Try It, You'll Like It: A Conversation With ARTS OC's Rick Stein

many arts professionals, the administrative aspect of things is a creative
death sentence, as time spent on personal projects drops by the wayside and
artists get ground up in the gears of keeping an organization afloat. A quick
look at ARTS Orange County Executive Director Rick Stein's oeuvre–unflagging arts
advocacy and patronage, the three blogs he maintains (one personal, the Spark-E!
Blog for ARTS OC and a new arts education blog), the interviews he conducts on
Public Television station KOCE, his stepping in for OC Register Theater critic Paul Hodgins when he's on vacation and his continuing work as a writer for AMERICAN
magazine–suggests that he may actually be more creative now than ever before.

Barton /OC Weekly:
is Arts Orange County and what does it do?

ArtsOC is an independent non-profit
officially designated by the County of Orange as its local arts agency
state-local partner with the California Arts Council, the state arts
ArtsOC was founded in 1995 by Bonnie Brittain Hall, who served as its
Director until 2008. When she decided to retire, I was hopeful that the
organization would find someone qualified to carry on her good work.
Little did
I know then it would be me!

The mission of ArtsOC, like most arts councils, is fairly broad so it
can be
agile enough to respond to the changing needs of the arts community.  Right now, our biggest priorities are: audience
, which we pursue through our cultural events
website, our Spark-e! newsletter, our Imagination Celebration festival
of arts
for children and families, and our October Free Nights program; arts education advocacy, which we
pursue through our Creative Edge program by building arts education
in local school districts, providing an arts education resource blog,
offering a lecture this year by author Daniel H. Pink (A
Whole New Mind
); and recognition
of artists, arts patrons and arts organizations at our annual Orange
Arts Awards event. We also gather data
on the arts community, convene arts leaders, speak out on issues of
to the arts community, and take on occasional special projects.

We are almost entirely funded through private grants and contributions. Notwithstanding our official status, the
County of Orange provides us with no funding.

us in on a week in the life of an Arts OC Executive Director.

I'm busy with the programs mentioned above, much of my time is spent
out ways to use the “bully pulpit” of ArtsOC to keep the cause of the
arts at
the forefront of people's minds.
inspirations are Joe
, legendary founder of the New York Shakespeare
Festival and the Public Theatre, and John Houseman, a
founder of the Federal
Theatre Project during the Great Depression. I met both of them, and
they never
shied away from a good fight in support of the arts. 

both are long gone, but my current
role model is Michael
, President of the Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts, whom I've also met and heard speak and follow on The
Huffington Post.  He is championing the
notion that recessions are not the time for arts organizations to
retreat from
their missions and pander to the lowest common denominator with mass
programming, but a time for calculated risk-taking that reinforces the
and innovation we depend upon the arts to deliver.

Arts advocates largely became demoralized and gave up the fight for
public arts
funding years ago when the NEA was attacked and had its funds greatly
reduced. 15 years' worth of apathy and inaction
can't be turned around overnight, but I've made it a priority to
active relationships with elected officials and networks of arts
supporters so
that, perhaps, within time we can achieve our goals.

One of my fondest memories as a theatre
critic was seeing the adaptation of Graham Green's Travels with My Aunt
you directed at The Laguna Playhouse. Are we ever going to see another
Rick Stein-directed theater production?

I got
spoiled being able to pick any play I wanted to direct at the Playhouse. Directing as a freelancer usually means
directing plays you don't like just for the money. Those
are the kind of opportunities that have
come my way and since I don't make my living by directing, I haven't

You attend a lot of gallery showings,
theatre productions, musical performances and dance. Aside from theatre,
do you
have a favorite medium?

always loved the visual arts, and had visited OC's three major museums. But until I got to ArtsOC, I had not explored
the galleries (institutional and private), and I now know that I was
out on a lot of exceptional work. There
really are great artists in every genre here–from the edgy to the

I've made it a point to dig
deeper into what's going on in the art scene here and to ensure that
including it on and in
our Spark-e! newsletter.

County is often looked at as the
also-ran of artistic communities, faring poorly when compared to Los
(or even San Diego). How do you feel about that and what would you say
are the
county's strengths–and weaknesses?

have a theory that OC has the richest dance scene in Southern
California, and
I'm aiming to convene its major players soon to discuss that and to
collaboration. Strong dance programs at
UCI, Chapman and Irvine Valley College, two major presenters of the
best touring dance (OCPAC and The Barclay), two important dance
festivals (Fall
for Dance and Laguna Dance
), a highly respected annual laboratory for
new works (National Choreographer's Initiative), three well established
dance organizations (Anaheim
, Backhausdance
and Festival Ballet
), a unique dance organization serving underprivileged youth (The Wooden
), and literally dozens of small, pre-professional dance
schools that also
stage productions–make a case for Orange County emerging as a dance hub
in the
region. I'm sure there is more that I'm
not even aware of.

I'm extremely fond of jazz, but it appears to be the one area of music
not in
great abundance in Orange County–still I see signs of it growing in
popularity. Institutions like Soka University and
have strong jazz faculty and recitals, and OC is home to an eminent
contemporary jazz saxophonist, Eric
, who will be honored at this
year's OC Arts Awards in September. There
are some fine local musicians who play area restaurants, OCPAC brings in
handful of widely known artists, the Muckenthaler and Laguna Beach Live
jazz series, and venues like The
Coach House
occasionally feature jazz
headliners. We are also fortunate to
have two excellent radio stations KSBR-FM
(Saddleback College's contemporary
jazz station) and KKJZ-FM
(al State Long Beach's station that focuses more on
traditional jazz and blues).

