Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Open Letter by United Artists of Santa Ana

Dear Patrons and Supporters of the Arts,

As professional artists and arts organizations based in the City of Santa Ana, the United Artists of Santa Ana (UASA) is requesting your support in taking action to save the Santora Arts Building as a facility for professional artists and the Santa Ana Artists Village as a place for free expression and artistic production. The Santora Arts Building is currently involved in a sale that could drastically impact the future of the downtown Santa Ana Artists Village and set back two decades of public investment in Santa Ana’s creative industry. We are reaching out to you, because the purchase of the building is imminent and your support is critical to Save the Santora.

Over the last 20 years, Downtown Santa Ana has built a national reputation as a City for the Arts. Key to this endeavor has been the substantial investment of public money in the historic Santora Arts Building and the Santa Ana Artists Village. Over one million dollars in public redevelopment funds were invested in the effort to create a professional hub for artists and an enriching cultural space for Santa Ana’s residents and Orange County’s diverse population.

After all this work, the visionary goal of making Santa Ana a destination for art is finally becoming a reality, attracting world-renowned artists from around the globe to the Santora and arts organizations like Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA), Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) and the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA). Programs at the Artists Village receive recognition at the national level, and the vibrant variety of restaurants and shops make the Artists Village Promenade a welcoming destination for diverse visitors from all walks of life.

In April, Santa Ana’s artist community learned that the Santora Arts Building, the crowning jewel of the Artists Village, was being sold to Irvine-based NewSong church, which announced plans to turn the building into a worship center for their religious and missionary work. These plans would irreparably harm the economy, purpose and quality of life of the Artists Village.

In an effort to protect the public investment in the Artists Village, the arts community of Downtown Santa Ana is requesting that NewSong Pastor Dave Gibbons, current Santora owner Mike Harrah, the City of Santa Ana and all potential buyers sign a binding agreement to safeguard the public trust and uphold the two decades of public investment that created a thriving arts center in the heart of downtown Santa Ana.

Since the 1930s, the Santora Arts Building has been a vital part of the California arts and motion picture communities. Today it is a valuable resource for professional artists and students in architecture, photography, film, video, performance and visual art.

Instructors at local colleges regularly send students to the historic Santora to shoot videos, observe art, conduct interviews and write papers. In the adjoining promenade students come to put on events, fashion shows, set up easels to paint the beautiful fountain and the Spanish Colonial Revival Santora.

The galleries in the Santora and the organizations in the Artists Village provide free or low-cost access to quality artwork and high-level intellectual discourse.

In an era of budget cutbacks for schools, the value of the Santora to students has increased. Instructors appreciate the freedom of expression we offer their students and the valuable professional, curatorial and business skills they learn from the gallery owners.

By talking to professional artists, students and patrons participate in discussions that broaden their horizons and make them more informed and engaged citizens. The free exchange of ideas, techniques and professional experience is vital to the development of Santa Ana’s downtown and critical to its emergence as an important center for art.

The Artists Village respects freedom of expression and provides an environment free of discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender or sexual orientation. The concern that the sale of the Santora building to an owner who does not share these values, such as an evangelical church, is of primary importance, due to the vast amount of public money that has been spent to develop and invest in the Santora and Artists Village as a place for art.

Additionally, the presence of a church or other evangelical organization would seriously disrupt the harmony of the Artists Village and interfere with the artists’ ability to pursue their livelihood and conduct business in peace.

We as professional Artists, Arts Professionals, and Arts Organizations have agreed that the Preservation of the Arts in the Santora Arts Building needs to be the primary focus for any potential buyer of the Santora. We are dedicated to obtaining a formal agreement dedicated to preserving: free community access to publically funded art resources, ongoing support of individual artists, and additional investment for artist-driven businesses within the historic Santora Arts Building.

As a diverse community of creative professionals who value our protected freedoms, UASA looks forward to meeting with NewSong Church to see if we can together work in good faith to sign an agreement that protects the Santora Arts Building artists, provides long-term leases for current tenants and supports the Artists Village as a place for free expression and the creation of art. We ask for a formal discussion with representation in which to voice our concerns and a series of mediated sessions in which to negotiate an agreement that meets with the collective art community’s approval.

