We’ve been hearing for months from disappointed fans of the Pageant of the Masters, a longstanding Festival of Arts tradition in Laguna Beach that was canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People from as far away as Ontario, Canada expressed their frustration as they sought to get refunds for their tickets to the popular summertime attraction, which features volunteers posing in costume on elaborate sets as they re-create famous paintings and sculptures. Many complained that they had been waiting weeks for the Pageant to issue refunds or even replies to their inquiries.

We checked in with Pageant officials this week to get the latest updates on the festival’s policies regarding the canceled 2020 festival. We received these answers from Sharbie Higuchi, director of marketing, public relations and merchandising for the Festival of Arts.

VOICE OF OC: What is the Pageant’s current refund policy?

SHARBIE HIGUCHI: The Pageant’s ticket policy has traditionally been no refunds. However, when the 2020 Pageant was forced to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government guidelines, the Festival of Arts board of directors decided to temporarily revise this policy. So in May, we offered Pageant ticketholders three options to consider. They could donate ticket(s) and may be eligible to receive a tax deduction for the total value of the ticket(s) and be automatically entered into our drawing and receive priority ticket ordering for next year’s show. They could choose to receive a credit for their  ticket(s) to use towards the 2021 Pageant performance and receive priority ticket ordering, and the third option was to request a refund for the value of their ticket(s).

(Higuchi assured me that requests for refunds are currently being honored, although she didn’t say how long it would take. “We are doing the best we can, but it will take us some considerable time to process these requests,” she said. )

VOC: Could the Pageant’s refund policy change in the future for any reason?

SH: Our patrons, artists, volunteers and staff are always our top priority. We currently anticipate reverting back to our original policy of no refunds in 2021, but our board will consider making adjustments based on evolving circumstances.

VOC: Are you offering any kind of non-monetary compensation for those who bought tickets to the canceled 2020 pageant and didn’t get a refund?

SH: Anyone who chose to donate or credit their tickets to the 2021 season will receive ticket-ordering priority for the 2021 season and be able to purchase tickets at 2020 prices. Additionally, those who donated tickets were entered into a drawing for a “walk-on role” in the 2021 Pageant of the Masters. Ten winners were selected.

VOC: What happened to the money from tickets that were sold? Was it spent on operating costs, for example?

SH: Yes, proceeds from advance Pageant ticket sales are typically applied towards operating and production costs in preparation of our two major annual events: the Pageant of the Masters and the Fine Art Show.  This includes costs for set building, music composition, costumes, script writing, general operating, payroll, development of arts education classes, exhibit preparations, marketing and advertising.

Clearly, the Pageant would prefer not to provide refunds to everyone. Few arts organizations have the financial strength to fulfill that kind of obligation. Many other groups have offered ticket holders to canceled performances similar choices to the Pageant’s regarding donations, the promise of tickets to future performances, or other incentives.

Reading between the lines, the Pageant’s message (and the message of many cultural organizations in the same position) is clear: Please give us a break on this one. Our future depends on it.

Paul Hodgins is a senior editor of Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at phodgins@voiceofoc.org.

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