The Santa Ana Sentinel

Counterpoints: On the Santora

Posted in Artists Village, Arts & Culture, Downtown, Opinion by Omar Ian Ávalos on May 2, 2012

I saw this coming. It was only a matter of time before artists would attempt to politick and force the hand of the City and interested parties concerning the Santora building.

For the record, I don’t think that a church buyer is the wisest or best choice for the Santora, but what’s done is done and now all that is left to do is to try to save the Santora from being gutted. One problem that I have with these artists is that they’re first and foremost about protecting their own interests. Nowhere in their open letter do I see real concern about the building, and this is truly what is at stake not simply their galleries. Their chorus should be about protecting the Santora, a historic building, and not themselves. Saying that the Santora had some Hollywood connections back in the 1930s is one huge fail.

The following quotes come from their recently sent open letter where they (he, she?) lay out their (?) intentions. And so says the chorus:

“Over the last 20 years, Downtown Santa Ana has built a national reputation as a City for the Arts. Key to this endeavor has been the substantial investment of public money in the historic Santora Arts Building and the Santa Ana Artists Village. Over one million dollars in public redevelopment funds were invested in the effort to create a professional hub for artists and an enriching cultural space for Santa Ana’s residents and Orange County’s diverse population.

After all this work, the visionary goal of making Santa Ana a destination for art is finally becoming a reality, attracting world-renowned artists from around the globe to the Santora and arts organizations like Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA), Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) and the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA).”

Wrong. Santa Ana became a destination for art long ago. It is incorrect to say it “is finally becoming a reality.” In fact, OCHSA came over a decade ago. Where are the voices of the Grand Central Art Center and the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art? The Santora issue has everything to do with whatever artists are left trying to protect their interests and prolong their stay in there. A wise move, in my opinion, is for Santora artists to start looking at other areas of the downtown to do art. Frankly, other areas of the downtown need art. Look at other artists that have moved out of the Santora and have regrouped and re-sprouted in other parts of the downtown.

“These plans would irreparably harm the economy, purpose and quality of life of the Artists Village.”

Again, where are the voices of the other more-professionalized and better-organized arts entities on this matter? Would they agree that the Gypsy Den is going to take a financial hit because some artists are no longer in the Santora? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Don’t flatter yourselves. Someone has to break it to you but some of you artists ARE NOT the reason people come to Santa Ana. People overshoot the Santora galleries to go to the Gypsy Den or Lola’s all the time.

“The Artists Village respects freedom of expression and provides an environment free of discrimination on the basis of race, creed.”

I don’t know who exactly took it upon him or herself to speak for the entire Artist’s Village but if a church is allowed to co-exist there, then and only then will the Artist’s Village provide an environment free of discrimination, particularly on the basis of creed. At this point there are certain would-be artists that in fact do not respect others based on their creed. Certain artists have decided to play the roles of victims of censorship, but they do the same in reverse by not allowing discussion from a religious point of view. That is not democratic.

“The presence of a church or other evangelical organization would seriously disrupt the harmony of the Artists Village and interfere with the artists’ ability to pursue their livelihood and conduct business in peace.”

This is an attempt to speak for the entire Artist’s Village. Their argument is summed up with the following: Don’t kick us out of the Santora because if you do, the whole Artist’s Village will disappear.

“We are dedicated to obtaining a formal agreement dedicated to preserving: free community access to publically funded art resources, ongoing support of individual artists, and additional investment for artist-driven businesses within the historic Santora Arts Building.

Please support our request for a binding agreement to protect the public investment in the Santora Arts Building as a professional artists’ and preserve the quality of life in the Artists Village. Join the many citizens of Santa Ana, business owners, tax payers and Artist Village patrons who also support discrimination-free access to publicly funded art resources, ongoing support of individual artists, and additional investment for artist-driven businesses within the historic Santora Arts Building.”

Nowhere do they even mention saving the Santora from being gutted. That is my only concern.


