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Tracy Schroeder and Zack Bates want their contemporaries to get excited about modern art.

Tracy Schroeder and Zack Bates at the Orange County Museum of Art

At the Orange County Museum of Art’s (ocma.net) big fundraising dinner in June, Tracy Schroeder, 34, and Zack Bates, 30, sat at a table where only half of the guests were their age, and the ballroom was packed with hundreds of more seasoned art patrons. “We should have at least two tables next year,” Bates remembers noting.

A few months later, Schroeder and Bates headed the launch of the Contemporaries, an invitation-only museum support group for art lovers in their 20s and 30s. “These are people who can grow with the museum,” Schroeder says. “The majority of our members are new to the art world. They have an appreciation of art but no formal education. The fun part is that we are all just learning together.”
After its first month, the Contemporaries attracted 20 members, and that number is expected to grow by up to 50 people annually until it reaches 200.

For $750 per year ($1,000 for married couples), members can attend a wide range of events, including behind-the-scenes tours of exhibitions, private visits with Southern California artists (great access for novice collectors) and gallery hopping in Los Angeles.

“The new Contemporaries group has already given a jolt of energy and excitement to OCMA,” says Dan Cameron, chief curator. “We knew there were young professionals in our community that were psyched about contemporary art, but the extent of their enthusiasm surprised us. They represent the museum’s support base of the future.”

So far, the group has drawn an even mix of single people and married couples from a variety of backgrounds—bankers, accountants, teachers and retail clothing store owners, among others. “It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, just that you appreciate art,” Bates says.

Schroeder, who grew up in Corona del Mar, moved to New York City in her 20s and got hooked on its art scene. When she returned to Newport Beach, the real estate investor turned to OCMA for her cultural fix. Bates, president of a marketing firm, and his wife were involved in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles before they moved to Orange County several years ago.

Both fell in love with the vibrancy of OCMA and wanted to promote the venue to others. “It’s great to open a new demographic to this cultural center,” Bates says.

“We are interactive and different,” Schroeder adds. “We’re not stiff and stodgy—it’s something different and edgy for Orange County.”