by Benjamin Russell Perry
photos by Dominic de la Riva
The Santa Ana Community Artist(a) Coalition is a rising player in the Santa Ana arts scene. Comprised of representatives from multiple other organizations, such as The Grain Project, Workshop for Community Arts and MC Gallery, the group is currently centered around producing quality murals with an emphasis on community involvement. Their mission statement, though broad and sweeping in practice, is to the point: To connect artists to their communities through a collaborative process.
This collaborative process is where the Coalition gets interesting, because they are completely inclusive as far as who can get involved. Artists and non-artists alike are encouraged to participate in the group as long as they are interested in furthering the common goal. Chilo Perez, Artist Coordinator for the group, enjoys the inclusivity because it allows more people to become involved in the project and strengthen the foundation. “There are people that are involved in other things that support art and are willing to help out. Painting isn’t their thing, but they are willing to organize and take over the logistics. I think we need that, especially because a lot of artists don’t like to take care of the logistics. It creates a balance.”
The idea of balance continues into other avenues of the Coalition as well, as they focus on meshing their own desires with the vision of community members. Their process for creating the subject for a piece begins with surveying the community in order to discover what kind of images would be most appreciated by day-to-day viewers. After the general surveys, the Coalition holds open planning meetings where people can get further involved. Once everyone’s opinions have been voiced, there are sketching sessions in which artists from the Coalition give life to the community responses through their own skills. Moises Camacho, Art Director, explains the aim of the community process: “It’s not a personal vision of one person, it’s a process by which we went to the community and took their ideas… a true muralist has to listen to community members” in order to interpret their ideas and transport them onto the concrete canvas. The group emphasizes that their work is predominately dictated by the listening process, setting aside many of their own ideas for the sake of holding true to being community artists.
This isn’t always easy to do, Chilo says, “As artists we have somewhat of an ego, and it’s really hard to put that down… Sometimes artists come in with their own idea of what should go on the wall, and that’s when we have to put a stop to it and go back to the process. We have to listen to the interviews, listen to what community members have to say before just doing whatever you like.” These checks and balances issued by other Coalition members help the vision stay true to that of the community. The lead artists on any given project are like the arbiters of the community vision, protecting its kernel of truth through the creation process and seeing it through until the end. The process, says Alicia Rojas, only serves to strengthen the group and brings its goals closer to reality. “The process builds community, it teaches people to listen and compromise, and that’s huge. We don’t always vocalize it, but that’s really what’s happening.”
Once the core members and lead artists have come up with a sketch to serve as the basis for the project, the Coalition begins their call for artists, holding workshops and training sessions to prepare for the project. Community involvement and volunteer artists are key components of the Coalition, although they don’t assume experience, nor require it. Alicia explains that they’re trying to “develop artists’ capacities in mural painting along with organizational and business skills as well. We identify things that need to be done and we ask for people to volunteer to be responsible for those things so they learn these new skills… That’s the beautiful thing, though, we’re all learning.”
The emphasis on education and enlightenment is also a key component to the Coalition and how they are giving back to the community. “We’re planting a seed in people that have never painted or have ever been involved in the arts,” Chilo says. “And that’s a big part of our vision, to inspire people to get into the arts, pick up a brush and just go for it… I think a lot of the volunteering comes from the environment that we’re creating. It’s very positive, organic, and usually we’re just having fun.” And, though they’re having fun, there is still a structure in place to ensure a quality end result. “We have the vision of the lead artists,” Alicia explains, “We have a sketch, we have an idea of what it’s going to look like, so it’s easy for anybody to come and participate because there’s guidance.”
This guidance, coupled with the talent and dedication of the team, has created an environment in which individual skills can thrive. No matter if an individual’s talents are artistic or otherwise, it’s probable that they can be beneficial to furthering the Coalition’s goal of connecting artists (and people in general) to their city through collaborative efforts.
The community enjoyment with being part of the arts is also aimed at bettering the city. Alicia Rojas explains, “Art is a catalyst for social change… It opens up dialogue and makes people want to be inclusive with how their community looks. It’s a sense of pride.”
At the moment, their mission is being put into place behind Macres Flower Shop on the corner of 5th and Broadway. The sixteen by twenty-four foot wall was donated by Ryan Chase after the kerfuffle surrounding the Plaza Santa Ana Mural. Since then, there has been an anonymous donation of $800 and a $500 donation given by S&A Properties to help the project proceed.
And proceed it has. The piece behind Macres Flower Shop is a beautiful psychedelic rendition of St. Anne (the city’s namesake) combined with the idea of Mother Nature. The woman is blowing a kiss full of the hopes and dreams of the city’s community members right into the streets. “We took a lot of the input from the surveys we conducted for the Plaza Santa Ana mural,” Adriana Alexander explains, “and combined them with the subject matter of the location [of Macres Flower Shop].” The responses they received from the surveys were predominately positive and optimistic about the future. “People don’t want to see violence,” says Chilo Perez, “they’re tired of it. They want to see something peaceful, artistic.”
If you’d like to help The Santa Ana Community Artist(a) Coalition with their goals and bringing a little more peace and beauty into the community, you can get in touch with the group via their Facebook.
List of Core Members:
• Adriana Alexander (Workshop for Community Arts)
• Moises Camacho (MC Gallery) – Art Director
• Elizabeth Cardenas (Independent Artist) – Lead Artist for Macres Mural
• Kimberly Duran (Independent Artist) – Lead Artist for Macres Mural
• Roger Eyes R (Independent Artist)
• Lara Montagne (The Grain Project)
• Stacey Patino (Independent Artist)
• Chilo Perez (Workshop for Community Arts) – Artist Coordinator
• Alicia Rojas (Independent Artist)
• Debra Russell (Workshop for Community Arts)