10 Responses

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  1. skeith de wine said, on May 3, 2012 at 8:20 am

    I don’t think the artist ever thought about the building itself because we have always preserved and protected it. We have always been considerate to return it in better condition than when we borrowed it. Mathew Cruz’s space that he rented on the top floor of the building us a perfect example. Leonard Maldonado worked tirelessly to preserve and rehabilitate his art gallery space when he moved in and left the space in amazing shape when he moved out. My own space I did a Lotta work to protect and save my space which was rat infested when I moved in. I do beleive a church will gut the top floor if they move in so on this topic I am with you…..However to say the artist are self serving needs closer analysis. I have a long history of presenting shows that didn’t align with my own religious beliefs or values but I have always been open to expression and different positions on religion. I think many of the tenants have explored religious topics weather it be Terror Botsanja and her Jewish Faith or Maldonado’s darker side of religion. I believe the artist of the Santora want to keep every door of the Santora open to all possibilities. And we feel with the church running things some will be taken off their hinges and others nailed shut. It is an allegory thing. The artist are being called upon to tell what they have given to Santa Ana and crucified for not doing enough. There is always room for improvement but the artist have given their heart and soul to the city. Many will leave if the church steps in as the foster parent. And because so many artist have taken such amazing care of the great civic town hall we call Santora that is where it should be left. In the hands of Santa Ana artist so that it can be passed on to future generations. We like our town hall just the way it is and in the hands of artisians!

    • Omar Ávalos Gallegos said, on May 3, 2012 at 8:38 am

      Ok, again, the conclusion some artists have come to is that they don’t like their new landlord. Fine, no one says they have to.

      Once upon a time a number of independent artists (I paid into the Santora by the way) had galleries in the Santora but never really united or incorporated effectively. When they finally started to get organized it was too late.

      I think they should focus their argument more on saving the Santora from being gutted because instead, they’re openly telling the new owners that they don’t want them there. Now that stance flies in the face of the statement that these artists are open to all points of view. I say prove it.

      If maybe years ago Santora artists would have gotten organized and formerly established, maybe they’d have the roughly 6.5 million dollars to rightly call themselves the owners of the Santora.

  2. Jarod said, on May 3, 2012 at 9:40 am

    It should be encouraging that ANYONE wants to take over the Santora building. Right now it’s dirty and nasty and most of the galleries show art that is better suited for the Cerritos swap meet. In fact, I can’t recall a single decent showing at that building in years. When do you think was the last time someone cleaned the carpets? If the building owner wouldn’t foot the bill why didn’t the artists ban together and pitch in to pay for such a thing? How about replacing a bulb or two or repainting the interior walls? I bet if the tenants had come together and offered up free labor the owner would have met them half way.
    Although this action may put a handful of artists out, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, this sends a positive message. I’m old enough to have had a beer or two at the Handlebar Saloon and I can remember a time when you couldn’t take your family to this area and feel safe.
    With lots of work by OCCCA, Grand Central Art Center, Memphis, and Gypsy Den, this spot of Santa Ana has been transformed. It is better because of these other places despite the folks at the Santora.
    PS. There are probably some empty spots at the Spurgeon Building. I’d like to see these artists move in and transform that dump.

  3. JC said, on May 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    I’m curious if the artists would be willing to stay if the church signed some sort of contract that preserved the overall culture that is currently there. This contract could involve stipulations about not gutting the building, not enforcing censorship, and not using the building in such a way that would disrupt the current tenants. My concern is that some of the artists are ready to jump ship. What if the church is willing to negotiate? Are the artists willing to give the these landlords a chance or will they leave before the transition even happens?

    On the flip side, I wonder if the church would back out of the purchase if it can be proven to them that the Artists Village would be significantly affected in a negative way. If they do want to preserve the current culture, are they willing to sacrifice their plans?

    I’m just wondering if this thing has to be a stalemate or if both sides are willing to dialogue.

  4. dave gibbons said, on May 3, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Thanks for your reflections, Omar. Definitely can relate to your concerns. I would have the same.

