Welcome to the Arts & Culture Section of Voice of OC

Voice of OC

Heide Janssen and Paul Hodgins of Voice of OC at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

Publisher’s Note: Starting today, Sept. 10, 2018, Arts & Culture coverage has been added to the civic discourse on Voice of OC. To start, Arts & Culture stories will appear on our website on Mondays and Thursdays. Stories will be curated by arts editors Paul Hodgins and Heide Janssen and will reflect not only what has traditionally been considered “art,” but will endeavor to branch out to examine the diverse cultures that also contribute to art in our communities.

Why is it that the words “arts” and “culture” send some people scrambling for the exit?

I don’t know about you, but for me it was the public school system that poisoned the well. Uninspired teachers droning on about “Beowulf.”  Stuttering pre-pubescent students reciting the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet.” Symphonic band concerts that sounded like cattle roundups. P.E. dance classes set to cat-scratched albums playing a sad accompaniment.

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It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that I’d been shortchanged by a system that cared very little about instilling a love of the arts in children. I didn’t come to appreciate the arts until much later, when I started living my life and realized they were an integral part of the world.

It might have been my first visit to the Museum of Anthropology in my hometown, Vancouver, when I couldn’t stop looking at an ancient Kwakiutl totem pole and sensing the atavistic power of its stacked creatures staring back at me. Or stumbling across Donato Bramante’s Tempietto during an aimless walk in Rome and suddenly intuiting that I was looking at architectural perfection. Or first hearing the double fugue near the end of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and shocking myself by crying uncontrollably, overwhelmed by its fearsome majesty.

Great art, well executed, wields the power to move you deeply and free you from the here and now; to “wash the dust of daily life off our souls,” as Picasso said.

Culture, a trickier word, is the yardstick by which a community measures its worth, determining what gets welcomed through the arts’ high gates. Some communities have a very narrow definition of what culture is. Their arts world is small and restrictive, their gates unreasonably lofty. But others – those that are healthier, more self-confident, more comfortable with themselves – welcome a broader definition of the word. I’d like to think that Orange County is heading determinedly into the second camp.

With that in mind, our purpose is simple: to give you unparalleled coverage of Orange County’s vibrant and diverse cultural universe.

If you’re reading this, and you care about culture, then you know that Orange County offers a bounty that few places can match.

We have South Coast Repertory, one of the nation’s preeminent theaters for developing new plays; seasons at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, Pacific Symphony, the Philharmonic Society and Soka University that bring the world’s finest artists to our doorstep; the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, renowned for the quality of its dance, Broadway, cabaret, jazz and chamber music series; cutting-edge festivals in dance, theater and film; a century-long tradition of unique plein air painting, and the museum collections to prove it; a picturesque seaside community known worldwide for its summer arts festivals; and robust arts scenes at the community level all over O.C.

The cultural future coalesces here, too – at South Coast Repertory’s New Play Festival and Chapman University’s film school, one of the country’s best; UC Irvine’s nationally respected dance, writing and theater departments; and performing arts high schools such as Santa Ana’s Orange County School of the Arts, which has produced Tony winners and TV stars. Many arts graduates are employed here, at Blizzard Entertainment, a video-industry giant, and the homegrown fashion houses that have risen up around O.C.’s surf culture – brand names that dominate the world market.

Of course, there are other cultures thriving here that traditional media has covered only sporadically. Little Saigon is home to a studio-recording industry with international reach. Spanish-language theater has long been a fixture in Santa Ana.

Complex and often deep-rooted cultural traditions flourish right under our noses, unnoticed because their value has been ignored or dismissed, from UC Irvine’s hip-hop dance crews to a high-end car customization and restoration subculture. Quinceañera dressmakers create stunning works of fashion, often displayed in modest stores that are endangered by gentrification. Small but fiercely competitive dance schools produce technically dazzling contest winners. Over the last century, seminal architects such as Richard Neutra, Rudolf Schindler and Joseph Eichler have found Orange County to be the ideal lab for their innovative ideas. More recently, carmakers have followed suit, developing trend-setting new models here.

We want to celebrate all the arts and cultures of Orange County. We also want to cover them seriously, with an eye toward uncovering news, assessing shows, artists, craftspeople and products, and commenting with fearlessness, vigor and insight on what we see and experience.

Writing for Arts & Culture, you will find experienced arts writers, many of whom you already know. Together, we represent over a century of cumulative experience and institutional knowledge. We’ll also be introducing writers with talent, expertise and new insights.

To do our jobs well, we need your help and input. We hope to establish a close, continuous and fruitful relationship with you, the people who follow the arts and cultures of Orange County. You’re the reason we formed this website – and you’re vital to its future health. Start a dialogue with us. Your feedback is essential. So is your participation in the cultural life of Orange County. Its destiny and yours are intertwined.

Paul Hodgins is the senior editor of Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at phodgins@voiceofoc.org.