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Jewish Journal

The Management of Art

Jerry Mandel gives back to the community through The O.C. Performing Arts Center

March 30, 2000 | 7:00 pm

As president and chief operating officer of The Orange County Performing Arts Center (OCPAC), Jerry Mandel must perform the delicate art of balancing the need to present great performances with the imperative to raise the funds to do so.

"The kind of person you need today to run a not-for-profit business is not an artist," explains Mandel. "It's a manager who has a passion for the arts and is good at fundraising."

Mandel, who served as vice chancellor for university advancement at the University of California, Irvine, prior to joining The Center in 1997, must raise $28 million per year (including ticket sales) to finish in the black. Previously he served as vice president for University Relations and Development at California State University, Long Beach.

It is precisely this background that drew skepticism in some circles about Mandel's ability to lead The Center, which presents more than 200 events annually in theater; dance; chamber, choral and orchestra music; and opera.

But Judy Morr, OCPAC's vice president of programming, says, "He's supportive of the range of arts disciplines we present here." An industry veteran of nearly 40 years, she adds, "When I conjure up a picture of Jerry, I see his incredible enthusiasm for everything we do."

Mandel's enthusiasm stems, in part, from his passion for the arts. A musician since he was 10, Mandel played the saxophone and clarinet in junior high school and worked his way through college playing at weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. His grandfather, a violinist in the Hollywood studios, and his father, a percussionist in bands and combos, undoubtedly influenced him.

Decades later, Mandel still plays the saxophone. Each day, he seeks out a practice room at The Center and plays for nearly one hour. "It's some measure of creativity in this world," he says. "You feel refreshed, and then it's done."

It's an energizing break in a demanding schedule that requires Mandel's presence on days, nights and weekends at performances, meetings, and social and fund-raising events.

"I hate a breakfast meeting. It's early. I stay late -- and I'm old," explains Mandel, 60, who reluctantly concedes that getting older does have at least one advantage. "You have experience -- if you can remember it."

What Karl Anatol remembers about meeting Mandel 34 years ago, when both were graduate students at Purdue University, was "Jerry's brashness and iconoclasm. He was inclined to rail against any[thing] and everything. But he loved jazz as I did, and he was as warm and engaging an officemate and mentor as one would ever find."

Now provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at California State University, Long Beach, Anatol says, "Jerry still rails and rages, and I get a kick out of his certainty of vehemence. We still dig jazz, and we ofttimes sit and listen to the same show.

"Jerry has made jazz safe in Orange County and Orange County unafraid of jazz. The series at Founders Hall is a delight," says Anatol, who describes Mandel as "sharp, visionary, courageous, stylish, entrepreneurial, an Adonis wannabe, health food nut, sports aficionado and a friend for life."

Mandel's professional life brings much personal pleasure. "The joy of the job is seeing the great performances. You don't just listen to it. You absorb it. It's invigorating. It's stimulating."

But overseeing one of the nation's largest and most presti-gious performing arts center does have its crises. Pro-gramming and fundraising are constant challenges; dealing with the board of directors is another.

Describing the interaction with board members as "not onerous, but difficult," Mandel explains, "A board meeting is like the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Everyone's a general. They're used to running the show."

Nevertheless, Mandel, who calls the directors "fabulous people," says, "I like their passion."

Mandel, who describes himself as "proud of being Jewish, although I've never been involved in the religious side," credits his cultural heritage for being passionate about giving back to the community.

"Why do I think that giving back is the most important thing I do? The Jewish culture and values are why I do what I do," he explains. "The most rewarding part of my job is watching people leave a performance. I know I've contributed something to their lives."

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