Artists often feel that there's not
enough financial support out there for their work, in the form of grants
patronage. What is Arts Orange County doing about that and is there a

right about that.

First, the good news: ArtsOC has distributed
nearly $1 million in grants since its inception, with funds from The
Company, the County of Orange (briefly), and The James Irvine Foundation
partnership with the Orange County Community Foundation). However, after 2010, ArtsOC no longer has a
source of funds from which to issue grants, so we are actively seeking a
source or sources.

What ArtsOC is doing in the advocacy arena is intended to re-build a
for statewide arts funding through the California Arts Council that was
eliminated 8 years ago. Many of OC's
arts organizations benefited from CAC grants until that time, and those
did not qualify for direct funding were able to benefit from technical
assistance funds.

But there is also the philanthropy side, and while OC's major arts
organizations have enjoyed strong support over the years, that support
from a small number of wealthy visionaries whose numbers are dwindling
as they
die, and there is not a new generation of philanthropists who have been
to take over. Theories abound as to why
that's the case: they never had arts
education or other exposure to the arts, they don't attend or
participate in
the arts, they are more interested in social issues or the environment,
simply not interested in philanthropy. It's a real problem here and in many other communities, and is
easily remedied. It will require an
enormous process of educating the public about the value of the arts and
need for support, one that will take years to bear fruit.

London, several theatres like The Old
Vic, The Royal Court, The Almeida and The Donmar, among others, are
starting to
put some of their productions online. Thoughts?

arts experiences will never be able to substitute for the real thing,
but “free
samples” can be a powerful tool in educating people and marketing the
arts. The Metropolitan Opera is the most
prominent U.S. example of a major arts organization distributing its
work more
widely through live performance feeds to movie theatres nationwide.

Ten years ago, when I was on the Executive
Committee of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), I pushed for our
collective bargaining agreement with Actors Equity, the theatre actors
to loosen up its highly restrictive rules regarding broadcast and
internet use,
which they did not agree to at that time. It sounds like British Actors Equity has a more visionary
attitude, and while
I believe that American Equity has made a number of rule changes, I
think there
is still more that can be done. It's
critical to stemming the decline of theatre audiences.

your five favorite artists (of any medium) and tell us why you love

– When I attended the original production of his musical COMPANY
Broadway, it changed my entire concept of musical theatre. In a Sondheim musical, the beauty of his
songs seems entirely wedded to their context, but when you hear them
outside of
their milieu they gain new life in surprising ways. He's
the apotheosis of the American musical
theatre–but I also have to admit my guilty pleasure of listening to
Chapman's spot-on satirical song, “Everybody Wants to be
Sondheim–But Me!”

– I make it a point to re-read Dubliners
every couple of years. These stories
of everyday people in turn of the century Ireland are amazingly taut yet
with detail. Joyce's “epiphanies,” the pathetic
realizations of his protagonists in these stories, hit you like an
left hook, particularly in the brilliant concluding tale, “The Dead.” Ulysses
has no peer as the turning point in modern fiction, and Finnegan's
deconstructs prose to
its poetic origins.

– To me, it all begins and ends with the Bard. And beyond his drama, is thee any poem more romantic than Sonnet XVIII?

Suzanne Vega – The urbane,
cosmopolitan singer-songwriter can be scathing,
witty, detached or empathetic while plying her tunes and keeping a beat
ranges from folk to pop to metallic rock. Her latest album demonstrates unequivocally that she is still at
the top
of her form. I can listen to her songs
every day–and do, as I work out to them.

Diane Arbus – Even
seemingly normal people appear disturbed in the world of
Diane Arbus, whose black and white only portraits capture every blemish
America in the 1960s. I first saw the
Museum of Modern Art retrospective of her work a year after her suicide
1971, and 35 years later saw the major touring exhibition of her work
when it
was at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

As the County's Official Arts
Cheerleader, share a few thoughts on why the Arts are important to you
and why
people should get their butts off the couch and becomes patrons.

I'm a
dyed-in-the-wool “art for art's sake” guy.

At a recent visioning retreat of the California Arts Advocates, there
discussion about the much-touted “economic impact” approach to
advocating for
the arts; i.e. that the arts transform urban blight, create jobs, fill
restaurants and hotels, produce gobs of tax revenues, etc. But one of the keynote speakers, Arlene
, lambasted us for adopting that disingenuous argument and
the essential truth that a civilized society demands a healthy arts
community, support
for which is a perfectly legitimate use of tax funds.

That is what I believe, but it's my job to use whatever argument
resonates with
my particular audience. When Assembly
Member Jim Silva (R-Huntington Beach) voted yes for the state arts bill
spring, he spoke in Committee about the economic impact of the arts. But when our OC arts delegation had met with
him a few weeks prior, he told us the story of how learning a musical
instrument when he was a kid had changed his life. I
believe it was the latter that really
motivated him to vote for the arts, but he knew his audience needed to
hear economic
facts and figures. He was the only Republican who voted for the bill and
it was
a courageous act.

As for the general public, sometimes you just have to tell them “try it,
like it.”

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