Santa Ana Embarks on Push for Arts and Culture Plan

David Washburn/Voice of OC

A mural in downtown Santa Ana.

As Santa Ana officials get ready to develop a multi-decade plan to strengthen arts and culture in the city, they’re inviting community members to share their ideas.

At the center of this is a public outreach campaign during most of next week, including a “Town Hall Kick-off Meeting” featuring a talk by award-wining playwright Josefina López. The town hall takes place at Santa Ana College’s main theater Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m.

More than 30 other events are scheduled for next week, each of which is geared toward gathering input from a specific type of community members, such as veterans, teachers, Latinos, and young professionals.

For those who can’t make those events, which are almost all during the workday, there will also be community open houses next Thursday evening and Saturday morning.

(Click here  for the full list of events, including times and locations.)

Officials will use all the input gathered next week to build a long-term arts and culture master plan.

“Santa Ana obviously has a very vibrant arts and culture scene, but we don’t really have a master plan for what people really want the future to be” and how we get there, said Kelly Reenders, executive director of the city’s community development agency.

“We believe the best ideas will emerge from the community, and having those conversations will help us hone in on some of those major themes.”

Sandra Pocha Peña, a local artist and member of the city’s Arts and Culture Commission, says she’s excited to see the outreach and plan be developed in her hometown.

“On the ground we’ve just been starving for this kind of engagement,” Pocha Peña said. “This is a very creative city — it has been since the Madame Modjeska days in the 1800s.”

Santa Ana has long been a center for arts in Orange County, she added.

“We really need to take back our rightful position. We have a history. We have a heritage and cultural legacy to pull it off.”

Pocha Peña said she’d like to see Santa Ana model its effort after San Antonio, Texas, which, among other things, has an annual roster of artists who each get about $2,000 per year to put on workshops, join arts conferences, or cover equipment expenses.

Other San Antonio approaches she wants Santa Ana to implement include an annual citywide arts festival and restoring a historic performance space like the “crumbling” West Coast Theater.

If the city invests in the arts, “we will benefit so greatly, and not just economically” with extra tax revenue and jobs, Pocha Peña said. “We’ll also benefit socially, because all those kids that only had graffiti as an outlet” would have art classes.

Pocha Peña said she’s also excited that the city is using two very different types of consultants who she described as highly regarding in the arts industry: Cultural Planning Group, which helped put together the San Antonio master plan, and grassroots arts advocate Tomas Benitez.

Another arts commissioner, Marytza Rubio, said a top priority should be “improved community access to literature.”

Santa Ana “has such an imaginative landscape: wild parrots, the annual Dia de los Muertos events, tropical fruit trees,” Rubio said in an email. “Coupled with the city’s diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious demographic, Santa Ana is an ideal setting for exciting artistic experimentation.”

Next week’s sessions will be organized in a roundtable format, which officials hope will facilitate strong community input. City officials expect the plan to be finalized by late spring or summer, Reenders said.

“We’ll be very actively engaging people who would be involved in implementing the plan,” particularly people outside City Hall, she said.

Meanwhile there’s talk of potentially boosting city funding for community-based arts and culture efforts – in a big way.

City Manager David Cavazos has mentioned to Pocha Peña and others that voters in the city of Phoenix – where Cavazos worked before coming to Santa Ana – approved setting aside 1 percent of the city’s capital projects budget to be used for arts.

“It is a wonderful program championed by the mayor and some city council members and it was/is very popular of course with the arts and cultural community and advocates,” Cavazos said in an email to Voice of OC.

Pocha Peña said Cavazos asked her and arts commission chairman Don Cribb “for our support in obtaining a 1 [percent] for the arts ballot initiative that could bring $1-2 million dollars to support the arts in Santa Ana.”

“Since this would be in addition to the [$1.5 million] given annually to the Bowers, it would effectively double resources for the arts,” she said.

Cavazos, however, was careful to point out that there’s not currently a plan for such a measure in Santa Ana.

“At this time, no plan or recommendation has been made for any ballot measures. We do have some money for arts and culture in our general fund and are excited about the outreach,” he said.

For those who can’t attend an event next week, there’s also an online survey, with participants entered into a raffle for a $100 gift card. Community members can also contact Reenders directly.

“We would just really like to get as much participation from the community as possible,” said Reenders, who encouraged people to come to the keynote speech. “It’s gonna be a great week.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the day on which next week’s town hall is scheduled. We regret the error.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.