The Santa Ana Sentinel

Commentary: Arts in Politics and Vice Versa

Posted in Art Music, Art Walk at Artist's Village, Artists Village, Arts & Culture, Arts Review, Civics, Downtown by Omar Ian Ávalos on October 9, 2013

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.

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
a place.

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.

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
art 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.

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.

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Arturo Márquez Returns to Santa Ana

Posted in Art Music, Arts & Culture, Arts Review, Downtown, The Journal of Mexican Art Music, Ward 2 by Omar Ian Ávalos on December 18, 2011

Jesús Arturo Márquez Navarro, a UCLA Regents’ Lecturer and Fulbright Scholar, studied music at Cal Arts, the Conservatorio Nacional in Mexico City, and with Jacques Castérèrede in Paris, France. He has enjoyed worldwide praise and success for his symphonic danzones with orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel. One of his most recognizable works, Danzón No. 2, is a favorite of numerous orchestras and is heard on the Mexican film Arráncame la vida.

World-renowned Mexican composer Arturo Márquez returned to the Santora in Downtown Santa Ana on the evening of Friday, December 16th. Maestro Márquez’s visit was in part a send off for the gallery that hosted him. MC Art Gallery and Studio announced that it would close it’s doors on December 31st.

For five years MC Art Gallery and Studio exhibited artwork from artists of international repute including sculptures by Felipe Castañeda and paintings by Sergio O’ Cádiz. Maestro Arturo’s visit was the third to the gallery. His first visit was a small and intimate gathering with gallery owner Moisés Camacho, the Maestro’s daughter Lily, his brother Jorge, Joseph Hawa, who is another painter in the Santora, and I.

On April 15 of 2011 the Maestro returned and was presented to those in attendance through a more formal reception involving a brief lecture and discussion with him, followed by a mixer. A video recording of that interview is available by clicking here.

On this, his third visit, artists involved with the gallery and friends came together to receive the Maestro and to reflect on the gallery’s past. A discussion opened up with Voice of OC reporter Adam Elmahrek in which the gallery’s past exhibits were mentioned. As Adam jotted down notes, the topic of a lack of an arts council in Santa Ana came up. The argument was made that the City does not do enough to support the arts. There was talk of a former “Santa Ana Council of Arts and Culture,” which has been dead and buried for years now, with no visible presence anywhere in anything having to do with art in the Downtown, much less around town.

The Maestro’s visit was also an opportunity for Santa Ana artists to brainstorm and plan for the future. Newly appointed Santa Ana College Chamber Orchestra Director David F. López attended and was introduced to Mr. Márquez. Plans are underway to perform a piece of Arturo Márquez’s music at Santa Ana College next year, and at the Downtown as well. A festival was conceived of, one that will integrate participating Santa Ana schools and the Downtown.

Moisés Camacho’s gallery was a creative space where a confluence of artistic ideas took place. The space allowed for the forging of new ideas. Our city’s artistic future will have benefitted from this place, it was like an incubator. The community’s benefit will be a product of the artistic energies that took place there. It will be sorely missed and it may be extremely difficult to have another place like it. This is how it will be remembered.

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Gregorio Luke in Santa Ana

Posted in Arts & Culture, Arts Review, Downtown by Omar Ian Ávalos on May 5, 2011

DOWNTOWN. Reputable go to lecturer on Mexican art Gregorio Luke came to the Artist’s Village on Friday, April 29th to discuss the history of La batalla de Puebla (The Battle of Puebla), most commonly known as Cinco de Mayo.

Luke provided a deep backstory to do the holiday its due justice, taking into account that as a practice in the States, it’s really just another reason to drink beer not unlike Saint Patrick’s Day. It would be extremely rare to have an in-depth discussion on the subject with well, anyone. Almost anyone.

Gregorio Luke lectures on the history of Cinco de Mayo. President Benito Juárez is shown on the projection.

Luke did an effective job of relating the events leading up to Cinco de Mayo on a global scale in relation to the United States, and Mexico’s creditors Spain, England and France.

It became apparent in the United States, for example, that it was not in its own interest to have the French in Mexico because of Napoleon’s expansionist agenda and interest in Louisiana. Indeed, ousted Mexican President Benito Juárez stayed in exile in New Orleans as a sign of cooperation and mutual interest between Mexico and the United States.

The invasion of Mexico by France started after President Benito Juárez declared a moratorium on Mexico’s foreign debt. This caused the three aforementioned European powers to prepare for invasion, but Spanish and English diplomats understood Napoleon’s ambition and interest and opted on not invading Mexico.

Luke enlivened the lecture with a number of rare and valuable anecdotes like Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza’s assertion that, “The liberation of France begins in Puebla,” and famed French writer Victor Hugo’s comment on the war, “It is not France that invades you, it is the empire.”

The Battle of Puebla did not change the tide of war. The country was eventually overrun by French forces and an imperial monarchy was installed, with Napoleon’s nephew Maximilian of Austria crowned as emperor. The Mexican Empire of Maximilian was short-lived as Republican forces under President Benito Juárez captured and sentenced Maximilian to a death squad.

Luke concluded with a moral lesson left by Benito Juárez, El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz / Respect for the rights of others means peace.


Gregorio Luke is an expert on Mexican and Latin American art and culture. Mr. Luke has presented over 1,000 lectures in museums and universities throughout Mexico, Europe and the United States in institutions such as the Library of Congress, The Smithsonian Institution, the San Diego Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Art, and Universities such as Harvard, Columbia, UNAM and Georgetown, among others.

He is the former Director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, former Consul of Cultural Affairs of Mexico in Los Angeles and the First Secretary of the Embassy of Mexico in Washington D.C.

In 1995, Luke was honored with the Irving Leonard Award by the Hispanic Society of the Library of Congress. In 2005, The Ebell Club of Los Angeles honored him with a Life-time Achievement Award. In 2006, Luke received the El Angel Award by the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts and in 2007 he was recognized by CATE (California Association of Teacher’s in English) for promoting literacy in public schools.

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A Mixer with the Masters Part I: Interview with Arturo Márquez

Posted in Art Music, Arts & Culture, Arts Review, Conversations, Downtown, The Journal of Mexican Art Music by Omar Ian Ávalos on April 21, 2011

SANTA ANA. World-renowned Mexican composer Arturo Márquez came to the Santora Building in Downtown Santa Ana on Friday April 15th for a mixer and discussion. Mr. Márquez was joined by María del Pilar O’ Cádiz a Research Specialist at UC Irvine and daughter of Sergio O’ Cádiz, whose murals were on display that night. Felipe Castañeda, a world-renowned sculptor who has works on display at Moisés Camacho’s Art Gallery & Studio at the Santora was also part of the panel discussion. The discussion was moderated by composer and musicologist Omar Ávalos, Associate Music Instructor at Santa Ana College and Principal Musician for the Department of Dance at UC Irvine.