More than a thousand people came to Santa Ana’s Birch Street Park Sunday to enjoy a vibrant community arts festival, highlighting a significant shift in how the local arts community engages Orange County’s Latino community.

It was the 27th year of the countywide Imagination Celebration, which features a month-long schedule of free and affordable arts activities throughout Orange County.

This year the celebration placed a special emphasis on reaching out to Latino youth.

Arts Orange County partnered with the Santa Ana Senior Center and the Centro Cultural de Mexico to put on the Día del Niño (Day of the Child) daylong festivities at Birch Street Park. The James Irvine Foundation has contributed a two-year, $25,000 grant.

Throughout Sunday, hundreds of children were taking part in workshops, including painting, murals, music, poetry and interactive art like painting a Volkswagen bus.

Rick Stein, executive director for Arts OC, said the festival acknowledges the most basic human tendency toward interacting with art.

“Everybody wants to have it in their own neighborhood,” said Stein, who is a Voice of OC Community Editorial Board member, “especially when it comes to kids and families. People won’t travel too long when they have to schlep kids around.”

Many of the young families who made their way to Birch Street Park came from Santa Ana’s historic Fourth Street commercial corridor.

If arts organizations are to remain vibrant in a 21st-century Orange County that is changing and becoming more Latino, Stein said, it’s important to connect. “I think we haven’t paid enough attention to it,” Stein said. “It’s an obligation to reach out.”

The park, which is dominated by a mix of mature pine and palm trees, is usually a quiet downtown area frequented by senior citizens and homeless people on weekdays.

Stein also noted that a key factor of Sunday’s success was the interaction of strong community groups like the Centro Cultural de Mexico.

Just as the popular La Santa Cecilia band began playing on Sunday, the park came alive with numerous families picnicking on the open grass.

“We have a young city,” said Ben Vazquez, 41, who is a lead volunteer with El Centro Cultural de Mexico based in downtown Santa Ana. “It’s not just about night life.”


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