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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The Arte Santa Ana Podcast is Now Live

Posted in Artists Village, Arts & Culture, Civics, Conversations, Downtown, Eats, Education, Food, Opinion by Omar Ian Ávalos on July 6, 2013

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

Coming soon to iTunes.

Available through RSS here.

Also available on Google Feedburner.

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This Week at the SAC Black Box Theatre: Necessary Targets

Posted in Arts & Culture, Santa Ana College, Santa Ana Showbiz! by Omar Ian Ávalos on October 29, 2012

The Santa Ana College Theatre Arts Department presents Necessary Targets written by Eve Ensler, and directed by Chris Cannon. This play breaks in SAC’s newest performance venue, the Black Box Theatre, which is located behind Phillips Hall Theatre, next to the Don Express shop.

Show dates are Thursday, Nov. 1 at 2:30 pm, Friday Nov. 2 at 8:00 pm and Saturday Nov. 3 at 8:00 pm.


Necessary Targets is the story of two American women, a Park Avenue psychiatrist and a human rights worker, who go to Bosnia to help women confront their memories of war. Necessary Targets is about women and war – about the violence of dark memories and the enduring resilience of the human spirit.

Tickets are $8 for general admission and $6 for students, staff and seniors and can be purchased online here:


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Editorial: The Arts are What Saved Me

Posted in Arts & Culture, Editorial by Omar Ian Ávalos 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.