AP NEWS

Cal Center for Arts Escondido sets 2016/2017 season

June 19, 2016

The artistic and commercial rejuvenation that started in 2014 at California Center for the Arts, Escondido, appears to be gradually building as the center today announces its upcoming 2016/2017 season.

The 28-performance lineup includes such varied artists as comedian Kathy Griffin, banjo master Bela Fleck, top Hawaiian slack-key guitarist George Kahumoko Jr., soon-to-be-former “A Prairie Home Companion” host Garrison Keillor and the genre-leaping bands Pink Martini and Black Violin.

Other confirmed acts range from the Portland Cello Project, Mexrrissey and The Ten Tenors to New Jack Swing R&B vocal veteran Keith Sweat, the Shaping Sound dance and music ensemble, and the rock band Big Head Todd and The Monsters. The full season schedule appears below.

When: Aug. 11 to June 21Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 N. Escondido Blvd. Tickets: On sale Sunday at noon at the center’s box office and by phone and onlinePhone: (800) 988-4253Online: artcenter.org

When: Aug. 11 to June 21

Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 N. Escondido Blvd.

Tickets: On sale Sunday at noon at the center’s box office and by phone and online

Phone: (800) 988-4253

Online: artcenter.org

“I think our visibility and reputation is stronger, so we’re getting more attendance. We had seven shows sell out in 2014 and 2015, plus some near sell-outs, and I think we’ll exceed that with our coming season,” said Jerry Van Leeuwen, who became CCAE’s executive director, temporarily, in 2013.

His position as director is now full time. The center, whose future seemed in doubt just five years ago, appears to have regained at least some of its footing. The coming season will see the center have no fewer than three corporate sponsors for some of its show, including Stone Brewery.

“We brought in some expertise in marketing that we didn’t have in place before 2014,” Van Leeuwen noted. “There’s been a little trial and error. Our email list has grown from 20,000 to 27,000, so that helps. We’ve also been working with other organizations and doing cross-marketing strategies.”

The nonprofit, $85 million center opened in 1994. It houses two theaters for performances, with capacities of 1,500 and 400, respectively, along with an art gallery and a conference center. The handsomely designed and appointed performing arts complex is owned by the city of Escondido, which built it to spearhead efforts to revitalize the surrounding downtown area.

The center is operated by the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, Foundation, and currently has 43 full-time and 100 part-time employees, according to Van Leeuwen, a longtime Escondido city official, who retired in late 2013.

CCAE’s opening 22 years ago preceded the rise to prominence of several North County casinos that regularly present major music and comedy acts — and can afford to pay significantly more to book them. To the south, such venues as the Poway Center for the Performing Arts and the Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego sometimes compete for some of the same shows as CCAE.

The center had deficits for 13 of its first 16 years of operation, beginning with an $800,000 shortfall in ticket sales after its 1994-1995 opening season. By 2009, the consistent losses prompted the center and the city of Escondido — which itself faced an overall budget deficit of $7.4 million — to change course. Beginning that year, it was mandated that the center rent its theater facilities to outside promoters for all events, rather than undertake the financial risk of producing its own shows.

It was only in 2014 that the center had regained enough of its financial footing to again produce its own season, which was booked by Bruce Labadie, the director of the San Jose Jazz Festival. Based in Santa Cruz, Labadie has nearly 20 years of experience as the program director at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga and more than a decade as performing arts director at Saratoga’s Montalvo Arts Center.

“Bruce is so skilled at what he does, and he’s really helped us get on our feet,” Van Leeuwen said.

“I was just at the California Presents conference with him last week in Irvine, where a lot of arts presenters from across the state gathered. They reviewed how well each show they booked did and the price points. Bruce has been very successful with that organization, and his reputation is extraordinary. He’s well respected by artists and helps us on our contracting end. If he says ‘such and such an act will sell 875 tickets,’ he’s usually spot on.”

The center’s current budget is $5.5 million, which includes all programming in both theaters, as well as operating the art gallery and the conference center. The budget also covers educational programs, arts grants, free concerts, jazz jam sessions and annual events, such as the annual open-air Fourth of July and Day of the Dead celebrations, which can draw up to 20,000 people.

The city of Escondido currently provides the center with $720,000 annually to manage the center, in addition to covering utilities and related costs.

“The performing season is a money-maker for us,” Van Leeuwen said. “As we’ve re-established the season the past few years, we’re learning what is the right ticket price we can charge and what the community will bear, and that determines what artists we can get.”

Thursday, Aug. 11-14: “Ain’t Misbehavin: The Fats Waller Musical Show,” presented in association with the North Coast Repertory Theatre, Center Theater, $35-$45

Saturday, Sept. 10: Kathy Griffin, Concert Hall, $45-$85

Thursday, Sept. 29: Big Head Blues Club Presents The Songs of Willie Dixon featuring Big Head Todd and The Monsters, with special guests Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch & Ronnie Baker Brooks, Concert Hall, $25-$50

Friday, Sept. 30: Keith Sweat, Concert Hall, $40-$85

Sunday, Oct. 2: The Quebe Sisters, Center Theater, $30-$45

Thursday, Oct. 20: Flip Fabrique, Concert Hall, $25-$60

Tuesday, Nov. 1: Mexrrissey, Center Theater, $35-$45

Friday, Nov. 4: “The Midtown Men: The Original Cast of Broadway’s Jersey Boys,” Concert Hall, $35-$65

Sunday, Nov. 6: Marta Lledo, Center Theater, $25-$35, 3 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 6: Montgomery Gentry, Concert Hall, $30-$65

Saturday, Dec. 3: Pink Martini, Concert Hall, $30-$85

Sunday, Jan. 22: Portland Cello Project, Center Theater, $30-$45

Wednesday, Jan. 25: Garrison Keillor, Concert Hall, $25-$75

Thursday, Feb. 2: Black Violin, Concert Hall, $20-$40

Saturday, Feb. 4: Pablo Villegas, Center Theater, $35-$55

Thursday, Feb. 9: Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Concert Hall, $25-$60

Wednesday, Feb. 22: International Guitar Night, Center Theater, $30-$40

Thursday, Feb. 23: Villalobos Brothers, Center Theater, $25-$35

Sunday, Feb. 26: The Ten Tenors, Concert Hall, $35-$70

Friday, March 3: Masters of Hawaiian Music, Center Theater, $32-$42

Wednesday, March 15: Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Concert Hall, $25-$45

Sunday, April 9: Ching Ming Chen, Center Theater, $25-$35, 3 p.m.

Sunday, May 14: Mariachi Divas, Concert Hall, $15-$35

Wednesday, June 21: Shaping Sound, Concert Hall, $35-$70 all names cq

george.varga@sduniontribune.com