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Orange County's lemon: cultural assets

October 23, 2006|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

Orange County's per-capita arts assets are far below the regional average, according to the Orange County Cultural Indicators Report, issued Friday by an arts service organization and a charitable foundation.

Relying on 2000 figures from a Cal State Fullerton study, the report compiled by the Orange County Community Foundation and Arts Orange County, a service group, found that Orange County nonprofit arts groups had assets of $257 million, or $90 per capita -- compared with $155 in Los Angeles and San Diego counties and $506 in Santa Barbara County. Orange County's per-capita arts capitalization is 72% of the Southern California average of $124.

Of 153 nonprofit arts organizations in the county with budgets over $25,000, the 24 biggest raked in 90% of the income, according to the report.

Coupled with a separate Chapman University economic study released this month showing an overall 7% drop in attendance and a 21% decline in free admissions for children at the county's museums and performance venues between 2001 and 2005, the new report suggests that a county priding itself on rapid cultural growth during the last 20 years still lacks sufficient size and balance in its arts infrastructure to put it on even footing with neighbors.

"We've made a lot of progress quickly and put Orange County on the cultural map, but there's a lot to do," said Bonnie Brittain Hall, executive director of Arts Orange County. The report, which makes no recommendations, notes that Irvine and Laguna Beach are the only cities in the county that set aside a share of their hotel taxes for cultural purposes, a common funding mechanism for the arts nationwide. "Those are interesting examples of what can be done," Hall said.

The Orange County Community Foundation, which issues nearly $18 million a year in grants, on Friday launched a new Orange County Arts and Culture Endowment Fund, which will try to recruit new donors for the arts. The goal is to build a $3-million stake by 2010, enough to generate about $150,000 in annual arts grants, said Shelley Hoss, president of the foundation. That would replace the $150,000 a year for arts grants that, as the report notes, the county government stopped allocating in 2004.

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