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Monday, May 29, 2023

Legal Pros Focus on Fine Arts, Plan UCI Collaboration

Put together a few attorneys sharing a passion for the arts and a local university that fosters artistic talent, throw in some creative thinking and readiness to provide support, and you’ll get Off-Center, a collective launched by a committee of local lawyers and educators in concert with University of California-Irvine’s art department.

The organization—whose acronym, OC, is by design—aims to support and promote the county’s fine-arts scene and to enhance interaction between the business and art sectors.

“From a high level, it’s a series of pop-up art events in Orange County, but the objective isn’t only event-driven,” said Michael Katz, founding partner of Irvine-based boutique litigation firm Katz Yoon LLP who is one of the leaders of the initiative.

He said the group plans a series of events that would be incubated at UC Irvine, sponsored by the private sector, and held in various locations.

Preliminary ideas include art exhibits, lecture series and outdoor events that would serve to “create a robust fine arts environment in Orange County,” Katz said. “Think of a beach ball being tossed from one spectator to another at a baseball stadium. [We hope] to create a sense of community investment in the arts.”

Off-Center hopes to have its inaugural event in coming months.

Katz and other Katz Yoon partners, Adrianne Marshack and Melissa Yoon, sit on the Off-Center committee. Other members are Wayne Gross, partner at Greenberg Gross LLP in Costa Mesa; Suzy Lee, general counsel of ITT Cannon in Santa Ana; Miles Coolidge, professor at UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts; and Juli Carson, professor and director of UCI’s University Art Galleries.

The pioneers happen to be in the legal industry, due in large part to personal interests and close local connections, but the organization isn’t limited by business sector, Katz said.

“We anticipate that other businesses, legal and nonlegal, will serve as hosts of future events, providing these businesses and institutions a chance to participate, shape and showcase their own unique contributions to the Orange County community.”

Katz is a big proponent of music and the written word and is on track to publish a book of poetry this year.

ITT Cannon’s Lee, who studied fine arts and art history during her undergraduate years at Cornell University, said Off-Center’s plans create room for “great synergy” between the business and the arts communities.

“A lot of businesspeople and attorneys are already involved in the arts and interested in the arts,” she said. “You have this combination of interest and then also support. As we’ve seen through the ages, artists always have had this need of support, be it financial or organizational, and so I think the combination of those different elements is extremely powerful. It enables sustainability.”

Lee serves on the boards of directors for the Pacific Symphony and the Pacific Symphony Youth Ensembles.

The New York native said she was fortunate to have been “exposed to many great museums and galleries from a young age,” including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the New York Philharmonic.

“Earlier in my life, I very seriously thought about becoming an artist,” she said, though she also had an interest in law and an aptitude for language, which led to pursuit of a career in the law.

“Attorneys and businesspeople are extremely creative,” she said. “Our lives as attorneys, or in any other business sector [and] profession, are enriched by all the different dimensions of life available to us. Some of us may be huge baseball fans and go to Angel Stadium religiously. … For me, the visual arts is still one of my favorite things. I think all of us are like this.”

It’s also about filling what the committee members consider to be a gap in Orange County’s arts culture.

“Our current view is that much of the fine arts talent in Orange County is diverted to Los Angeles, New York or Europe,” Katz said. “Unlike the performing arts, which has a strongly articulated presence in Orange County, the fine arts is not nearly as established as it should be, given both the demand for art, the sophistication of that demand, and the presence in our midst of so much talent.”

UCI’s Coolidge said Off-Center’s inaugural event will feature artwork created and curated by students.

“One part of this initiative that I think makes it potentially very successful in the long run is that we already have an area in our department that focuses on curatorial studies,” he said, referring to the Critical and Curatorial Studies program, a recently implemented academic course that graduated its first class last year.

“We’re hoping to operate with the widest possible set of ideas,” Coolidge said. “That’s why Off-Center works as an appropriate name for our enterprise. It’s thinking about art in ways you might not be used to. It encourages you to expect the unexpected. And tying that in with the initials ‘OC,’ it’s connecting us back to the preconceived ideas about what we can do with this in this community. We are off-center with respect to the places, off-center with respect to what you might expect thematically, politically, socially.”

Coolidge said Off-Center is also in alignment with the recent universitywide push by Chancellor Howard Gillman toward promoting artistic and cultural experience.

The school in October announced the Illuminations program, which aims to connect students with various art and cultural institutions in Southern California.

“I made sure that what we’re doing through Off-Center is complementary to this, and not redundant,” Coolidge said. “It’s very exciting. Things are happening quite quickly with this idea. I see this as public-private partnership. I’m ecstatic about the open-endedness of [the committee’s] thinking. They’ve been very encouraging in introducing this as a scalable idea.”

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