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The Comings, Goings and Passings in 2023

Updated: Jan 1

TOP ROW: From left, Jodie Gates, Seán O’Harrow, Andrew Brown, Carlos Salgado and Carl St.Clair. BOTTOM ROW: Susan Brooker, David Ellenstein, Jerry Mandel, Amy Behrens and Richard Bryant. Photo collage by Heide Janssen, Culture OC

The last 12 months were filled with significant changes to the cultural scene in Orange County. Several major arts institutions said goodbye to their leaders and started the challenging search for a successor – the biggest changing of the guard since 2018. Other arts groups welcomed new leaders. Talented chefs departed, at least temporarily. And we lost some of our most enduring and beloved artists and chroniclers of the arts in 2023. Let’s look at a few of the year’s biggest transitions.


PHOTO 1: Amy Behrens. Photo courtesy of Casa Romantica. PHOTO 2: Andrew Brown. Photo courtesy of Pacific Chorale. PHOTO 3: Richard Bryant. Photo courtesy of Chapman University. PHOTO 4: Jerry Mandel. Photo courtesy of Irvine Barclay Theatre. PHOTO 5: Carlos Salgado. Photo courtesy of Taco Maria. PHOTO 6: Carl St.Clair. Photo courtesy of Pacific Symphony. PHOTO 7: Paula Tomei. Photo courtesy of South Coast Repretory


Amy Behrens: Behrens, executive director of Casa Romantica for almost four years, left in August for a new position, executive director and CEO of Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington. 

Andrew Brown: After almost five years at the helm of the Pacific Chorale, Brown stepped down as the president and CEO at the end of October. He joined the chorale in October of 2018, having previously worked for 17 years with the Los Angeles Master Chorale where he started as an administrative assistant and eventually became the chief operating officer.

Richard Bryant: Bryant, the founding executive director of Chapman’s Musco Center for the Arts, is retiring. The university will honor him with a ceremony in January. Bryant’s long career included a stint as director of marketing and communications at the Orange County Performing Arts Center (now the Segerstrom Center for the Arts) from 1987-1996. 

Jeffrey Frisch: After 26 years, Frisch left his position as coordinator of the John Wayne Airport (JWA) Arts Program. Frisch oversaw three separate rotating art exhibition calendars and an annual Orange County-wide student art contest.

Kate Hoffman: After nearly 23 years at helm of the Huntington Beach Art Center, Hoffman retired from her position as executive director on Dec. 31, 2023. During her time at HBAC, she maintained the center's reputation and role as a solid community art gallery.

Jerry Mandel: The president of Irvine Barclay Theatre will leave his position at the end of this year. Mandel will continue to support and advise the theater and will serve on its board of directors. Mandel is a veteran Orange County arts administrator. Prior to his appointment at the Barclay, he was president of the Orange County Performing Arts Center (now the Segerstrom Center for the Arts) from 1997 to 2006.

Michael Puglisi: The closing of DTSA’s Electric City Butcher in February at 4th Street Market after eight educational years meant Puglisi could focus on his other storefront in Claremont named Graze and Gather Meats. Items are still available online for those not wanting to make the drive. ECB’s presence in the community was valued for its commitment to transparency, quality and the responsible sourcing of meat. 

Carlos Salgado: Leading the charge for Orange County’s Michelin-starred establishments plus accolades from L.A. Times, Salgado’s Taco Maria abruptly shuttered in July after Salgado opted not to renew his 10-year lease on the Alta California concept. His goal is to find a dining space larger than the 28 seats at The OC Mix, but no word on Taco Maria’s return has been communicated. 

Carl St.Clair: The music director of Pacific Symphony will leave his longtime post, probably at the end of the 2023-24 season. A  further contract extension could be necessary while a suitable successor is found for the position. St.Clair will continue his association with the symphony, although the nature of the relationship has not been revealed. 

Paula Tomei: South Coast Repertory’s longtime managing director will step down in August 2024. Tomei, 66, has been with Orange County’s most prominent theater company for 44 of its 60 seasons, the last 30 in her present position. Tomei is married to SCR co-founder David Emmes.


