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Winter 2000
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
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With his flair for artistic daring-do, David Sefton plans to elevate UCLA Performing Arts to new heights of creative innovation.

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By Amy Ko
photographer: Amanda Friedman

You know it's going to be an interesting ride when the new director of UCLA Performing Arts offers up an eclectic rocker like Elvis Costello as a job reference. But that's exactly what David Sefton did when he interviewed for the job. And from all appearances, an interesting ride is just what the university intends with its hiring of the irrepressible British culture savant.

"Music is a journey we're all going on," declares Sefton, who took over the reins in October, in his unmistakably English accent. "Hopefully I'll take my audience with me!"

Since its creation in 1937 as one of the first major cultural institutions in Los Angeles, the performing-arts center has built a national reputation with its bold, avant-garde and versatile programming. But to the Liverpool-born Sefton, 37, who single-handedly transformed London's South Bank Centre/Royal Festival Hall from a staid classical music hall to a hip and happening concert and festival venue, UCLA's program may have felt more mild than wild.

When he was first approached to apply for the position vacated by Michael Blachly, who left in July to take over the performing-arts program at the University of Florida at Gainesville, Sefton dismissed it as headhunters randomly pulling names from a hat. But that hardly was the case; agents and others with whom he'd worked in New York had recommended Sefton for the job.

Still, Sefton wasn't convinced. "I came out to the first interview with the attitude of, 'Well, I'll get a trip to L.A. Let's go for a laugh.' I was really thinking they were going to want somebody much more formal than me because the program, although strong, is quite traditional compared to what I've done in the past. It seemed a long reach."

But Sefton, who began his career in the early '80s as a journalist covering the Liverpool music scene, underestimated UCLA. He soon was called back for a second interview. The timing, however, was less than perfect. It was June, the month when Meltdown, a two-week music extravaganza launched by Sefton in 1993 and programmed each year entirely by one guest artist, hits London. The festival has since become the flagship for the Royal Festival Hall, where he served as head of contemporary culture, and for Sefton's career, which also included stints promoting, acting, directing and doing theater and dance work.

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