Fellow Santa Ana born and bred artist Francisco “Frank” Saucedo and I discuss matters concerning the formation of the Santa Ana Arts & Culture Commission on the latest Arte Santa Ana Podcast. Listen through the following links and on iTunes.
Omar Ávalos Gallegos
Associate Music Instructor,
Santa Ana College
Principal Musician, UC Irvine
Co-Founder, Arte Santa Ana
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Art is tied to politics. Some of the greatest works of art have messages tied to all kinds of political topics including social justice, economic disparity, economic policies and history, just to name very few topics.
Politics are not only present in visual art, where they perhaps are most evident, but also in musical art. Politics occur when an orchestra conductor or a philharmonic society that he or she serves decides what music gets programmed.
Politics occur at music venues that deny a type of genre to be performed, or at movie houses that won’t show certain film genres, or at museums that won’t display visual art forms that they don’t see fit.
These two things, art and politics, are inseparable. That’s the way it works and always will.
With regards to the controversy over a proposed Santa Ana mural
A grand-scale project, like painting a mural, obviously has to go through a public approval and process of some sort. This wouldn’t be just any mural, it would be the largest publicly visible one ever painted in Santa Ana. Do you know that the City of Los Angeles even has a Mural Ordinance? In fact, Los Angeles even has a Department of Cultural Affairs and literature concerning mural processes including issues, rights & responsibilities.
It turns out that Santa Ana’s Planning and Building Agency has guidelines for Public Art processes. These sections in Chapter 15 are crucial to the development of a public artwork, like a mural.
15.3 PUBLIC ART GUIDELINES
a. Public art associated with
commercial development is
encouraged. It is strongly
encouraged that art should invite
participation and interaction,
add local meaning, interpret the
community by revealing its culture
or history, and/or capture or
reinforce the unique character of
Already, a problem is presented with the recent painting of a mural at Plaza Santa Ana. Based on PBA Chapter 15.1, said mural does not “add local meaning, interpret the community by revealing its culture or history, and/or capture or reinforce the unique character of a place.”
Fairness dictates that the following question be asked of the desingers / owners: How does that design add local meaning, interpret the community by revealing its culture or history, and/or capture or reinforce the unique character of a place?
Also, regard section 15.3.d:
d. Art should be sited to complement
other features, such as a plaza or
architectural components that
acknowledge and respond to the
presence of the art and make the
art an integral part of site
So, again, in fairness, how does that piece complement the plaza? I’ve seen the Workshop for Community Art’s propsed mural sketch and it would not complement the one above the plaza. They don’t complement each other because the one proposed one tells a story and the other one just…?
And this gets me to another mural, one in an alley on the side of the Yost. That mural raises a very valid and serious question that no one has bothered to ask publicly. Again, how does that mural add local meaning, interpret the community by revealing its culture or history, and/or capture or reinforce the unique character of a place?
What is in place is a giant graffiti mural or “bomb” (what the one at Plaza Santa Ana is, in reality) with a giant dragon, which is a symbol of Asian culture. Is it because when people think Santa Ana, they think Asian dragons? Or is that what developers want people to think?
The “re-envisioning” and re-characterization of downtown Santa Ana has been studied and proposed before. Refer to this person’s master’s thesis on ripping out Mexican symbols in downtown Santa Ana called “Identity Design for Downtown Santa Ana.”
So now you see the politics behind this newfound “mural movement” in the downtown.
15.4 CITY REVIEW PROCESS
Developers should contact the City as
early as possible during the design
process to obtain information
regarding inclusion of artwork within a
development proposal and guidelines
for developing a project art plan,
selecting and working with artists and
15.5 WORKING WITH CONSULTANTS
Project developers are strongly
encouraged to work with an art
consultant in the selection of artists
and artwork. An art consultant can
provide expert assistance about artists
who work on public projects.
Budgets, site selection and contract
knowledge will assist the developer in
developing the Public Art Plan.
15.6 SELECTING ARTISTS
Artists selected should be generally
recognized as a professional of serious
intent. Their work should show strong
artistic excellence, the ability to
produce works appropriate to the site,
integration of artworks into the design
of the building or landscape. The
artwork should show recognition of
accessibility, durability, and an
awareness of the issues of security,
maintenance, and safety.
