Local Santa Ana artist Tony Pedraza was arrested and charged with a felony for merely painting a utility box mural that he felt would enrich and beautify the city, according to an online petition page that is asking that all charges against him be dropped.
The OC Weekly reported the details of what happened to Tony:
Tony Pedraza, a young muralist and painter from SanTana, painted the gunmetal gray caja after noticing other utility boxes in the city’s downtown were being decorated through a city-commissioned art beautification program. Three days into his own project, a police officer approached Pedraza and asked if he had a permit; Pedraza answered no.
The police officer then asked Pedraza why he was painting the box. “I just told him I saw other boxes around that had been painted on and I was frustrated with the way they looked, like there wasn’t a lot of effort put into them. So I decided to do my own box for the city, for free,” Pedraza says.
The arresting officer told Pedraza to put his paint brush down and placed him in the detain position. More police arrived to document the scene, and Pedraza was taken to the station for questioning.
“It’s funny–as the police were taking my fingerprints, they were telling me how much they liked my work and how cool my painting was,” Pedraza said. Nine hours later, Pedraza was released from the detention cell, newly charged with defacement of property and possession of materials with intent to vandalize, and with an order to appear in court on August 29th.
The Utility Box Art Project (UBAP) was initiated by Santa Ana City Council last October to promote the arts and connect the community to more public art in the city. “This is an opportunity to beautify the city, invest in the arts, and provide another way for local artists to showcase their work in a unique way,” Jay Trevino, Executive Director of Strategic Planning, said back then. Cities like Garden Grove, Los Angeles and Berkeley have already adopted similar programs.
Officials released a call for artists to send proposals for designs on utility boxes by flyer, and the call circulated through social media, email, and word of mouth. The artists chosen each received a grant award of $700 as well as up to $200 reimbursement of materials. Members of the United Artists of Santa Ana, Ryan Chase of Downtown Inc, and John Spiak of Grand Central Art Center were among those who served as members of the jury overseeing the selection process of the artists and ultimately assigning utility boxes in the downtown area to seven artists.
News of the project slipped past Pedraza and other artists, who only learned of UBAP as it was already underway. Pedraza states he was deeply curious about how to go about being a part of the project, and may have encountered some bad advice. “I went up to an artist working on one of the utility boxes and asked how I could paint my own box, and he said to just go for it, as long as I look professional doing it,” he said. “Looking back, I guess I was asking the wrong person, or getting bad advice.”
We have an all-Latino City Council and a Latino City Manager as well as a Latino Chief of Police – and NONE of them are sticking up for Tony? We also have a former City Council Member, Claudia Alvarez, at the OCDA’s office. C’mon people! Stand up for Tony and let’s get these charges dropped.
UPDATE: Local artist Alicia Rojas says that Councilman David Benavides has responded. But he is not the Council Member who represents Downtown Santa Ana. That would be Council Member Michele Martinez. Why she is MIA on this issue is a very good question.