We are the United Artists of Santa Ana!

Photo by Marcos Huerta

 We are the United Artists of Santa Ana!


Samuel Munoz

[The following article was published in the Santanero Zine on June 2, 2012. It appears here as it was published with minor updates]

In October of 2011, a contract known as the Rehabilitation Agreement for the Santora Building for the Arts expired. This agreement between the city of Santa Ana and current Santora owner Mike Harrah stipulated, among other things, that the Santora building be 80% occupied by artists. It was a contract that provided a substantial sum of money to Harrah so that the Santora building could thrive as an artistic hub. In the years that the contract was in effect, many of the residents of the Santora were ignorant of such an agreement. All the while, Mr. Harrah, unchecked, did not abide by the terms of the contract. While some artists of the Santora suspected that the document did exist, the denial of its existence during a community meeting last year by then Community Development Director, Cindy Nelson (who’s name is actually on the contract), coupled with the lack of willingness from anyone else involved with the contract to acknowledge it, kept the reality of such an agreement a mere rumor.

In January of 2012, however, local artist, Alicia Rojas, took it upon herself to find a copy of the elusive document. Alicia told Santanero:

I finally said to myself, I’m going to get off my ass and go to City Hall and find this contract. I reached out to a couple of the local reporters and they gave me tips on how to find it. I got a lead from one of the reporters that found it because of my prompting and asking for it. Then I went out and got it for myself. I read it and saw that the contract had expired.”

This was not the first time that Alicia had been active for the benefit of the artist community. She along with a few other artists had been active with the now defunct organization known as AVASA (Artist Village Alliance of Santa Ana). This group had formed in 2011 to combat what the artists felt was negligence by owner, Mike Harrah, towards the Santora building and its residents. It was this group that initially attempted to oust the acknowledgment of the then rumored contract. Alicia continues:

“What pissed me off mostly was that, during AVASA, we wanted to ask the city about this contract because it was a rumor. Because of the yelling and screaming that we did, all of a sudden the city wanted to meet us. AVASA was in the center of all the news and blogs in the city. The city set up an arts forum for the first time in years because we prompted it. Cindy Nelson held it. They invited a bunch of the local organizations. Bowers Museum was there and we were there as AVASA. Matt Southgate [fellow artist of the Santora and former AVASA member], asked Cindy Nelson about the contract. She was with the redevelopment agency that signed the contract and she said that nothing existed. And this was when the contract was still legit! So when I actually found the contract for myself many months later and saw her name [Cindy Nelson’s] on it , I remembered that moment. I said to myself, ‘How can they do this to us?’ It spurred so much anger in me that they had lied to us. So I sat there and began to think about it all. I said to myself, ‘How can I turn this into a positive thing?’ I wanted to approach this in a new way from what was AVASA. I wanted to revive AVASA under a new name [by this time AVASA had disbanded].”

It was from this moment that spawned the creation of a new organization now known as the United Artists of Santa Ana (UASA). Alicia envisioned a new artists alliance fully organized, bringing together not just artists of the Santora or Artist Village district, but artists from all parts of the community.

Taking a more diplomatic approach, Alicia, with the support of a few community members that included Matt Southgate, Moises Camacho [former Santora artist, whose exit from the Santora, Alicia cites as her motivation to finally search for the rehabilitation agreement herself] and Claudia Lavini [Special projects and Art Walk Coordinator for Downtown Inc.], went to the City Council on February 6th 2012 to address the recent find of the Rehabilitation Agreement and to hopefully begin a new era of cooperation between the city and the artist community. Among the suggestions presented by Alicia to the city included the establishment of an Arts commissioner, a partnership to help fund public art, a new agreement to keep the Santora building arts focused, and the recognition of a new organization that would represent the artist community and serve as the main source of communication to the city. The council, although acknowledging the importance of the arts in Santa Ana, did very little to move forward on any of the suggestions Alicia put forth on that day. Despite this, a little group of artists that would later vote to call themselves the UASA had their first meeting on February 9th 2012.