PHOTO 1: Susan Brooker. Photo courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts. PHOTO 2: David Ellenstein. Photo courtesy of Laguna Playhouse. PHOTO 3: Jodie Gates. Photo courtesy of Laguna Dance Festival. PHOTO 4: Seán O’Harrow. Photo courtesy of Bowers Museum


Susan Brooker was appointed as artistic director of ABT Gillespie School. She assumed her new role on Aug. 1. Brooker has worked alongside several dance companies and schools in Europe and the U.S. She was director of ABT’s exclusive educational affiliate school, University of North Carolina School of the Arts. In her new role, Brooker oversees all levels of the ABT Gillespie school, as well as the OC Young Dancer Summer Workshop, master class series, and summer dance programs at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. 

David Ellenstein is the new artistic director of the Laguna Playhouse. He has been artistic director of North Coast Repertory Theatre since 2003. The board of Laguna Playhouse appointed him interim artistic director in October 2022. The position was made permanent on May 1, 2023. Ellenstein continues to run both companies simultaneously.

Jodie Gates left her position as artistic director of the Cincinnati Ballet in September and returned to Laguna Beach, where she lives. Gates, who taught at UC Irvine and was the founding director of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, has made no announcement about her future, but the dance community is hoping she’ll continue to produce the Laguna Dance Festival, which she founded in 2005 and turned into a major annual dance event.

Seán O’Harrow began his new job as president and CEO of Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum on Aug. 1, after the unexpected death in November of Peter C. Keller, who headed the museum for 31 years. O’Harrow has been a university professor and executive director at several museums, including the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri; the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa; and the Honolulu Museum of Art.

In Memoriam

Here’s a list of some of the people we lost in 2023. All of them were valuable contributors to Orange County’s cultural community.

Zelma “Zee” Allred – Arts patron, Bowers Museum, Pacific Symphony and South Coast Repertory

Sara Morrison Barnicle – Reference librarian, Newport Beach Public Library

Laura Bleiberg – Longtime dance critic and arts writer, The Orange County Register and for our arts team at Voice of OC.

Rolly Crump  – Designed It’s a Small World, Haunted Mansion and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland

John Eagle – Artist and owner of Studio 7 Art Gallery, Laguna Beach; member of Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, Sawdust Art Festival, Festival of Arts; officer, First Thursdays Art Walk

Kae Ewing – Arts patron, past president of the board of South Coast Repertory

Paul Folino – Former board president of South Coast Repertory; former chairman, Orange County Performing Arts Center; patron, OC School of the Arts, California State University, Fullerton, Chapman University

Mary Ann Gaido – Arts patron and advocate; former councilmember, City of Irvine; former board member, Irvine Barclay Theatre

Larry Gill – Exhibitor, board member and president, Sawdust Art Festival

Bill Glassman – Professor of humanities and arts, Fullerton College

Jane Grier – Arts patron, Philharmonic Society of Orange County

Thomas G. Hall – Professor of music and former chair, Music Department at Chapman University

Dr. William D. Hall – Founding dean and artistic director of Musco Center for the Arts at Chapman University; founder of the William Hall Chorale

Jerry Harrington – Arts patron of many OC arts organizations, including Laguna Playhouse, Mission San Juan Capistrano, Orange County Museum of Art, Pacific Chorale, Pacific Symphony, Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Segerstrom Center, South Coast Repertory

John Iacovelli – Theatrical production designer, South Coast Repertory

Jim Jenks – Founder of surfwear brand Ocean Pacific

Bob Jones – Former general director, Opera Pacific

Jean Ruth Moriarty – Arts patron, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Pacific Symphony

Gerardo Mouet – Longtime executive director, City of Santa Ana Library Services, Parks and Recreation, and Community Services Agency

Carl Neisser – Arts patron, South Coast Repertory, OCMA; former board chair, Arts Orange County

Richard Reese – Visionary community designer and planner 

Greg Reynolds – Musician; vice president, Orange County Musicians Union

Doug Rowe – Former artistic director, Laguna Playhouse; actor, South Coast Repertory

Richard Schweickert – Former board chair, Arts Orange County; former board chair, Laguna Playhouse; arts patron, Pacific Symphony, South Coast Repertory

James L. Thacker – Longtime owner of Village Art Center, Fullerton and participant in Fullerton Art Walk

Tom Titus – Theatre critic, The Daily Pilot

Don Took – Actor; founding company member, South Coast Repertory

Ron Whitacre – Artist

Paxton Whitehead – Actor, South Coast Repertory


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