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O.C.'s Segerstrom Center for the Arts turns 25

September 24, 2011 |  9:00 am

Segerstrom Center Mariah Tauger
The Segerstrom Center for the Arts will be 25 years old on Thursday.

What have been your favorite experiences at the Segerstrom Center and why? Biggest disappointments? And hopes for the future? Share your memories in the comments below.

OCPAC The Costa Mesa institution that until this year was known as the Orange County Performing Arts Center has of course been primarily a showcase for dance, music, touring Broadway shows and other attractions. But in some ways it also has mirrored the transformation of its community.

What truly has changed -– and the center sometimes haltingly with it -– is Orange County. In 1980, as fundraising began following the Segerstrom family’s 1979 donation of the center’s site, the county’s population was 78% non-Hispanic white (the U.S. Census Bureau’s term).  In 2010, just 44.1% of the county’s 3 million residents fit that description.

In that light, perhaps the most socially defining moment for the center came in 1993. Call it a last gasp of the old Orange County, as center leaders tried to enforce a narrow definition of the arts and culture.

Looking to broaden its audience, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, a leading presenter of touring classical music groups and soloists, had proposed a new multicultural series. Center management vetoed the request, saying that “ethnic” artists such as Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano, Les Ballets Africains and Celtic folk stars the Chieftains fell outside the venue's mission.

The Philharmonic Society went public about the refusal, and a furor ensued. The center reversed itself, but warned that it was only making a one-time exception. No future performance series by resident groups such as the Philharmonic Society would be welcome without “a primary focus on quality touring symphony orchestras and other classical music attractions,” according to a statement issued by center President Thomas Kendrick and its board’s executive committee.

As it happened, Kendrick announced his impending resignation four months later. Two days after his exit, Mariachi Los Camperos packed the 3,000-seat house for a concert that the late Daniel Cariaga, in his Times review, described as “artistically satisfying … long on tradition and polished to a shine … [and] rapturously greeted.” As Cariaga concluded, with tongue in cheek, “this should have given some impresarios ideas."

Read the Sunday Arts & Books look back on some brilliant and quirky moments through the years for the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

And share your memories of OCPAC/Segerstrom in the comments section below.


Judy Morr: A quiet force behind Segerstrom Center for the Arts' dance program

Segerstrom Center for the Arts thinks big for 25th anniversary season

The center's milestones

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, with original 1986 hall at left of the 2006 concert hall addition. Credit: Los Angeles Times