Two months later, on April 23, 2012, Adam Elmahrek of the Voice of OC broke the news that an Irvine based church known as Newsong was close to buying the Santora building from Mike Harrah. The artist community of Downtown Santa Ana quickly went into a panic. The fear of censorship, intolerance, and discrimination surged through many of the local artists and important figures of the Artist Village. Most importantly, many residents feared that the Santora Building as a cultural and artistic hub was going to reach its end. The message that the church relayed to its congregation was that the Santora would serve as a place of worship and that plans of renovating the building to include a 300+ auditorium for services was in mind. [NewSong later retracted part of the plan via Facebook]

The UASA, at the time that the news of the sale broke, was quietly planning its coming out party: a celebration of the Anniversary of the Santora Building to be held on July 7th. The sense of urgency prevalent through out the Artist Village needed a uniting force. The UASA was pushed to the forefront as the representative body to the artist community. The group held a meeting on April 26, 2012 to discuss the plan of action. The meeting was attended by several key figures of the development of the Artist Village that included Don Cribb (who is credited for sparking the creation of the Artist Village), Tim Rush (a member of the Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society) and Lisa Bist (former Council member). Most importantly, it was a gathering that united artists and curators from across the downtown district that included the Grand Central Arts Center, and the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art. It was a gathering not yet accomplished by any other artist representative organization in Santa Ana.

Photo by Marcos Huerta

The UASA went to work full steam. With their elected board in place and a steady group of regularly volunteering members, the UASA released an open letter to all local news publications, to the city council, and Newsong addressing the UASA’s concerns and urging all relevant parties to come together to negotiate a new agreement that would protect and preserve the arts in the Santora. The group issued a petition that to date has reached close to a thousand signatures. The UASA presented this petition to the city council on May 7th 2012. This time, Alicia (now president of the group), addressed the city council with at least fifty people supporting in attendance. Alicia did not speak alone either. Others in support of the group joined her in addressing the council, voicing their concerns for the future of the Santora and Downtown Santa Ana as whole.

The City Council had no choice but to listen. Mayor Miguel Pulido called for an ad hoc committee to reach out to the relevant parties of the sale so that options to preserve the Santora as an artist hub can be explored. As of the writing of this article, it was reported by the UASA that a meeting between the ad hoc committee and representatives of the church had taken place. Whether a written agreement will be reached to grant the protection many of the UASA hope for is still in the air. In fact, many of the UASA fear that the committee might not live up to its purpose. The inclusion of David Benavides (who is a Newsong church attendee) in the ad hoc committee has raised suspicion prompting many to feel that his inclusion constitutes a conflict of interest. Most importantly, the UASA has of yet not been invited to contribute in the discussions of the committee. [Update: the UASA did finally meet with the ad hoc committee on May 29, 2012 after this article was submitted for publication in Santanero]

Much is yet to be seen. However, as it was in February, when the City Council paid very little attention, the “not so little anymore” group of artists continues to meet every Thursday in the Santora building committed in their mission to nurture and preserve the arts in Santa Ana. As more artists from across the city, including artists from the Santiago Art District, continue to join the group, the UASA is set to establish itself as the premier organizing and representative body for artists in the city. A reality that Alicia Rojas could only dream about just a short four months ago.

The Elected Board of the UASA

Photo by Jacquemo www.jaquemo.com

Alicia Rojas (President)

Alicia was born in Bogota, Colombia. She moved to California in 1994. Coming from a family of artists, Alicia was interested in art since a young age. She began to focus specifically on painting at the age of 27 and began showing her art at the Santora in 2005. You can learn more about her on her website www.aliciarojas.com.





Photo by Antonio Garcia

Sandra “Pocha” Pena Sarmiento (Vice-President)

Pocha, as she is known, is a Santa Ana native. She grew up in the Delhi area. A well decorated artist, her work spans three decades. She has received acclaim as a filmmaker and a writer. Her first work, at the young age of 17, was a music video for the seminal Orange County punk band The Vandals. A former resident of the Santora herself, her gallery, Pocharte, has exhibited work from such artists as Alma Lopez, Lola Alcaraz and Ruben Ortiz Torres. She currently runs the annual OC Film Fiesta held in Santa Ana, now in the works for its third installment. Her films, videos and other visual art has been exhibited in galleries and film festivals in Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, and San Antonio, TX. You can learn more about Pocha and all her many activities at www.pocharte.com and www.ocfilmfiesta.org.


