Arts & Culture Series:


At the end of last year, it seemed like every beat journalist in America was making grand summations of the previous decade. We opted not to follow that trend. Instead, the arts team at Voice of OC has decided to look ahead and make some predictions about what’s going to happen in Orange County between now and the end of 2029.

This month, we focus on the county’s museums and visual arts scene.

February: Theater/big stages, by Paul Hodgins
April: Dance, by Laura Bleiberg
May: Music, by Timothy Mangan

Expansion, accessibility, digitizing collections and sustainability.

These are themes that Orange County visual arts institutions are emphasizing as they look at the decade ahead.

Even though this new year and new decade are still young, they have still proven to be quite unpredictable, with dramatic shifts in politics, the economy, and even in the sense of safety and health in public gathering spaces. The COVID-19 outbreak, which was just a news item in a distant land at the start of the year, has now metastasized into a daily concern among museums, galleries, public art spaces and institutions of higher learning.

Nonetheless, cultural work in the visual arts continues, and local museums and art institutions are sticking to their ambitious plans for the future.


In Costa Mesa at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, construction of the new, $73 million Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) is well underway. Two sheer walls have gone up on the east side of the structure, located off Avenue of the Arts.

The foundation markers have been completed, and steel is expected to start going up in April, according to Todd D. Smith, CEO and director of OCMA. Passersby should start seeing the skeleton of the building in summer or early fall, he said.

The 53,000-square-foot facility — designed by Pritzker Prize-winner Thom Mayne and his Culver City firm, Morphosis — is expected to open in fall 2021.

An artist rendering of the new OCMA building from the Julia and George Argyros Plaza of OCMA’s main entrance, located near Richard Serra’s monumental sculpture, “Connector.” Credit: Image courtesy of Morphosis Architects.

“On the engagement side, the opportunity to have art fans coming to Segerstrom Center for other performances or other reasons, and then come to the museum, offers opportunities for collaboration,” Smith said. “It becomes really quite an enormous opportunity for us. To think across disciplines, engage with performers and museum-goers — there are new audiences for performing arts and others. If the museum doesn’t figure out how to do it, it’s a missed opportunity for all of us.”

On the programming side, OCMA will continue to showcase large exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century art, featuring California, national and international artists.

“We’re considering the whole of the Pacific Rim, which is 40 countries,” Smith said. “We’re looking at artists throughout the region. We’re continuing to build our collection around 20th- and 21st-century artists. And our expansion will include media such as design, architecture — some of the areas we have not been known for in the past. We’re much more encompassing the interests of the art world and exhibition goers.”

Smith would not say whether OCMA would continue its California-Pacific Triennial, which started as the California Biennial in 1984.

However, the museum is hiring a chief curator and a director of development this year. Nonprofit arts council Arts OC is aiding in the search for a development director, and OCMA has hired a national firm for the chief curator search.

In Old Towne Orange, Chapman University’s Hilbert Museum of California Art is also looking to expand. The current 7,500-square-foot facility, which used to be an auto repair garage and warehouse/storage space, is aiming to triple its size, with a museum of 21,000 to 28,500 square feet. The Hilbert Museum will take over the dance studio and dance department next door, build a second floor and create a connecting hall between the two existing buildings.

The exterior of the Hilbert Museum of California Art, which will undergo a major expansion, nearly tripling its size. Credit: Photo courtesy of Hilbert Museum

The price of the expansion will be about $14 million, said founder and chief benefactor Mark Hilbert. He is an art collector and managing partner of a Newport Beach-based property management firm.

Though discussions are ongoing with Chapman University, which owns and operates the museum, a groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for fall of 2021, with doors opening between fall of 2022 and early 2023.

“I’m very optimistic,” Hilbert said during a recent interview. “There’s no question about Chapman’s commitment. They love the museum, and they recognize what an important piece the museum brings to the university. Everyone I’ve talked to is committed.

“The money’s been allocated. It’s just a matter of going with the construction. We’ve got the team already in place.”

The Quest Continues

Down in Irvine at another institution of higher learning, UC Irvine, a different museum of California art is in the works. But the future of that structure is not as clear.

UCI’s Institute and Museum of California Art (IMCA) will be built on or around campus, on the foundations of two massive, enormously valuable collections — the Gerald E. Buck Collection and the Irvine Museum Collection. In 2017, the Buck Collection was valued between $30 million and $40 million, and in 2016, the Irvine Museum Collection was valued at $17 million.

In 2018, Stephen Barker, dean of UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts and then executive director of IMCA, said the museum and research institute would be built on Campus Drive, adjacent to the Irvine Barclay Theatre.

The building was projected to be 100,000 square feet, with 45,000 to 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, and cost between $150 million and $200 million. A groundbreaking was projected within the next five years, which would have been by 2023.

By fall of 2019, the museum was supposed to move into a 16,000-square-foot interim location on the UC Irvine campus. The interim IMCA was expected to be on California Avenue in the research section of UCI, near the medical school.

But those plans were abandoned when UCI hired Kim Kanatani as its new museum director. Kanatani came from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, where she served as deputy director and director of education.

Kanatani is well regarded by her peers and the university, but she has indicated that the museum, its staff and UCI are still in the strategic planning process. That won’t be complete for a few months, she said, so it’s essentially back to the drawing board on this ambitious project.

Digitizing Collections

Across the board in Orange County, art institutions are moving toward digitizing their collections and making them available to the public online.