    I can assure you our hope is not to “gut” the santora. We love the architecture and history of this building. Consistently in our work locally and globally we have worked with buddhists, muslims, and the indigenous leadership to try and support the local economy and community. We work with some of the top artists in film, fashion, photography, design, and music not only here but in NYC, Seoul, Bangkok, and London. Over time we hope our track record will speak for itself.

    Btw,The idea of the 300 seat theater was in the context of trying to figure out if we could create a gallery/event space within this building that would not be disruptive to the architecture but attractive to the community. The document being spread around was for our congregation to know of possible uses but it wasn’t intended to be exhaustive in its scope. I believe in fact, there are certain stipulations required since it is a historical building. Again we are doing our due diligence to explore possibilities. Also, just another note. We are for All of Santa Ana, not only the artists in the Santora but the young artists at OCHSA, Kidworks, El Centro and other orgs. We, in fact, have a growing number of youth from our community, who reside in Santa Ana and throughout OC/LA, involved in these Santa Ana organizations.

    Omar, thanks again for your well balanced thoughts. Look forward to meeting you and having a meal at Lola Gaspars or Memphis. . . love the food at the Santora.

  5. ARTluver said, on May 4, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Dear Mr Gibbons,

    I would like to know who these “top artists” in film, fashion, photography, design, are. Especially since you keep bringing them up in vague references.

    Please break down this “artist” list by region — CA, NYC, Seoul, Bangkok, and London. Please include the “artist’s” group or professional affiliation with your NewSong church.

    I also understand that as a religious tax-exempt organization, NewSong would be able to buy a building without paying any taxes IF that building will be used for religious purposes.

    Is NewSong seeking a tax-exemption for the Santora purchase?

    Kind Regards,

    — ARTluver

  6. Show us the Art said, on May 5, 2012 at 12:00 am

    I agree, show us photos of the art exhibitions you have displayed. List names of artists with website links. Lets see the art.

  7. ARTluver said, on May 5, 2012 at 1:46 am

    I’m also curious to hear:

    1) When did NewSong hear of the Santora’s availability? Did they get “insider” information from councilman David Benavides?? Wouldn’t that b a conflict of interest –> especially since NewSong is his church?

    2) What was Benavides doing at last night’s supposed “casual” meetup of artists? He was obviously there in an official capacity as a councilman to further his own churches interests and intimidate the opposition. Isn’t that unethical? Why isn’t the City Attorney or SOMEONE @ the City looking into this??

    3) Who were the other buyers interested in the Santora? Also, what other buildings has NewSong been looking at? Why are NewSong & Benavides saying that the Santa Ana art scene should show gratitude that sum non-art office developer didn’t buy the building? Was such an offer on the table? …and how could this b possible since the building is zoned C3-A (for arts use only)??

    4) Who are the artists and art centers worldwide that NS keeps mentioning? Gibbons posts this cheesy & gimmicky video that details NOTHING. A midnite infomercial has better specifics. NS needs to provide names, orgs & bios. A NS member has commented that their London “hub” was so badly mishandled it probably doesn’t even exist anymore! Are the other sites the same? Where r the pictures of the ART??

    NS is appearing more and more evasive, disingenuous & unsavory as we learn more about them.

  8. ARTluver said, on June 11, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Update: After this post, Dave Gibbons contacted me to propose a one-on-one meeting w me, because things can get “misinterpreted” w written responses.

    As a member of UASA, I let Gibbons know that we don’t do one-on-ones and that I wanted him to respond to my public comments…publicly.

    Gibbons has NOT responded, as y’all can see.

    So now you know why folks at the Artists Village feel a bit apprehensive abt NewSong. It’s all vagueries & shadow-play so far…oh and an angry letter cc’d to the whole SA City Council.

    So lookup “conflict of interest” Gibbons. It’s not just the mere fact of being related to an elected official, it’s the deliberate use of a publicly elected official’s office for personal gain. Like when you pressured Councilman Benavides to make a video for YOUR CHURCH which he belongs to. CONFLICT OF INTEREST.


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