Photo by Marcos Huerta

Claudia Lavini (Secretary)

Born in Peru, Claudia moved with her family to California at the age of eight. She became linked with the city of Santa Ana when she began coordinating the Santa Ana College Gallery. Her involvement within the Santa Ana artistic community includes organizing events in Downtown such as the Summer Concert Series, and The Mexican Artisan Fair. She has been a vital networking channel for many local musicians, having booked local bands for Proof Bar, and the Second Street Promenade during Art Walk. She aspires to be an arts curator and is currently working on her degree in art history at Cal State Fullerton.



Photo by Marcos Huerta

 Ben Walker (Treasurer)

Ben is an Orange County native that grew up in Garden Grove. He moved to Santa Ana eight years ago. “My father’s family has been in Santa Ana since the 1930’s and I always felt like I had some sort of connection to the city,” Ben told Santanero. He began showing his work at Raven Studios and MC Gallery at the Santora until he was given the opportunity to start up his own gallery. Ben is now part of an arts cooperative that formed Gallery 207. The gallery exhibits in the space of Raven Studios in the upstairs area of the Santora. You can learn more about Ben on his website www.benwalker.com.

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23 Responses to We are the United Artists of Santa Ana!

  1. You know what Sam? I’m going to do you a favor and take the blindfold off of you. Let’s go back in time to when Moisés still had suite B in the Santora. That gallery had substantial art exhibits and events, like when Arturo Márquez came. Events like that are what this city needs and these are more reflective of the Santa Ana community, as was the artwork that was displayed there. We tried to do these things for the Downtown and for the Santora. I can attest to that because that is why I paid into that gallery. But a series of circumstances led to the end of the Santora as everyone knows it, and some of these had to do with mismanagement.

    Ben Walker was a part of MC Gallery and bailed on it over some egotistical disagreement over sharing the gallery on an open house. I performed in the gallery one night and he didn’t like sharing the space so he bailed. His leaving, in part, signaled the beginning of the end for Moisé’s gallery.

    But the end of the Santora as everyone knows it is because a combination of precedents that have led up to the sale of the building. More harm has been done to Santora artists to themselves because of complaining overtime about this, that and the other.

    Some artists were upset over a valet service, that would’ve brought them monied individuals to their doorstep, and instead they rejected it only to propose a reuse of valet parking after listening to reason, years later, at one of their meetings. (I went to one of their meetings, I know what I heard).

    Years back during a town hall meeting at the Grand Central Art Center hosted by Downtown Inc, the same detractors, complainers about the valet service, showed up to complain about the color of the Downtown Inc security guards’s jackets!! How absurd can you be?

    Fact: Years back I used to sit and brainstorm with Moses about how to proceed with arts events, issues. What did I suggest to him? Engaging city council, looking at the possibility of instituting an arts branch of government for the City, having an arts commissioner etc etc.

    Lo and behold all of these ideas surfaced in a manifesto. But you know what? I’m over all of it. There’s no need to politick and waste time at city council. If you’re a complainer and detractor and likes to nag for the sake of nagging, you’ll find your way to city council. No, you’ll follow others to city council.

    • Omar, I don’t understand why you had to make this into a negative. I really do not understand why you wish to make enemies with so many people especially when they are trying to do the same thing you have said you wanted to do. There are alot of good people working in this organization that I think are really trying to get something substantial done here. As far as your problem with Ben, it seems that it should have been something kept between the parties involved and not shared on the internet.

    • Alicia Rojas says:

      You are always welcome in our meetings and plans. We are stronger when we work together. We share some of the same visions and goals. I have no ill feelings towards you and I would never take hold of the credit for anyones ideas. I did the manifesto out of my true concern for the arts in Santa Ana..I guess when we all have the same vision then it means it must be right!

    • Michael Malloy says:

      Why you whining ?

  2. Hey, this is Ben Walker and this is in response to Omar about Ben leaving over some egotistical disagreement.

    Sorry about this on your blog … nice write up Sam.

