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The annual Boca de Oro Festival of Literary, Visual & Performing Arts is typically held in Downtown Santa Ana as a free event bringing together local and regional artists, poets and authors. With large in-person events discouraged this year because of COVID-19, the festival will continue its celebration online and through other avenues. 

The Boca de Oro Festival will hold online sessions March 5 from 6-9 p.m., and March 6 and 7 from 2-6 p.m. For those interested in attending, registration is required and can be found on its website.

“We work very hard to foster as much local artists’ participation to make Santa Ana a literary hub. And we speak about literacies, like their artistic literacies,” said Robyn MacNair, co-founder of the Boca de Oro Festival. 

Boca de Oro 2021 Festival Highlights

  • “Feliz: An American Play” will be presented by The Wayward Artist, an ensemble of dramatic artists from Orange County. The panel will be an open and personal conversation speaking out about the Latinx experience in the entertainment industry, as well as what it means to create and uplift Latinx stories in the theater world. 
  • An international reading from authors around the world in Brazil, Australia, Mexico and other countries about social justice will be presented by Writers Resist, an intersectional feminist literary journal. 
  • The Orange County Puppetry Guild, a group of multi-leveled puppeteers, will share tips on how to create puppets out of materials typically found in an everyday household. 

“Even with everything that we have going on right now, the arts are incredibly important to keep us motivated, to keep us engaged, to keep us, you know, moving as a culture and as a society,” said Sabrina Skeels, who is part of the Boca de Oro team and works for the Santa Ana Unified School District as a visual performing arts curriculum specialist.

Each year, the festival has a theme, and so far, each theme has related to ancient Greek culture. This year’s theme is “Historic Memory, Vision and Dreams” and is dedicated to Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory in Greek mythology. 

Mnemosyne is the mother of the nine muses, who represent epic poetry, history, love poetry, music, tragedy, sacred poetry, dance and comedy. Last year’s Boca de Oro Festival was dedicated to the nine muses. 

In Greece, the oracle of Trophonius was thought to be the entrance of the underworld where two springs called Lethe and Mnemosyne were located. Drinking from the river of Lethe leads the individual to forget all of one’s memories, while drinking from the river of Mnemosyne insighted artists, poets and musicians to remember the memories and culture of the ancient world. 

“It’s about how the artists and poets bring back the memory of the world,” said Madeleine Spencer, co-founder of the Boca de Oro Festival. “Figuring out where are we going? Where is our future? And where are we heading?”

With 156 presenters, the festival will be hosting 109 online sessions over the three-day celebration. While some of the sessions will be pre-recorded, most sessions will be live and archived for participants to come back and rewatch, or attend sessions they missed previously, MacNair said. 

The sessions include workshops, performances and discussion panels focused on visual, literary and performing arts. 

MacNair said the Boca de Oro Festival is intended to bring the community together in all scopes from teachers and students, to local authors and artists, to bigger names such as the keynote speakers Pete Souza and Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

Souza is a New York Times No.1 bestselling author and artist. 

Pete Sousa Credit: Photo courtesy of Boca de Oro

“He’s an artist. He’s a photographer. He’s a historian. He’s a published author. We were looking at all of that,” MacNair said. “And considering like, we have photography programs and artists in our community — he has all those things .… So we all thought that would be amazing. Let’s just see if we can get him.”

In awe after watching a documentary about Souza called “The Way I See It,” the Boca team took advantage of an otherwise difficult and potentially expensive request had it not been for this year’s online platform. Much to the team’s delight (and surprise), Souza agreed to be a keynote speaker and will be broadcasting live on March 6 at 2 p.m. 

Marc Bamuthi Joseph Credit: Photo courtesy of Boca de Oro

Closing the festival on Sunday night will be poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Bamuthi Joseph is a spoken-word artist, dancer and educator whom MacNair calls “brilliant” and “profound.”

Switching from in-person events to entirely virtual events can be a difficult task for any event organizers. But Spencer and MacNair are more focused on all the progress they made and the obstacles they’ve been able to tackle. 

Last year featured the launch of the Boca de Oro Book Fair. Not wanting to get rid of this feature, the Boca de Oro team came up with another solution. 

Now the book fair has changed gears and has become a local outreach campaign in an effort to continue to spread literacy throughout Santa Ana neighborhoods in the form of the Boca de Oro Free Lending Libraries Campaign

“Books are very important to kids, and to be able to place at least one library that they can walk to is going to make such an impact on these kids’ lives,” said Marta Rodriguez Ramirez, the neighborhood organizer tasked with helping to get neighborhoods signed up.

The lending libraries are small cabinets that contain books, and are permanently placed on a curator’s property. Each book in the cabinet is free to grab, with readers encouraged to swap out a book from the cabinet with one from their own collection. 

While the Boca de Oro team currently has about half of the 64 Santa Ana neighborhoods signed up for a lending library, it is still looking for curators. If you are interested in hosting a lending library in your neighborhood, contact Madeleine Spencer at mspencer@sabcinc.com to see if your neighborhood is available. 

Kristina Garcia is a writing fellow for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at kristinamgarcia6@gmail.com.

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