Artists Issue Ultimatum to Church Buying Santora Building

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The Santora building in downown Santa Ana. (Photo by: Norberto Santana Jr.)

A group of Santa Ana artists declared in a news conference Tuesday that the Newsong Church, which is planning to buy the historic Santora Arts Building in downtown Santa Ana, has three days to respond a proposal that would protect artists in the building if it wants to avoid protests by a subgroup of anti-church artists.

For weeks, the artists have been battling among themselves over the most effective reaction to news that the Irvine-based church is in escrow to buy the building, an ornate downtown landmark that is considered the heart of an eclectic area known as Artists Village.

The artists want a contract that, among other provisions, would guarantee extended leases for existing tenants and protect the arts focus of the building. Some artists are vehemently opposed to the purchase and have vowed strident protests and other confrontational tactics should negotiations for such a contract move too slowly.

The news conference was held after a meeting of artists and a City Council ad hoc committee tasked with examining the sale. The news conference was largely taken over by Skeith De Wyne, a vocal anti-church artist leading the so-called “subversives,” the subgroup of artists that say the only way to save Artists Village is to stop Newsong or any other church from buying the Santora.

“Eventually you're not going to have a Santora for the arts. You're going to have a Christian foundation for the arts,” De Wyne said. “I smell fire.”

Newsong leaders say they have no firm plans for the building. Their purchase, they say, is rooted in a desire to save the Santora from corporate interests that would turn it into a commercial real estate venture.

They also say they are not planning to evict the artists and have indicated they are open to the idea of a contract. The church leaders, however, have not agreed to any specific contract terms and seem ready to cope with protests.

During a recent Sunday service, Newsong Pastor Adam Edgerly described a visit by the Apostle Paul to ancient Athens, then considered one of the world's great centers of art and culture. Paul's arrival sparked rioting among the Greek artisans, Edgerly said, because they feared Christian teachings would kill their business, which centered on the selling of idols and trinkets to pagans.

“They realized they're going to lose if people start to believe,” Edgerly said of the ancient artisans. But, he said, “at Newsong, we love culture. We have a special love for artists, actually. … We see in culture the hand of God expressing humanity.”

While there were hopes that the city might participate in crafting an agreement, that idea was shot down after the city attorney informed the ad hoc committee that city officials needed to steer clear from negotiations between the artists and Newsong. The city and council members could be held liable for blocking the sale, according to artists and a council member who sits on the committee.

The leaders of United Artists of Santa Ana (UASA) have been struggling to contain the "subversives" since the news of the sale broke. There are already signs that the fragile pact among the factions is beginning to crack.

Posters criticizing the sale and in particular three individuals — City Councilman David Benavides, who attends Newsong Church, current Santora owner Mike Harrah and Newsong lead pastor Dave Gibbons — have been appearing around the downtown. No artist has claimed responsibility for circulating the posters.

“We can't contain the whole Artists Village,” said artist Alicia Rojas, one of the founders of UASA.

Pocha Peña, a downtown artist who spoke at the news conference, said that the deadline for a satisfactory response from Newsong regarding the agreement is 6 p.m. Saturday, just in time for the monthly art walk, a downtown event that draws thousands.

“Hopefully they [Newsong] won't open the floodgates of hell,” Peña said.

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek. And add your voice with a letter to the editor.

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