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ANN CONWAY

OCPAC Brass Praises the Unhired Hands

March 09, 1998|ANN CONWAY

Arts philanthropist Henry Segerstrom wasn't talking about the recent surprise announcement that his family planned to donate additional land to the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

During a luncheon celebrating the 20th anniversary of the center's Guilds support group, Segerstrom refused questions about his family's reported "verbal agreement in principle" to transfer a seven-acre parcel--worth $16 million--to the center.

The Segerstrom family wanted to make its own announcement about the land gift when the time was right, some have observed. Mention of the proposed land transfer was made by a center executive at a gathering in late February of businesspeople and arts executives.

Segerstrom, however, was eager to talk about the efforts of the guilds, whose members have raised more than $7 million for the 12-year old facility.

During last week's Guilds Platinum Celebration at the Four Seasons Hotel in Newport Beach, Segerstrom commended members for their contributions. He said that, if not for their early support, the Segerstrom family might not have donated the 5-acre parcel where the $72.3-million center is built.

"You are the only [center] support group that has gone from idea to institution," he said last week. "You deserve the credit for the [original] gift of land for the center."

There were two major points the Segerstrom family took under consideration as they contemplated donating the original parcel of land, he said.

First was the interest expressed by the guilds in a proposed center. That meant there was a fund-raising base available to make the center a reality, Segerstrom said.

Second was the commitment to classical performing arts.

Those things "were very important to the Segerstrom family, so I credit you with two important reasons for that original gift."

Segerstrom, who attended the benefit luncheon with his wife, Renee, also credited the guilds with "the reunification of Orange County as an entity."

"You opened new social doors for newcomers into the community, and that is something we still want to inspire you to do," he said.

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Guilds founding chairwoman Georgia Spooner was also at the luncheon, which was attended by 340 guests, including center chairman Mark Johnson, center president Jerry Mandel and programming director Judith Morr.

Looking back, Spooner recalled the early days when the guilds' "high level of motivation" for fund-raising was the result of having no major facility available here for people to enjoy the performing arts.

That same level of motivation will need to be generated when the center sets out to raise funds for the proposed facilities, Spooner said.

"Things just don't happen--there has to be a high motivating factor. When we started out, we had nothing. I would go out every evening and lecture, promoting the idea of a performing arts center and the willingness to contribute financially."

Raising the $100 million that would be needed for a new concert hall and possible arts museum--which, some say, would turn the 12-year-old center into a full-scale cultural arts facility--"won't be easy," Spooner said.

When she was selling the dream, "There were many who had been longing and waiting for a center for a long time."

Now, the challenge for the center will be to build a new brand of excitement.

"We need to tell people we want to give them something they don't have, something the center can provide, something that will give them an opportunity to expand into areas we've not been able to expand into before," she said.

The heart of that expansion may begin with the kind of moral support the guilds can provide. With 35 chapters and more than 2,000 members, their enthusiasm can go a long way toward generating interest in the community.

"I'd like to see the guilds double in size in five years," said Mandel, who attended the luncheon with his wife, Whitney. "We can begin by trying to see where in Orange County we are not being of service. We need, quite frankly, younger people and more diversity."

Of the land that is expected to be donated by the Segerstrom family for a new concert hall complex, Mandel said he has his "cigar out, but it isn't lit yet. It's very close, but not done."

During his remarks, Johnson thanked guild members for their support and hinted at fund-raising efforts to come.

"The center is full 300 days a year, so obviously we have to look very seriously at expansion," he said. "We want to do it in an exciting, inclusive way that will involve the entire community all over again."

Added Mandel: "What really sets us apart is that we are the only performing arts center in the country that has never taken a dime of government money and never will."

Guests at the anniversary celebration included chairwoman Patrice Poidmore, guilds chairwoman Diana Conner, Elaine Redfield, Barbara Johnson, Shari Esayian, Betty Belden-Palmer, Carol Wilken, Janice Johnson, Marlene Short and Jeanette Kleist.

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