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Musicians John Hiatt, left, and Lyle Lovett will perform Nov. 8 at the California Center for Arts, Escondido. Courtesy photo
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Art Center gaining momentum as a ‘place to be’

ESCONDIDO — Much is abuzz at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

Two weeks ago, CCAE Executive Director Jerry Van Leeuwen updated the City Council on the progress and momentum developed over the past year.

For its 2014-15 season, the center featured 26 shows with 10 sellouts and a total of 285,000 visits to Escondido’s cultural hub. As a result, revenue was up about $35,000.

“We re-established our performing arts season,” Van Leeuwen said. “It was a bit of risk because if we don’t have the reputation as a place to go, we would have to build that back up again.”

Now all eyes are set on two of the music industry’s biggest and longest running musicians as Melissa Etheridge and Lyle Lovett comingto town.

Etheridge plays on Friday, while Lovett and John Hiatt take center stage Sunday. Both shows begin at 7:30 p.m.

Nabbing the musical icons, Van Leeuwen said, shows the center has returned to its status as one of San Diego County’s best venues.

“Both of those shows will do pretty well,” he added. “Shows like that, that have a large attraction with local (fans) and also have their own following, which will help get the house sold.”

The center also boasts a vibrant museum, banquet center and conference center.  Last weekend the CCAE wrapped up its Dia de los Muertos Festival and is in the midst of its six-week art exhibition, “Re-Membering our Ancestors: Discovering Ourselves.”

Within the next year, the museum will also present exhibits on African-American hair culture (January-March 2016) and artwork dedicated to superheroes (May-August 2016).

Other exhibits included creating partnerships where the center would be the host, but private collectors and other vendors would provide the art. As a result, it allowed the CCAE to reduce its cost and increase revenue.

This season’s art shows, however, drew more than 7,500 attendees, while the conference center hosted 640 events, drawing 86,000 people and the 35 free events hosted by the center tallied 43,130 attendees and 7,873 volunteer hours.

“We expanded the museum exhibits a little bit,” Van Leeuwen added. “Some of the artists want to come back. That is really encouraging.”

As for next season, he said the center has several goals, including increasing show attendance to more than 300,000, increasing memberships by 15 percent, revenue by 20 percent and growing the board of trustees from nine to 12 members.

“The membership is a big goal for us,” Van Leeuwen said. “In the past we used to use memberships as a way to offer discount tickets, but we are trying to change that because our educational programs are growing and more valuable.”

To accomplish such a lofty goal, he said the mindset must change from “what’s in it for me,” to “what’s in it for us.”

Yet another benefit of increasing membership, Van Leeuwen said, is it becomes easier to secure grants for the educational programs.

Those opportunities, he reported to the council, included 22,522 visitors in 108 events including field trips, art academies and workshops.

The council, meanwhile, was thoroughly impressed with the improvements coming from Van Leeuwen and the staff.

“It’s impressive enough to hear everything you’ve done,” councilman John Morasco said. “We couldn’t be more proud of what you’ve achieved.”

Added Mayor Sam Abed: “Thank you for your leadership. You have put the center back on the regional map.”

1 comment

bythesea November 8, 2015 at 9:58 pm

Is the city of Escondido still paying 5 million dollars a year to the arts center to keep it afloat? At one time the city council was going to cut off any taxpayer money to the art center. Why increase the board of directors. Are they paid or volunteers?

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