curtailed hours and other reductions.

Cal State officials had hoped to establish a $5-million fund to help pay most of the center's operating costs. When Mandel left, only $3 million had been raised. That included $1 million from singer Richard Carpenter who, with his late sister, Karen, majored in music at the university before the two became famous with their pop duo.

Critics questioned whether the 1,162-seat hall would ever become a significant venue. At the time Mandel conceded: "We thought it would be easier." Today, he maintains, the Carpenter center is "in good shape."

Mandel's fund-raising for the arts at UCI is less stellar than his overall record. The largest private gift to UCI during Mandel's first year was $2.4 million for cancer research, from the Chao family. A gift of $1 million came from the Joan Irvine Smith and Athalie R. Clarke Foundation, for the Reeve-Irvine Research Center to study spinal cord injuries.

By contrast, Mandel has unsuccessfully sought a $1-million donation from Claire Trevor Bren, a retired actress and the stepmother of Irvine Co. President Donald L. Bren, to help renovate the UCI Fine Arts Village Theatre, arts insiders say. Mandel refuses to name the source of the donation he is seeking but said he hasn't given up on obtaining it. He said he was working on it "as recently as a week ago."

He has generated no new donations for the center since joining its board early last year, he said, because as head of fund-raising for UCI, "it would be a conflict of interest to raise for them. So I went on as chair of the education committee and advised the development department, helping them plan and strategize."

In fund-raising circles, Mandel has defended the practice of rewarding staffers in relation to how much money they get from contributors. But he denies that he ties staff salaries directly to the amounts they bring in, a practice the National Society of Fundraising Executives deems a violation of the profession's code of ethics.

"I do not pay people a percentage of what they raise," he said. "You don't tie salaries in like that. But I believe you should reward people for their performance. What you do is give them merit raises."

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