Arts Advocates: Rick Stein

  • Rick Stein
    Rick Stein


Q&A with Rick Stein

Rick Stein has served as the president and CEO of Arts Orange County, the local nonprofit arts agency, since 2008. He was previously the executive director of the Laguna Playhouse for 17 years and, prior to that, managing director of the Grove Shakespeare Festival. He is a longtime member of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts Dean’s Arts Board, as well.

Q. During the pandemic, the arts sector has suffered tremendously as venues have been forced to shutter. How has your role with ArtsOC changed during this last year??

RS: Much of my focus at Arts OC has been advocacy: meeting with officials on the federal, state and local level to advocate for increased public funding for the arts. Our advocacy at the start of the pandemic resulted in nearly $2.8 million of relief funds last summer for artists, arts nonprofits and arts-related businesses in Orange County. However, we just released a “one year later” survey that reports OC’s arts community has now lost more than $121 million, and 2,700 people lost their jobs, were furloughed, or had pay cuts. We brought that data to the OC Board of Supervisors, persuading them to make $5 million of their American Rescue Plan Act funds available to the local arts community.

Q.  Californians for the Arts says, “Artists are essential workers in our society and our economy, helping us recover, reflect, and rebuild.” What are your thoughts on the arts’ role in health and wellbeing?

RS: I’ve been on the board of Californians for the Arts for 12 years and was president for three years. I always tell people that whatever is important to you, I can guarantee that the arts play an important role in it. Whether it’s mental health, keeping kids in school, addressing PTSD among veterans, or lowering prison recidivism rates, the arts play a role. Arts make the person whole. The economic impact of the arts cannot be understated, either. The arts employ thousands of people in OC and generate $1 billion in tax revenue.

Q. Over the past year, artists have shown their resilience in a myriad of ways. How do you think the arts landscape will be changed on the other side of the pandemic?

RS: Many think that the arts will take at least a year to come back to what it was before the pandemic. But in Europe following the Black Death in the Middle Ages, the Renaissance emerged. We could see a real Renaissance in the arts now, not only due to pent-up demand for the authentic live experiences they offer, but because people’s tastes were expanded by the easy access to new and different online arts experiences.

Q. How did you become involved with CTSA and what do you enjoy most about your involvement with CTSA?

RS: What resonates with me the most is the Medici Scholarship Program. For years, my wife, Alison, and I have donated annually to support one scholar. The program is about traveling to another place for research, immersion, or to work with a specific artist — although that’s taking place remotely right now due to the pandemic. Travel has always broadened my own artistic horizons, and I feel it’s really important for students to have that opportunity.

Q. What role does CTSA play in the broader OC arts community?

SP: As an arts producer, CTSA offers quality arts experiences for the community that are affordable. The opportunity to see up-and-coming talent who will be the professionals of tomorrow on those stages, and at an affordable rate, is a very important and valuable community service by the school.

To learn more about ways to support CTSA, contact Sarah Strozza, Senior Director of Development, at 949-824-0629 or

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CONNECT - Summer 2021

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