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Sparking a Creative Community

Sparking a Creative Community

By Shelley Hoss

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below

Local arts organizations fuel minds and hearts as well as our local economy.

Long before the Orange County Performing Arts Center (now Segerstrom Center for the Arts) opened in Costa Mesa in 1986, Orange County was known for our thriving creative community. We welcomed plein air artists, actors, opera singers and musicians to our iconic shorelines. And despite the distance from a major city, they made Orange County their home, laying the foundation for a creative economy and our county’s young identity.

With their rising popularity and Orange County’s growing development, the cultural arts took a foothold in Orange County. By the early 1930’s, Laguna Beach had established its annual Pageant of the Masters and the Charles W. Bowers Memorial Museum broke ground, with scores of community-based museums, playhouses and art venues to follow. 

Orange County now boasts nearly 600 thriving arts organizations– a boon for our community both artistically and economically. The downside? The herculean task of trying to keep up with their burgeoning offerings. That is, until Arts Orange County (Arts OC) and the Orange County Community Foundation earned a James Irvine Foundation grant to collaborate on behalf of the local arts community.

The result of this joint effort was SparkOC.com, launched in 2008 as the county’s first comprehensive online portal for everything arts-related in Orange County.  “We selected the name, ‘SparkOC,’ to spark your imagination to go to the site and see the incredible array of opportunities at your fingertips,” said Richard Stein, executive director, Arts OC.

As Stein points out, there is an upcoming event to satisfy nearly every palate featured on SparkOC.com. Every month, between 30,000 and 35,000 unique visitors scout out theater, dance, music and stand-up comedy performances; evaluate the can’t-miss museums, galleries, films and art walks; and even find classes, workshops and auditions to participate in. 

But ArtsOC’s passion for engaging Orange County residents in the arts doesn’t stop with Spark OC. In October, Arts OC will celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month with Free Fall for the Arts and Celebrate OCtober. Free Fall for the Arts offers free tickets to events hosted at venues featured on SparkOC through an opportunity drawing. And Celebrate October will commemorate the county’s 125th anniversary by showcasing special cultural and heritage events on SparkOC.com.

Next spring, the Imagination Celebration—a centerpiece of  ArtsOC’s community outreach efforts– will celebrate its 30th year of uniting arts organizations countywide to produce family-friendly, free and low-cost events to encourage local families to experience the arts together.  During the month-long celebration, SparkOC also sponsors a poster art contest throughout the county’s schools, including a People’s Choice award from votes registered on SparkOC.com. 

“These events are designed to eliminate the financial barriers that may prevent people from enjoying the arts and to encourage residents to try an arts experience or venue they’ve never attended before,” remarks Stein. 

Organizations like Arts OC and tools like SparkOC.com fulfill more in our community than simply providing beauty or entertainment, they also fuel an often-overlooked economic engine helping Orange County rebound from the recession.

According to the most recent Otis Report on the Creative Economy, the creative industries employed 1 in 7 Orange County workers in 2012, with 52,500 direct employees; if you add indirect workers, the number jumps to 90,000. The property, state and local personal income and sales tax revenues associated directly and indirectly with the creative industries based in Orange County were estimated at $683.8 million. 

“The next time you attend a show, contribute to an arts organization or even purchase a piece of digital media equipment developed here in Orange County, consider it more than a nice thing to do,” Stein said. “You’re not only fostering the arts and humanities, you’re investing in Orange County’s creative economy.”

To learn more about Orange County’s nonprofit arts community, visit Arts Orange County or Nonprofit Central. To sign up for the SparkOC newsletter, go to www.sparkoc.com.

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Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org.

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