OCMA, the Bowers Museum and the Laguna Art Museum are doing this, and one can even view selected works from UCI IMCA on its website,

“Mount Wilson,” circa 1935, an oil on canvas by Henrietta Shore, on view now at the UCI Institute and Museum of California Art, part of the “Sublime Wonderlands” exhibition. The work is from the Irvine Museum Collection at the University of California, Irvine. Credit: Image courtesy of IMCA

Laguna Art Museum — which has more than 3,000 works in its permanent collection — has made great strides in providing images and biographies of artists on its website. The artists are organized in alphabetical order, and the biographies, the artists’ connections to the museum, and the artworks pop up when a name is chosen.

The Bowers Museum holds more than 91,000 works in its collection, which includes Native American art, art of the Pacific, Asia and Africa, Pre-Columbian art and a South American ethnographic collection. The museum and its staff have begun scanning works and inputting background details on objects.

“We’re putting them online, so they’ll be available for free, anywhere in the world,” said Peter Keller, president and CEO of the Bowers for almost 30 years. “We’re continuing with education, posting things online and engagement. We want to provide greater access.”

Much of the Bowers’ collections address specific curricular needs in California and Orange County schools.

“Third graders are studying the American Indians,” Keller said. “Fifth and sixth graders are studying Egypt and ancient cultures. We just digitized some amazing treasures from (journalist Henry Morton) Stanley and (explorer David) Livingstone and his search for the Nile. It’s one of the trends of the future, and it’s definitely a high priority.”

Incidentally, Keller, who is 72, said he anticipates retiring in the next 10 years, so the Bowers may have a presidential search on its hands over the next decade.

“It has to be someone who has a passion for the subject, not just a businessman,” Keller observed. “The hard part is finding someone who has relationships around the world to make these things happen. Southern California, Orange County, as you know, is kind of a unique place, so it will be difficult to come in from the outside without knowing anyone.”


One important ethic for those in the art business is the idea of sustainability and environmental preservation.

We can witness this effort across industries, from vehicle manufacturing and energy production to architecture and food and beverage consumption. In fashion, there has been a renewed effort to create sustainable clothing from “green” or pre-existing materials to maintain socially equitable working conditions and conserve resources.

Locally, the Laguna Art Museum (LAM) has been pursuing an “Art & Nature” program and annual festival for seven years. It started in 2013 with Santa Cruz-based artist Jim Denevan creating lighted designs on Main Beach. Most recently, Greek American artist Yorgo Alexopoulos built a time-based video installation in 2019 that transformed geometric and landscape symbols into metaphoric characters representing constructs of our collective subconscious.

According to Bernadette Clemens, LAM’s director of advancement, the museum “is preparing to reveal plans for the second century of its sustainable success at its fall gala event on Sept. 26 at the Festival of Arts.”

LAM is also preparing for the 10th anniversary of “Art & Nature” in 2022, as well as a special collaborative project in the context of the Getty Foundation’s 2024 “Pacific Standard Time: Art x Science x LA,” Clemens said.


In Anaheim, Orange County’s most populous city, the possibility of a $700 million Anaheim Performing Arts Center, located where the City National Grove of Anaheim now stands, has greatly diminished since the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim baseball team purchased the land and stadium late last year. Dr. Howard Knohl, a retired radiologist and chairman of the board of the Anaheim Performing Arts Center Foundation, had dreamed of putting his 80,000-piece art collection on display in a museum within the proposed Arts Center complex. Now, with new owner Arte Moreno eyeing more of an entertainment, shopping and hotel/residential hub like L.A. Live, Knohl and the foundation may have to look elsewhere.

Meanwhile in downtown Anaheim at Muzeo (formerly the Anaheim Museum), making exhibits and events accessible to the community continues to be a key goal.

“We have a partnership with the AESD (Anaheim Elementary School District); we’re involving them quite a bit more,” said Della Rose, director of education and exhibitions at Muzeo. “We like to bring them in for events.”

Currently on view in the main gallery building is “National Geographic’s 50 Greatest Photographs,” which runs through Aug. 16. On pedestals throughout the exhibit, local organizations such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and OC Parks have contributed educational mini-exhibits that correspond with specific images.

The second annual Chicano/ Latino “Proud to Be Me” Festival will be April 18.

May 9 will be a Community Art Day, sponsored by Anaheim Public Utilities. The goal will be to provide local homeless shelters and senior centers with beautiful, original paintings and artworks.

Esperanza High School from Anaheim will have a ceramics exhibition at Muzeo from May 8-24. Other upcoming shows in 2020 include the Anaheim Art Association’s annual juried exhibition and the Anaheim Elementary School District’s student art exhibition.

In 2022, Muzeo’s main gallery will present “Untold Stories: Japanese Americans in Orange County.”

For Todd Smith at OCMA, and for art institutions throughout Orange County, there’s an ongoing tension between “the priority of the object, versus the priority of the experience with the object.”

“We’re in the business of collecting for posterity,” he said. “But we’re also exhibiting (artworks) and trying to open up the conversation. That’s part of the excitement of museums right now. We’re trying to engage with the audience.

“We’re also respectful of individuals, that they’re each entering at a different point. Some are communing with the object. Some want the social experience. It ranges — we just have to be as accessible as possible. We want to provide points of access where people need them.

“We’re learning new ways of doing that. We’re trying to understand where they are, and meeting them there.”

Richard Chang is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC, focusing on the visual arts. He can be reached at

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