The announced closure of Pasadena Playhouse with the caveat that it hopes to re-open after a period of re-organization has seized the SoCal arts headlines (and also top tidbit in today's New York Times arts section page 2). This phoenix has burned and come back to life previously, but whether it can repeat its reappearance act is a big question mark in these difficult times. Notwithstanding LA Times theatre critic Charles McNulty's recent somewhat disingenuous johnny-come-lately defense of the LA theatre scene (his next review was of a play in NYC), LA may have lots of storefront theatres per capita but they and the larger theatres have all struggled amidst the general lack of arts philanthropy here. OC rode a wave of arts philanthropy that led to edifice building and, in the case of South Coast Rep, endowment building. But by and large, OC's established arts institutions are every bit as vulnerable as LA's. After all, we lost Opera Pacific a year ago, Ballet Pacifica before that, and while OC's arts organizations are trying their best to put on a happy face (note last week's OC Museum of Art announcement that last quarter was their best ever for fundraising--though that was due to renewed support from two large foundations, not the arrival of new money), there are enough signs that beneath the surface, the picture is far less rosey.
Bloggers love to take potshots by calling the arts elitist, but Arts Orange County's 2006 Cultural Indicators Study indicated a high degree of interest in the arts locally and a desire to participate in them.
Certainly, there's a lot more competition for leisure time, much of which is easily accessible from home--a trend that is not going to be all that easy to overcome without some truly compelling programming by arts organizations (cf. Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser's mantras on The Huffington Post).
But...the lack of grass roots arts philanthropy is astounding, and the process of educating the public of its necessity must be made a priority.