    I left the MC Gallery because there must have been a big time communication issue with Moises. I paid him over $750 that month to host an art show with artists from as far away as Pakistan and Hong Kong. He got paid to jury the show and host it. I had worked with him on that for over 3 months and I thought I had the gallery for that show that night. Instead I find you and and bunch of chairs set up for some mini concert, blocking all the art and to top it off you guys shut the door during the event because it was too loud. It was total BS. I had to just set the facts straight since my name was used by Omar in a negative way.

    Of course I bailed after that because it was a lack of professionalism and I really felt like I was ripped off. Like I’m going to stay around and be swindled.

  3. La Pocha says:

    An org like UASA has been long needed in Santa Ana. More than an Arts Commissioner, we need an Arts Commission that includes reps from a variety of local orgs & individual artists.

    Omar & I spoke about this longstanding need for an arts org, but then we heard about the new arts org underway by Alicia, Claudia and others in the village. We all attended meetings together and given O’s professional commitments, participating in UASA didn’t seem like a healthy match for him. I wish it could have been different because I value Omar’s talent & perspective, and because as an artist, he will benefit from the programs UASA is spearheading. Ben has taken on a positive leadership role and we’re all rolling steadily forward with our organizational goals. It literally “takes a village” to build a thriving community.

    The Artists Village has been burdened by an unstable economy & shrinking government resources. Our local businesses & individual Artists of Santa Ana need civic support to fuel a thriving Creative Industry. The rewards of cultivating a thriving Arts Economy & Cultural Tourism would be tremendous. Now that other Santa Ana industries have faltered, tourism, commercial film shoots and a healthy network of local artists would greatly enrich the City.

    I hope we can all find a way to work together without personal pedos that tear at the fiber of our shared community and common goals. We as UASA are doing more than complaining, we are working together with government to affect current policy and fully engage in our collective future.

    Below is our KEEP THE ARTS IN MIND update…

    United Artists of Santa Ana encourage you to KEEP THE ARTS IN MIND
    JUNE 2012

    UASA is preparing a proposal to support Creative Industries in the The City of Santa Ana. It is targeted at making the Arts and Artist-Driven Businesses a major source of revenue for the City, local businesses, and property owners.

    UASA met with the Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee last week and learned that many of their concerns were already met by existing building/use codes and easements.

    UASA also discussed their vision for a City-supported Arts & Culture industry in Santa Ana that was tied to Cultural Tourism, bringing more Film Industry shoots to downtown, creating a Citizens Arts Commission to support individual Artists and Artist-Driven Businesses. UASA was invited to submit a proposal for the City’s upcoming Strategic Planning sessions.

    The remaining UASA concerns were presented to NewSong who responded, before ArtsWalk night, that they would consider the list when their Chief Financial Officer returned from holiday.

    UASA looks forward to continuing negotiations for the benefit of Santa Ana’s Cultural Community and to safeguard millions of dollars of public investment in the Santa Ana Artists Village. UASA believes that with the City’s support, Santa Ana can once again become an Arts & Culture leader in our region.

  4. La Pocha says:

    June 8 – 11, 2012 – Americans for the Arts Annual Conference in San Antonio, TX

    “ More than 1,000 arts professionals will arrive in San Antonio starting Wednesday for the annual Americans for the Arts conference, a reminder that good art is also good business. Art needs to be appreciated for art’s sake, but it also merits equal status with other economic development and marketing initiatives designed to enhance life for locals and attract quality visitors. Public support of the arts is an investment where the return is both an aesthetic and material one.”
    — The Rivard Report

    City Arts Video Promo: http://vimeo.com/24835005

    City Arts Commission Statement: http://www.therivardreport.com/arts-culture-san-antonio-style-for-a-national-audience/

    Conference Website: http://convention.artsusa.org/schedule

    Convention On-Demand: http://convention.artsusa.org/news/don

    All the above info is included on our Facebook page: “United Artists of Santa Ana” which is also linked through our current website: http://www.santoraarts.org

  5. I know nothing of a $750 figure. All I know what that I planned to perform there ahead of time to no one’s surprise and that the performance and the chairs were okayed. That is all that I know. I don’t know if you were informed of it or not. What was obvious was that the gallery was a shared space, months before I performed there, so the artists there knew what to expect. I certainly did.

