The OC Fair & Event Center board Thursday authorized a $100,000 monument to memorialize the contributions of farm workers to the region’s economy.
Board members unanimously approved requesting proposals for a life-size sculpture from a California artist depicting the work of farm workers in Orange County.
“It’s a way to honor our past and educate for the future,” said Member Nick Berardino, who proposed the idea.
While the board unanimously approved the project, a split was evident, with Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointees strongly supporting the project and appointees of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger expressing reservations over the budget as well as the project’s rationale.
Chairwoman Joyce Tucker said she was concerned about having the money for the project come out of the budget and urged that the costs be covered by private fundraising efforts.
Member Kristina Dodge made a rare public commentary from the dais, saying she had concerns about the memorial. “I still feel like we have to justify it,” she said.
She also had concerns over how the portable exhibit would be transported.
Member Ali Jahangiri also expressed concerns, saying, “I like the idea of honoring the families of agricultural workers. Wouldn’t it go to better use if we put one of their kids through college?”
Brown appointees, meanwhile, argued that honoring farm workers was not only within the mission of the 32nd District Agricultural Association but long overdue.
Berardino called the proposed budget “a very, very small price to pay to show the respect and the gratitude that we as an agricultural group show to a group of people who have been ignored and forgotten and in many cases treated with disrespect.”
Member Gerardo Mouet, who is Santa Ana’s parks director, said such a monument would be ideal for educating youth, adding, “There is a very realistic nexis with the mission of Orange County Fair & Event Center.”
Mouet noted that cities and institutions frequently fund public art if it has a relevance to their mission.
“I can’t think of a better example than the farm workers of this county,” Mouet said.
Member Stan Tkaczyk, who is also a Voice of OC board member, noted that a portion of other fair promotion funds, such as $1 million that funded the failed Al’s [Yankovic] Brain exhibit, could be redirected to help fund the monument.
As the debate continued, Jahangiri seemed to adjust his position supporting the idea but calling for more of an emphasis on expanding the educational aspect of the exhibit. He also called for an important digital element to the project, saying it needs to be more than just a sculpture.
“I see monuments and things and I just walk by,” Jahangiri said.
The lone Schwarzenegger appointee to support the idea without pause was Member Doug La Belle, who said: “I fully support the concept. The educational value is potentially very significant.”
La Belle noted that his own father began as a warehouse worker at Knott’s Berry Farm, eventually rising to become a manager of the company stores. La Belle said he knew the Knott family well, suggesting that they and the Segerstrom family be contacted for donations to help underwrite the effort.
Activists with the Orange County Fairgrounds Preservation Society supported the idea, saying fair board members had wasted much more money without any public justification on the failed effort to help the Schwarzenegger administration privatize the fairgrounds.
“I look at the money that was wasted on the sale,” said Theresa Sears, who is leading a subcommittee reviewing the sales process. “To reject [the farm worker memorial] for such a small price would be lacking gratitude,” Sears said.