The Santa Ana Sentinel

Editorial: The Arts are What Saved Me

Posted in Arts & Culture, Editorial by Omar Ávalos Gallegos on October 18, 2012

I grew up during very difficult and challenging times in Santa Ana. I came into adolescence in the early 90s and I remember how throughout that decade there were multiple gang shootings on almost a nightly basis. You could hear them.

This was during a time when party crews were at their peak along with tagging crews. It was all too easy for kids to be led astray into these types of activities.

Back then there was no Orange County High School of the Arts or an Artists Village. That meant that there were less alternatives to gangs and crews.

I became engulfed with the downtown when I discovered Neutral Grounds Cafe around 1997, where Lola Gaspar now stands. They had poetry readings and an open mic every Thursday. The area that came to be called Artists Village gave me a place to be and become.

This area was a stimulant, it allowed me to think creatively and wildly. These thoughts alone were deterrents to negative distractions like gangs and the like. My mind became occupied and stimulated by the arts and this place to be an artist.

This area contributed to the forming of my artistic personality. There was a time when I performed a new classical guitar piece for a series of Thursdays at Morey’s Deli, formerly Neutral Grounds. These kinds of activities reinforce the artistic personality.

I was fortunate enough to be part of substantial artistic events in the Santora, like when world-renowned Mexican composer Arturo Márquez came to town. I got to moderate a panel discussion with him and another world-renowned sculptor, Felipe Castañeda and also Pilar O’Cádiz, daughter of muralist Sergio O’Cádiz, whose relief work decorates the façade of Santa Ana City Hall.

The downtown allowed me to generate ideas and projects like one I called Flamenco de la Santora, a performance project that I ran for two years.

The downtown allowed me to generate another project that I called The Institute for Mexican Art Music, which I headquartered at the Santora for a year.

The arts in the Artist Village stimulate creative thinking, free thinking. The Artist Village is not for archaic, suppressing, stymying, controlling entities commonly associated with churches.

That anyone would even think of interrupting or altering this free-thinking environment is an affront to artists and free-thinking people.

After awhile, time spent in the Artists Village was time well spent because each visit there was a reinforcement of my developing musical and artistic persona. I didn’t do too bad either. I’m lucky enough to work in the arts, in Music at Santa Ana College, at Phillips Hall Theatre at Santa Ana College and in Dance at UC Irvine. Anyone else can too.

I honestly don’t believe I’m anymore capable than anyone else. I was on track to be another statistic, another kid found dead in Santa Ana. Sometimes I’m amazed that I even survived.

The point is that I know that the arts can save others. I know that they prevent gang activity. That anyone can disrupt the fact that the arts are what has changed the perception of Santa Ana, and that the arts have a salvaging and positive effect is completely unforgivable.

I’ve been here all of my life, I’ve seen the dark and bright sides of Santa Ana. This place is synonymous with the arts. Anyone that doesn’t realize this is completely out of touch.

6 Responses

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  1. Raul said, on October 18, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    If you are a person of Destiny, Aura, Shakra etc.. , become a prophet, shaman, curandero, or brujo of the Arts, wether you are a painter, musician, poet and share your talents with youth around you and posterity will be yours in the present and in the future through your disciples..

  2. Alicia Rojas said, on October 19, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Beautiful essay Omar.

  3. matthew said, on October 25, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Beautiful comment Alicia

  4. EE said, on November 21, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    I live just outside the downtown and was born in Santa Ana as well.

    When I was in college the most outstanding free expressions of art on campus I could find were coming out of a group called “The Upper Ground”. The college students were doing graffiti art, break dancing, hip hop music and dance, and some incredible poetic forms of self expression. This really shook a lot of my stereotypes because the Upper Ground was birthed out of a group of college students who were part of a local church. In fact the church was the backdrop that sponsored and empowered them to do the gatherings. They were well done, artistic, and moving.

    Am I wrong to feel that the spirit of the artist’s village is to be a place of fusion and creativity that is open to everyone’s expression of pursuing art, meaning, and beauty? So I ask myself the question, what do I imagine when I see the word “church”. Are churches (minus large rigidly institutional ones) really just groups of people, who are capable of creative artistic expression, or do I just see buildings?

    I am concerned that by so fiercely defending the freedom of art in Santa Ana, we are actually becoming exactly what we never wanted to become; “exclusionary”. Are we unable to see people and their artistic capacity because of a label?

    • Omar Ávalos Gallegos said, on November 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm

      I strongly believe in the separation of church and state.

      Churches have to make themselves attractive to youth so they put on the skin of being hip or cool, this is clear to me. It’s a ploy quite frankly. That is why you have, for example, Christian rock, Christian hip hop etc etc. By doing that the original art form is adapted to convey a separate message altogether.

      There is nothing more “exclusionary” to me than to act like one is “not of this world.” What’s worse is to try to get other people to think alike and to lead them away from reality. Not of this world?

      Some people are so in deep into their religion that they no longer have any consideration for others that don’t want to be bothered or solicited with religious propaganda. This happened just tonight in fact outside of the Santora.

      It’s happened at Santa Ana College when people put up offensive signs in the middle of the campus telling everyone that they’re going to hell for not thinking like them.

      It happens on the corner of 4th & Main streets when some religious fanatical dolt shouts at people through a megaphone. It happens at Centennial Park, a public place, that is not respected as such by religious fanatics.

      It’s happened in the downtown when people with a religious message come to use an art as a way to attract and build the business that is their church, and afterward end their night with preaching or a prayer in a public place.

      You see, I do art for art’s sake, not for the sake of using it to grow a church’s finances.

      The Santora area is a secular place that does not need people being preached to.


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