The Santa Ana Sentinel

Nights at the Santora

Posted in Art Music, Art Walk at Artist's Village, Artists Village, Arts & Culture, Downtown by Omar Ian Ávalos on October 16, 2013

The Santora has always been a source of inspiration for my creative process. She’s a beauty. I even titled one of my guitar compostions La Santora. One of my earliest recollections of going to the Santora dates back to ’97 or ’98, when the Neutral Grounds coffee shop was still there. That now is Lola Gaspar. It was a friend and neighbor, José Guadalupe Núñez, who told me about the place and invited me there. They had outdoor open mics on Thursday nights. I returned at one point on a weekly basis, and performed a classical guitar piece every week.

Omar Ávalos by Hugo Rivera

Omar Ávalos by Hugo Rivera

When I started going to the Santora, there was no Memphis. Instead there was a beauty salon, one that bookstore owner Rubén Martínez used to own. That’s what he told me. Across from Memphis there was no Gypsy Den, nor a Grand Central Art Center. What was in place was an abandoned building with grafitti visible from its broken windows. There was no Chiarini fountain, or lofts on Sycamore. Instead, everyone had the enjoyment of free parking on evenings in the large lot that it was.

Upon spending so much time in the downtown area and the Santora, I got invited to perform here and there. I brought flamenco dancing to the Santora and the Gypsy Den, and I wanted to do more all for the Santora’s sake. I conceived of a “Santora Camerata,” which would’ve been a chamber music ensemble.


Eventually I was invited to be a Santora gallerist because of the many ideas and projects that I had in mind. I helped run (pouring $$$ into) Suites K and B for awhile with Moisés Camacho, et altri. I did much brainstorming at the gallery with Camacho and was invited to some artists’ meetings, from before they formed AVAASA (Artist’s Village Arts Association of Santa Ana). Some of these AVAASA members formed out of a split with a pre-existing “Santora Arts Guild.”

Santora Suite K, under Gustavo Santana & Omar Ávalos.

Santora Suite K, under Gustavo Santana & Omar Ávalos.

Some of the suggestions I made to Camacho I remember as clear as water. I clearly remember suggesting that the artists needed a liason with the city, a commissioner type, and an arts commission. These ideas later appeared on a manifesto written and made public by Alicia Rojas, an artist sharing Studio del Sótano at the Santora at the time, which was used as a rallying cry to unite artists and to engage city government.

Lily Márquez Tamayo (Daughter), Arturo Márquez, Jorge Márquez

Lily Márquez Tamayo (Daughter), Arturo Márquez, Jorge Márquez

There were some definite high points while there. World-reknowned composer Arturo Márquez visited the gallery a few times. His brother, Jorge Márquez, was an attorney in Santa Ana who had his practice up Main street near Librería Martínez. Jorge lived across the Santora and was drawn to the area because of his appreciation for the arts. He met Joseph Hawa, a longtime upstairs gallerist at the Santora, and formed a friendship with him and then Camacho. Hawa used to tell me about a guy who’s brother was a world-famous composer. I finally got a chance to meet the Márquez’s at the gallery. Arturo came with his daughter Lily.

A Mixer with the Masters: Felipe Castañeda (Sculptor), Pilar O'Cádiz (Daughter of Sergio O'Cádiz), Arturo Márquez (Composer), & Omar Ávalos (Musicologist)

A Mixer with the Masters: Felipe Castañeda (Sculptor), Pilar O’Cádiz (Daughter of Sergio O’Cádiz, Arturo Márquez (Composer), & Omar Ávalos (Musicologist)

Another high point was a music recital that I did with local Persian classical musician Arash Kamalian. Arash, who is a tarist and setarist, is a local gem, a real hidden treasure. And he lives downtown at the Townsquare condos on the other side of Birch Park. We did a fusion of flamenco and Persian music that night.

That night, Laguna-based artist Hugo Rivera sketched us:


Here’s a sample of our music during a rehearsal:

Arash Kamalian playing a Persian tar at the music department at Santa Ana College

Arash Kamalian playing a Persian tar at the music department at Santa Ana College

The beginning of the end

One of the challenges I noticed at the Santora was how it was to be conveyed, or presented beyond its galleries. What was the Santora supposed to be? What is a fine arts complex or not?

