A Busy and Rewarding Inaugural Year for VOC’s Arts & Culture Section

JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Terry Sullivan, left, and Dena Sommer with their dog Laurel in front of "Centenial Door." The sculpture is by Carlos Terres, erected in honor of Brea’s 2017 centennial celebration.

2019 was an eventful year for the Arts & Culture section at Voice of OC – our first full year of publication. It was also a year of pleasant surprises, culminating with a national award.

When we started in September 2018, our aims were ambitious, even if our means were modest. We wanted to follow the county’s diverse and vibrant cultural scene as it deserved to be followed, with in-depth stories, breaking news, profiles, trend pieces and reviews.

Fortunately, we had the talent to punch far above our weight: a skilled and enthusiastic group of veteran journalists, most of them former staffers at The Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times, who already knew their beats intimately. They delivered all year long.

Here’s a sampling of our best work from 2019:

In February, we broke a fascinating and important story about an unexpected change of leadership at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The news was announced quietly on a Friday afternoon, as bombshells often are. We sunk our teeth into the story on day one, soundly beating the competition, and kept following it as the details unfolded.

Photo courtesy of the Skylar Campbell Dance Collective

Members of the Skylar Campbell Dance Collective

We broke other important stories as well. One of the biggest was the announcement that a new all-star dance company with deep local connections will perform its first concert in Orange County.

We also made sure we included news items about significant events.

The new Orange County Museum of Art broke ground, and we were there. New leaders were announced for South Coast Repertory and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. We followed the intriguing saga of a venerable theater company’s fight with its landlord, the city of Garden Grove, and were delighted that the story had a happy ending, thanks in part to our coverage.

John Walcutt in the Festival Amphitheater, the venue where Shakespeare/Summerfest Orange County performed until its recent dispute with the City of Garden Grove and LFA Group LLC. (Photo courtesy of SOC).

Some of our stories covered controversial subjects and generated plenty of reader comments, such as the article about a subsidized artists’ housing complex in Santa Ana, which not surprisingly drew its share of critics as well as supporters.

Other stories were heartwarming as well as informational, such as Laura Bleiberg’s beautifully written piece about a couple whose shared interest in public art drew them together.

A few of our pieces garnered national attention and plenty of readers: My profile of actor Hal Landon Jr., who ended his long-running portrayal of Scrooge after a 40-year run, was popular. Tim Mangan’s profile of obscure African-American female composer Florence Price proved to be amazingly successful – it’s become one of the most viewed articles ever published on the Voice of OC website.

Our writers also produced an impressive body of ambitious and thought-provoking longer pieces. Peter Lefevre’s clear-eyed look at O.C.’s opera scene drew a national audience. Richard Chang’s story about a whitewashed mural in Santa Ana was the source of some lively back-and-forth. Another in-depth piece examined how the changing demographics of downtown Santa Ana threatened the neighborhood’s quinceañera dressmakers.

Julie Leopo/VOICE OF OC

White paint covers a mural by Sergio O’Cadiz. The mural on Raitt Street in Santa Ana was originally installed in 1994 and painted over by the property owner.

We were rewarded for our efforts. Three Arts & Culture stories were honored at this year’s Orange County Press Club Awards. And at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards in November, we took first place in the Commentary Analysis/Trend category for the Arts & Culture section’s inaugural article,  “Is It Time for Local Arts Leadership to Reflect a Changing World?”

We hope to top ourselves over the next 12 months. We plan to expand our coverage in 2020, and we have several large stories in the works that will examine some of Orange County’s most fascinating and under-appreciated cultural communities and treasures.

Our greatest success, of course, has been attracting a faithful and lively body of readers and donors. Thank you for supporting us, and keep reading.

We also count on you to keep us on top of our game. If there’s something you think we should cover, let us know!

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