    If you’re suggesting that I’m a swindler, then you’re wrong.

    • No, I’m not suggesting you’re a swindler, I don’t even really know you. I’ve spoken with you a few times, but that’s about it. I was obviously misinformed by Moises about the group show he curated and he was paid good money to be the juror, host etc … And he then double dipped and booked two events for the same night. Not to mention the artists who traveled to be part of their show and then find out their art can’t even be accessed due to all the chairs in the way. This is one of the reasons why I left his gallery, not over some ego deal. It had strickly to do with money and my lack of trust in gallery ownership.

  6. MICHAEL MALOY says:

    OMAR need an anema …….

    • Wow, these are the class acts associated with your “organization.” You make me laugh. Who the, what the is a Michael Maloy?

      • Alicia Rojas says:

        I have no idea who this guy is. We don’t know a Michael Maloy..so please try to refrain from making assumptions about associations that we know nothing about. Geez.

      • I have no idea who Michael Malloy is either. I can assure you he is not part of the UASA. I think he is just a troll. Wow, I have trolls now. That usually means that you have reached a new level of popularity.

      • How am I supposed to know who is or isn’t part of your group? This coward, this troll, is obviously siding or sympathizing with your group.

      • Alicia Rojas says:

        And Omar just the way you point out that you don’t know who is or who is not a part of UASA then you should refrain from throwing unfounded accusations. You preemptively assume the worst. Not sure why you seem to always be so negative and antagonistic. The door is always open for dialog. You can choose to keep throwing stones that in my view end up falling flat right at your feet Sir, or you can ask for clarification first. Common courtesy.

  7. By the way, Sam, way to moderate. This is why I don’t publish expletives in my blog.

    • Sorry mate, I don’t like to unnecessarily censor people. People can say whatever they want as long as they are not spamming the comment section or saying some deliberately racist crap, or seriously threatning people. I allowed you to speak your mind and talk bad about certain people. I have to be fair and allow others who want to do the same.

      • I think I’d know when to differentiate an insult from a criticism, Sam. Not all that I wrote are “unfounded accusations,” they’re truths. What your sympathizing “Maloy” writes is an insult. I can tell the difference. I have nothing more to say to any of you. Best regards.

      • While it is certainly true that this Malloy guy wanted to insult you [by the way I think I figured out who he is], you fail to realize that your initial comment was insulting to many people. You called the artists from the UASA naggers without much justification. You had a bad experience with certain individuals in the past [way before the group was even formed] and you erroneously believe that it must be the case about the group as a whole associated with those individuals. In other words, you fallaciously argued that because something was true about a particular that it must be true about the whole. You have not been involved with the UASA’s recent activities, nor do you care, it seems to me, to even try and see the situation from their side. Alicia has many times invited you to begin a dialogue with her, but you have either refused her or ignored her all together. So while your comment may have included more words than Malloy’s, it was still as blatantly insulting. Also, I hope you realize that you began these chains of negative comments. You must have known that, considering your reputation, that you were going to get a backlash and someone was going to throw a negative comment back at you.

  8. Sam, Sam, Sam,

    True, I had bad experiences with just about everybody at the “higher level” of the group. Some of the people that make decisions for this new group were the same ones that did for AVASA. You can’t ignore this fact.

    Now Sam, when you say that I generalized about the entire group it’s wrong. So who is the group? All persons involved or just those that want to make decisions? I said if you want to nag for the sake of nagging you’ll FOLLOW those that are jockeying themselves for some type of decision making and or lobbying. That’s addressed to those who are allowing themselves to be lead. They want to be lead, form a group, lobby? Fine, do it.

    So tell you what Sam, if “Maloy’s” word choice makes you feel better go right ahead and sling it, or have someone do it for you. It’s quite petty, come to think of it, and I won’t loose sleep over it.

    Now I’ll reiterate, I have nothing more to say to any of you. Goodbye.

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