The Santora, to me and to other artists, was viewed as a fine arts complex. Santa Ana College has a gallery there dealing with the subject of fine art. Unfortunately, there were artists in the Santora that failed to tow a line between what is fine, and what is not.

One event involved a punk rock fest complete with tables setup all over the Santora. It involed the absolute loudest and noisiest music I ever heard there, and worse, it involved a scandal involving the groping of a minor, who happened to be drinking alcohol.

That was the beginning of the end for me.

There were no controls in place. There was absolutely no leadership, nor any careful thought placed. An artist, who I will not name, pondered whether he should call the event off at 10 pm, or not. He should’ve called it off but instead allowed it to proceed. I awoke the next morning to hear of the scandals that took place the night prior.

At times the Santora, and specifically Suite B, was an anything goes type of place. You’d have a fine art exhibit crashed by a trio of neon-suited “musicians” with toy drums and instruments, and that was supposed to be ok, because anything goes, and one has to be zen-like and flow like water. BS. It was an insult to anyone with good taste. It was chaos. Luckily, those types are long-gone and out of Santa Ana.

I’ve always been one to argue for making order out of chaos. It may seem impossible to put “free-thinking” artists in order, but it’s not. Other cities have artistic order in the forms of commissions, councils, departments etc.

Left to right: Omar Ávalos, Jorge Márquez, Arturo Márquez, Moisés Camacho, Joseph Hawa

Left to right: Omar Ávalos, Jorge Márquez, Arturo Márquez, Moisés Camacho, Joseph Hawa

Eventually I left the Santora due to double standards and mismanagement, or that “anything goes” approach to “management.” And that’s another problem; the failure of some artists to see their galleries as businesses, but that’s an entirely different issue.

There were many good times at the Santora, more often that not. But I can’t say that I desire to be part of what it has become. An occasional dinner at Memphis, which is still my favorite downtown spot, is more than enough.

3 Responses

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  1. Mateo said, on October 25, 2013 at 2:54 am

    Omar, This article tackles many subjects and issues about Santora History but ultimately creates more confusion about your opinions. I could not tell whether this article was written 4 years ago or 2 Years ago or recently. I could not figure it out until the end.
    Some things to think about:
    1)The toy artists that you can not take seriously have not disappeared from Santa Ana.
    They come and go, come and go, and will keep coming around.
    2)Studio Del Sotano is not the name of Moises gallery. It is the name of the center gallery downstairs. Matt’s gallery.
    3) I am not sure which artist you are thinking of that had the opportunity to shut down the Girlfair evening at 10:00. I don’t think that was any particular persons call to make. You said it yourself. There has never been that kind of organizational structure to make calls like that. Girlfair could have ended it early though. Couldn’t they have?, If they were responsible enough to examine the proceedings at their own event. They did not though. They chose to continue their event into the evening despite what they had already been informed about. They deserve your finger pointing, not random artists trying to enjoy another evening at the Santora.
    Actually, thank you for making me realize this 2 or 3 years after the fact. peace, Matt S.

  2. Omar Ávalos Gallegos said, on October 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Whoah… Matt… hold on there.

    I won’t mention the “toy artists” but the ones I’m thinking about are, in fact, gone.

    Southgate, I know, and have always known (perfectly well) the difference between your gallery and Moses’ gallery. I thought that you thought higher of me, and your 2nd point is insulting to my intelligence.

    For YOUR info, when speaking of the Santora, not all news revolves around you or your gallery. I know you like to think you’re the center of the Santora, or that you are the Santora, but you’re not.

    For the record, I DON’T mean you when I mention an artist that didn’t have the wits to call off said event.

    This is only a piece reflecting my time there. I’m only remembering and sharing my experience there. That’s it.

  3. Mateo said, on October 27, 2013 at 10:18 pm

    Omar, I don’t think that I am the center of the Santora, but I am associated with the center gallery in the Santora. Also, I am the only Santora Artist that responded to your article here about the Santora. So it might appear as though it is all about me even if it is not all about me. peace.
    I like your art articles.

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