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Proposals Aim to Bolster Struggling Arts Center

Efforts to bolster Escondido’s struggling arts center will include partnering with Ticketmaster, hosting a country music series, replacing the center’s outdated technology infrastructure and assigning a theme to each season of performances, the center’s new leadership team told supporters Monday morning.


Officials said other possible changes to the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, include repainting the aging exterior, simulcasting symphonies and orchestras from other cities, and hosting outdoor concerts this summer to gauge whether a permanent fence should be built around the center’s “great green.”


The initiatives and proposals were discussed during the second of three public forums that were held Sunday and Monday to update the community and gather feedback. Total attendance was about 120 people, center officials said.


Suggestions from the public included sprucing up the center’s outward appearance, upgrading its outdated website, holding more Latino-themed events in the center’s theaters and exploring partnerships with ticket discounters such as Goldstar.


The center’s new leadership team, interim Chief Executive Jon Teeuwissen and board Chairwoman Carina Courtright, said each of the suggestions from the public was a priority, but that some of them would be challenging to accomplish quickly.


“Some of these ideas are more possible than others,” Courtright said, adding that the city has slashed its annual arts-center subsidy from about $3 million to less than $1 million since 2008.


The center has run deficits in 14 of the 17 years it has been open.


Courtright said officials were painfully aware of graffiti on the walls and other problems with the center’s appearance that have become more conspicuous since the budget cuts.


“All of us see those buildings every day, and we haven’t gotten used to it,” she said, assuring the audience that the center’s appearance was a top priority. Courtright said there have been preliminary discussions about repainting the structure.


Teeuwissen said discount partnerships with Goldstar or other agencies could help sell tickets. But he added that most of the center’s performances are staged by private promoters who rent the theaters, so those promoters would have to agree to the discounts in each case.


Benjamin De Schrijver, the center’s new marketing coordinator, said the main flaw of the city’s website was its reliance on the outdated “webmaster” model, which prevented center employees from frequently adding new content. He said it couldn’t be upgraded without a significant redesign.


Courtright said having more Latino events in the theaters would dovetail with her plan to have themed seasons, suggesting the theme of the first season could be Latino culture. The season would include an exhibit of drawings by Mexican muralist Raul Anguino in September, she said.


Teeuwissen said the new partnership with Ticketmaster would increase revenue by making tickets easier to buy. He added that there would be no service charge for people who continue to buy tickets at the center’s box office.


Another key initiative is replacing the center’s outdated computers, which Teeuwissen said are so slow that officials struggle to return email from donors and ticket buyers. Courtright said a technology consultant was scheduled to tour the center Tuesday.


Courtright said the country music series would probably be held in late summer or early fall. Other proposals include a Christian music series and simulcasting the Los Angeles Philharmonic and New York’s Metropolitan Opera in the center’s large theater.


Teeuwissen and Courtright, who took over the center in late 2010, have been credited with stabilizing the center’s finances, deftly trimming staff and creating momentum by adding popular programs.

They told the audience Monday that the center was on the upswing, but still navigating through a painful period of upheaval.


“This is the phase you have to go through when renovating a home,” Courtright said.


Mayor Sam Abed, who attended the Monday forum, praised the center’s new leadership team and vowed to support it.


“The City Council is committed to making this work,” he said. “The Center for the Arts will unite us as a community.”


North County Times

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