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Orange County arts groups affected by shaky economy

November 7, 2008 |  3:46 pm

Segerstrom Concert Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center

With Opera Pacific desperately and possibly fatally wounded by the economic shrapnel falling on the arts, lovers of music in Orange County might be wondering how well-armored other musical organizations are against the incoming.

So far, the Orange County Performing Arts Center's three remaining resident companies see no imminent signs of disaster.

The Pacific Symphony, the county’s leading orchestra, hasn’t seen any falloff in donations, said president John Forsyte. It expects to make its $8-million fundraising nut for this season, including contributions that will allow it to expand its education programs. Income from subscription sales is down “but not unmanageable,” while single-concert purchases are coming in “way above expectations,” Forsyte said. Still, the symphony has a triage plan in place, identifying priorities that need to be sustained and areas that it could cut from its $17.5-million budget if the economy does not rebound.

The Pacific Chorale is actually about to expand its educational offerings, reports president Kelly Ruggirello.  With 160 singers — 30 of them paid, the rest volunteers — the group has widespread connections in the community that have helped keep attendance strong, she said. So far, donations have held up as well.

At the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, which imports touring classical and world music talent, executive director Dean Corey says that after a good start this season in ticket sales, “we noticed a real change when the stock market took its big nose dive. The phones were rather quiet." The job now, he said, is to persuade regular donors -- on whom the society relies for about half its $5-million budget -- that “you may not want to increase, but certainly don’t cut back.” The Philharmonic Society typically has operated in the black and has bounced back quickly from occasional deficits.

And what about the music groups' landlord, the Performing Arts Center?

The opera company’s failure means lost rental fees for OCPAC, opening a potential $300,000 to $400,000 hole in what center president Terrence Dwyer says was an already-tight 2008-09 budget.  OCPAC president Terrence Dwyer inside Segerstrom Concert Hall

Also, Dwyer said, there has been “some slowing down” in contributions and ticket sales since the stock market’s tumble. Plan A, he said, is to come up with “special initiatives” for raising about $10 million to cover the gap between projected earnings and this year’s operating costs. It certainly doesn't help that, on top of its annual operating expenses, the center still has to raise about $50 million to pay down the construction debt for Segerstrom Concert Hall, which opened in 2006. Millions of dollars in interest on the hall's construction bonds have become an annual expense the center must carry for years to come.

-- Mike Boehm

Photos: Segerstrom Concert Hall exterior, above, and Terrence Dwyer inside the concert hall.

Photo credits: Lori Shepler /Los Angeles Times, top, and Mark Boster /Los Angeles Times