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.
Oliver Zavala and yours truly present the Arte Santa Ana podcast. In it we go over Latino arts in Santa Ana and beyond, with related issues.
In episode 1 we talk arts in the downtown, business, demographics, folk, pop and high culture, and more.
For more visit www.arte-santa-ana.org
Coming soon to iTunes.
Available through RSS here.
Also available on Google Feedburner.
For a preview of an article that I contributed to the Santa Ana Register that debuts tomorrow, click here.
The Register informs:
The Santa Ana Register is a new weekly newspaper covering the city of Santa Ana. It will be delivered Thursdays to Orange County Register subscribers. To subscribe, call customer service at 1-877-627-7009.
In addition, a limited number of free copies will be placed in racks Thursdays at the following locations:
Senior Center, 424 W. 3rd St., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Carl’s Jr, 3325 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, CA 92704
Dino’s Burger, 2217 W. Edinger St. Santa Ana, CA 92704
Rite Aid Pharmacy, 1406 W. Edinger St., Santa Ana, CA 92704
Stater Bros, 2630 W. Edinger St., Santa Ana, CA 92704
IHOP Restaurant, 3001 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, CA 92704
CVS Pharmacy, 3907 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, CA 92704
Carrows Restaurant, 3355 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, CA 92704
Chase, 1300 N. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Dantes Café, 600 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana, CA 92701
La Chiquita Mexican Food, 906 E. Washington Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Northgate Market, 750 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, CA 92704
Martinez Book Store, 216 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Santa Ana Unified School District Headquarters, 1601 E. Chestnut Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Santa Ana Public Library, 20 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Santa Ana City Hall, 20 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana, CA 92701
Community Court, 909 N. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Denny’s, 1258 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, CA 92701
OCR Building, 625 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Amtrak Station, 1000 E. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Santa Ana Towers, 401 W. 1st St., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Rancho De Mendoza, 100 E. 4th St., Santa Ana, CA 92701
Taco Pronto, 1714 E. McFadden Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705Norris Food Market, 601 E. Andrew Place, Santa Ana, CA 92707
Superior Warehouse, 1710 S. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92707
Delhi Center, 505 E. Central Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92707
Stater Bros., 1230 S. Standard Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92707
KD Donuts, 2102 S. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92707
Yellow Basket restaurant, 1430 E. Edinger Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705
Superior Market, 1730 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, CA 92706
Yellow Basket restaurant, 2860 S. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92707
Santa Ana College, 1631 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana, CA 92706
Stater Bros., 2603 Westminster, Santa Ana, CA 92706
Super Antojitos, 1702 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana, CA 92706
Southwest Senior Center, 2201 W. McFadden Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92704
Polly’s Pies, 2660 N. Main St., Santa Ana, CA 92705
Duke’s restaurant, 2900 W. Warner Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92704
Donut Star, 1430 E. McFadden Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705
Cowgirls Café, 1720 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705
Carl’s Jr., 1809 E. Edinger Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705
CVS Pharmacy, 1750 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705
Medical Center, 1001 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705
Denny’s Restaurant, 2314 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, CA 92705
Knowlwood Restaurant, 2107 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, CA 92705
IHOP Restaurant, 945 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, CA 92705
Norm’s Restaurant, 121 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, CA 92705
T-2 Market, 2002 S. Flower St., Santa Ana, CA 92707
Bank of America, 2214 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705
In October of 2004 Manuel “Manny” Saldívar, a protégé of movie producer Moctezuma Esparza,
in association with Vanguard Cinema, brought a Latino film festival to downtown Santa Ana’s Metropolitan Fiesta Twin theater. The OCLFF set a standard that has yet to be topped by other attempts at film festivals in Santa Ana, but it went away after two years due to a main sponsor, Vanguard Cinema, pulling support.
Back then there was no “Downtown Inc,” much less a supportive city council. This was during a time when the mayor’s office found it “unethical” to have a Latino film festival in Santa Ana. We’ve seen that now the city sponsors another film festival and puts their seal of approval on it (same mayor, different council).
The inaugural festival was visited by Mexican film industry heavyweights Gerardo Tort (director), Fernando Sariñana (director and father of singer Ximena Sariñana), Carolina Rivera (screenwriter) and Maya Zapata (actress), as well as local industry professionals Michael Peña (Crash, Walkout, etc), Moctezuma Esparza (producer), and others.
An opening night outdoor gala was held at the Artist’s Village downtown promenade, in between Pangea (now Lola Gaspar) and the Gypsy Den. Pangea provided catering.
2004 Feature-length Films:
Amar te duele
Alex Lora, Esclavo del rocanrol
Asesino en serio
Azul y blanco
Chalino Sánchez – Una vida de peligros
Como el gato para el ratón
Cuento de hadas para dormir cocodrilos
De la calle
El misterio de la trinidad
Hoy y mañana
Las caras de la luna
Carros clásicos de Cuba
2004 Short Film Program:
Dia de suerte
Que me va hacer
Moctezuma Esparza, Producer – “Selena”, “God’s & Generals”, “Walkout”
Carolina Rivera, Screenwriter – “Amar te duele, “Todo el poder,” “Cilantro y Perejil,” “Niñas Mal”
Fernando Sariñana, Director – “Amar te duele,” “Todo el poder”
Gerardo Tort, Director – “De la calle”
Luis Kelly, Director – “Alex Lora: Escalvo del rocanrol”
Nacho Argiro, Director – “El nominado”
In part two, we’ll look at the 2005 Orange County Latino Film Festival and the people that took part in it.
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.
The 37-story tower dubbed One Broadway Plaza was supposed to have been built and operational by the fourth business quarter of 2008. The developer failed to deliver. The developer failed to raise the money to build it. It’s problematic if a company is saying that it’s going to build something but doesn’t have the money to do it. That’s a red flag.
Now the developer is scurrying to sell off his properties to raise money to build a tower that was the real reason and focus for buying properties in Santa Ana to begin with.
Part of the strategy to raise money for said tower was to revitalize the downtown through the arts, but now the so-called “Artist’s Village” is about to disappear as we know it. The Arts were a ploy to get restaurants here, along with a Downtown Inc to represent those interests, not the arts.
The identity of the arts-oriented historic core can change with the sale of the Santora building to a church, which is the word in the downtown. A similar precedent took place with the sale of the old Masonic Temple on 5th & Sycamore to the church of Scientology. That space, which was called the Santa Ana Performing Arts & Event Center, used to be open to the community. Santa Ana College had their Pageant of the Trees annual fundraiser there and other events where the SAC Music Department participated in. But its doors were closed to the community with the sale to the scientologists. The same could happen, and is likely inevitable, if the Santora goes to another church.
The sales of these buildings are examples of social irresponsibility. The new buyers are out of touch with Santa Ana. More churches are not what the downtown needs. A surplus of churches is about as desirable as a surplus of quinceañera shops. What matters most to the developer is not Santa Ana, but a skyscraper. That has always been the prize.