All the 
Right Reasons 7

ArtsOC survived the recession through the leadership of its President & CEO Rick Stein, who is passionate about a thriving Orange County arts community.

Rick Stein felt he was coming full circle when he accepted the job as President & CEO of Arts Orange County (ArtsOC) in 2008. After acquiring his bachelor’s degree in English from Columbia University in 1976 and his master’s in English from Syracuse University in 1978, he had signed on as executive director of the Oswego County Council on Arts in Fulton, New York.

Several jobs in symphony and theater management followed, which brought him to Orange County in 1987 as managing director of the Grove Shakespeare Festival for three years before he began a 17-year tenure as executive director of The Laguna Playhouse.

When Stein moved to Orange County, he had joined a number of arts leaders eager to create an arts council after the Orange County Arts Alliance had dissolved. This became an early organizing committee of ArtsOC, which founding Executive Director Bonnie Hall launched with the support of the Orange County Community Foundation and other community leaders. When Hall stepped down after 14 years, Stein was asked to take over.

“I started with ArtsOC almost when the recession began,” Stein says. “It had always struggled to find enough resources to sustain itself, which was in part because an arts council in a community this size is typically part of the county government and is supported with public funds.”

Stein says they continued to struggle through the recession but modified their business model to harness ArtsOC’s core competencies, which led the organization to consulting and project management.

“I credit ArtsOC Deputy Director Patricia Wayne at the time with much of our success in this shift because she equaled me in her depth of knowledge and experience in the field,” he says.

Wayne left ArtsOC in 2015 to lead a new state-wide arts education coalition.

How ArtsOC Is Structured

The 22-year-old nonprofit is designated by the County of Orange as its official local arts agency and state-local partner with the California Arts Council. The board of directors is comprised of a mixture of community leaders and philanthropists, including corporate funders (The Boeing Company, Wells Fargo Bank), plus the Orange County Superintendent of Schools, the Dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at UC Irvine, and the CEOs of several major arts institutions (Pacific Symphony, South Coast Repertory, Orange County Museum of Art, Pacific Chorale, Irvine Barclay Theatre). Smaller and cultural diverse organizations are also represented.

What ArtsOC Does

Consulting and project management has been a huge part of ArtsOC’s recent accomplishments.

“This is our third year under contract with the City of Newport Beach to manage its Sculpture Exhibition in Civic Center Park,” Stein says. “We assemble a jury and work with the city’s Arts Commission and City Council to select the artworks and then oversee their installation in the park for two-year intervals.”

Stein says ArtsOC just completed and presented a cultural arts master plan to the City of Mission Viejo’s City Council, which the Council approved. He says they have conducted management searches for Pacific Symphony, Bowers Museum, Muzeo, and others, facilitated strategic planning activities and board retreats and, for Cal State Fullerton’s newly-designated School of Music, helped the faculty devise a mission statement.

“It is one of the many ways we can serve our community as well as generate revenue for our organization,” Stein says.

Funding also comes about through its board of directors, National Endowment for the Arts and California Arts Council grants, corporate donations, and its annual OC Arts Awards, this year scheduled for October 17, 2017 at Segerstrom Center’s Samueli Theater. Always a heartwarming evening, look for some major arts philanthropists, artists and nonprofits to be recognized.


Programs include an annual month-long countywide family arts festival called Imagination Celebration, now in its 33rd year, which is presented in association with the OC Department of Education and includes 40 participating organizations, a public exhibition of more than 1,000 works of student art and a student poster art contest. The Seventh Annual Dia del Niño one-day free outdoor Latino arts festival features workshops and performances by professional and community artists, and the Third Annual VOICES–The Veterans Storytelling Project is conducted in collaboration with the Heroes Hall Museum.

“We help the veterans shape their stories to present to an audience,” Stein says. “Participants have included a 25-year-old Afghanistan War veteran, veterans from the Vietnam War and a 102-year-old Women’s Army Corps veteran who worked at the Manhattan Project.”

The Ninth Annual Creative Edge Lecture, in partnership with the OC Department of Education, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 4th District PTA and The Boeing Company, presents thought leaders in the field of creativity. US Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera was the featured speaker in March, 2017.

SparkOC, ArtsOC’s premier online arts events calendar for Orange County, attracts 30,000 visitors monthly, accessing more than 2.5 million page views of information. All event listings are free of charge to Orange County organizations, and there is a companion program offering advertising and marketing services at affordable prices.

The ArtsOC twice-monthly e-newsletter keeps artists and arts organization leadership informed of grant opportunities, advocacy alerts, and more. The nonprofit oversees what it calls Leadership Convenings with arts organizations board chairs, CEOs, development and marketing directors and city arts coordinators for topical discussions and networking.

The Future

“So, after weathering the difficult economic times, we’ve proven that our business model is sustainable, and we are now ready to take on the ambitious task of our new Re-create Initiative,” Stein says.

The full name is Re-Create: Orange County Arts & Arts Education Sustainability Initiative, which is a strategic program to advance public will for the arts and arts education that will result in new and increased funding from both private and public sources. Two years ago, Stein pulled together some leading political figures in the community–among them the late Marian Bergeson (former California Secretary of Education), Wylie Aitken (former chair of the California Arts Council), former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, former Irvine Mayor Sally Anne Sheridan, Newport Beach City Council member Keith Curry, former Mission Viejo City Council member Roger Faubel, and former Laguna Beach Mayors Paul Freeman and Elizabeth Pearson.

“I laid out the issues–lack of public funding and the diminishing private support trends,” he says, “and little by little we determined a strategy on how to proceed. We have no illusions it will be easy, nor that it will be accomplished overnight, but we are resolved in our determination to pursue it.

Continuing, Stein says:

“I am confident over time that we will see some form of public funding for the arts develop and reverse the decline in private support.”

Stein feels grateful to be a part of this community, both in private and 
through his career.

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he says, “and I am passionate about wanting to make sure the robust arts community we have here can thrive in the future. In that way, I guess you could say that I’ve come ‘full circle.’”

“I am passionate about wanting to make sure the robust arts community we have here can thrive in the future.” 

Rick Stein