Based on these guidelines, and based on the fact that such a thing as a mural ordinance does exist in other places, I recommend that the City of Santa Ana enact a specific mural ordinance, with a body to oversee projects, and make recommendations.
The process should be opened to interested groups to bid on mural projects (what’s fair) to find the best-qualified muralists with a proven record as accomplished muralists and for them to provide that expertise expected in the Chapter 15 Public Art Guidelines.
Said ordinance would complement and strengthen existing guidelines.
Take for example that in Los Angeles, there’s even curriculum being developed for Judy Baca’s mural La gente del maíz (The People of the Corn). Including curriculum could be part of a new ordinance.
It just seems obvious that prior to painting such an important mural, that it has to be done right, with as much information synthesized from what can be learned from other mural movements. We don’t have to look that far, LA is a perfect model. In LA there’s the Social and Public Art Resource Center – SPARC. How do they work with public entities and with the LA mural ordinance? What can be learned from a community that has more of a history with public art in the form of murals? There is much to be learned from an organization involved with the production of 105 murals since 1988. Again, their work directly engages and involves the City of LA’s Department of Cultural Affairs.
Going forward it makes all the sense in the world to adopt and enact a process, one even guaranteeing conservancy.
What we have now is a rush job and a horse race, all the while disregarding processes and more careful studies of other mural projects. There’s an overwhelming amount of information about each mural out there, complete with the histories they contain and the processes involved in getting them done. They too synthesize public input.
Fairness dictates that neither group competing for a public wall, not WCA or UASA, should be awarded anything until there are mechanisms and systems in place in the form of a mural ordinance and an arts commission.
A project like this can only benefit from more thought put into it.
On Saturday April 2nd Persian setar and tar player Arash Kamalian and Santa Ana flamenco guitarist Omar Ávalos team up to explore the early Middle Eastern influences of Flamenco by placing the Flamenco guitar alongside the Persian tar and setar, which are plectrum instruments similar to the oud and are precursors to the Spanish guitar. Experience the pure and natural beauty of a music born of authentic Persian and Flamenco nuances.
The event takes place at the Centro de Arte Flamenco / MC Art Studio & Gallery:
207 N. Broadway Suite B
Santa Ana, CA 92701
As always, stay for dinner before or after and take in the nightlife during the monthly Art Walk at the Artist’s Village.
Today’s celebration of El día de los muertos is turning out to be the largest one of its kind to date. Altars are set up at the Artist’s Village promenade and a segment of Fourth street, from Broadway to Ross streets.
Past exhibits were limited to a portion of Second street, from Sycamore to Main. In subsequent years the exhibit was moved to a parking lot on Third street, in front of the Yost theater.
The event has become more commercialized, it is now a combination of an art exhibit and street fair.
El día de los muertos was very much the theme of the night at the Santora where just about all of the galleries displayed artwork, photography, even clothing influenced by the day of the dead theme.
The newest addition to the Artist’s Village opened its doors at the last art walk, which takes place every first Saturday of the month. The Copper Door opened where the old Broadway Billiards used to be, at the subterranean level of the Pacific Building on the corner of 3rd & Broadway. The venue has a limited liquor license but makes up for it with a rare selection of beers, ranging from pricey to not-so pricey. The amount of billiard tables has been reduced to two, and are available for $10 and hour. The tables match the venue’s new budgeted, but effective, makeover and color scheme with its wooden siding, seats, and most strikingly, its copper bar counter and copper door.
The newly founded Orange County Film Fiesta in Santa Ana also kicked off that evening with a screening of 42nd Street, starring Bebe Daniels, at the Old Orange County Courthouse. The old courthouse is within the Historic District boundaries, as listed in the National Register of Historic Places and now serves as a museum. An outing downtown turns into a veritable art walk only after walking from the Courthouse to the Santora and catching everything in between.
The Moisés Camacho Art Gallery at The Santora exhibited The Complete Works of Joni Renee, a singer, pianist, and painter originally from Portland, Oregon.