At this time we are also asking the greater Southern California Art Community to sign our petition and support our UASA artists booth at the upcoming May Santa Ana Art Walk, Saturday – May 5th from 6pm-10pm.

Please support our request for a binding agreement to protect the public investment in the Santora Arts Building as a professional artists’ and preserve the quality of life in the Artists Village. Join the many citizens of Santa Ana, business owners, tax payers and Artist Village patrons who also support discrimination-free access to publicly funded art resources, ongoing support of individual artists, and additional investment for artist-driven businesses within the historic Santora Arts Building.

Also visit our online donation and sales page:

All donated funds will go to support our promotional efforts, retain council, and finance our upcoming Santora Arts Building Anniversary Celebration this July.

We will also bring our petition and concerns to the Mayor & City Council on Monday, May 7th at 6pm. Please join us and/or encourage your local representative to support our efforts. For more info about our cause, please visit our FB page:

Yours in Art,

The United Artists of Santa Ana

Click here to see a press release about the purchase of the Santora building, from the Newsong Church.

By Editor

The New Santa Ana blog has been covering news, events and politics in Santa Ana since 2009.

4 thoughts on “Santora artists demand that the Newsong church sign an arts agreement”
  1. Much can be said about the Santora Building, but an art hub isn’t one of them. The building is a fine example of Churrigueresque style. For those unfamiliar with the term, Churrigueresque refers to a Spanish Baroque style of complicated sculptural architectural ornament which emerged as a manner of stucco decoration in Spain in the late 17th century and was used up to about 1750. It is marked by extreme, expressive and extravagant decorative detailing, normally found above the entrance on the main facade of a building.

    The outside of the building is wonderful, the inside; not so much. Upon entering, your expectations plummet into the sad interior. Old carpet, dingy walls, poor lighting. Lots of empty or closed gallery spaces and the ones that are open are probably best left closed. There is hardly ever a good reason to climb the grand double staircase as most all the upstairs galleries are closed even during artwalk.

    It’s easy to write a letter of demands to an owner, but how about showing your love for the building by renting out a gallery space and filling it with art? If you loved the building, why not buy some art?

    If these artists actually made money on their work, then other artists would be inspired to open up galleries in the building and it would thrive. I know it’s a dirty word to artists, but commerce drives success. This 20 year social experiment is coming to a close. Let’s face it, Santa Ana probably won’t be the artist mecca they had hoped for and outside of Grand Central and OCCCA what else is there to see?
    (Even the lazy artists in residence at Grand Central keep their blinds down during an artwalk.)

    If I owned the building, I’d dump it too. Who knows, maybe the congregation at NewSong are interested in a Mark Ryden print.

  2. The artists in the Santora are paying their rent and making enough money through their art to keep the doors open. The sad state of the interior you reference is due to current Santora owner Mike Harrah’s neglect of the building. Yes, the same Mike Harrah who is touting the fabulousness of the new high-end 37-storey building he is building just down the street.

    I don’t understand why Harrah does not keep the Santora cleaner, though, because he is raising the artists’ rents and has a toady of a building manager harrassing them if they don’t pay on time.

    Even beloved Santora artist Joe Musil’s amazing gallery was quickly emptied and rented out shortly after his passing, with no regard to his amazing theater restoration models or his importance in the national arts community.

    Talk to artists and they will tell you about the leaks, etc., that Harrah did not see fit to repair. The state of the carpet, lights and walls are Harrah’s doing, not the artists.

    Harrah also received $500,000 in City money to renovate the building and signed a contract to keep it at 80% artist occupancy. Unfortunately, he never told the artists about it and Cindy Nelson, Deputy City Manager for Development Services, denied the contract existed, even though her signature was on it. Once the contract was discovered, via a Freedom of Information Act request, she quickly and conveniently retired, exit stage left. Unfortunately, it was discovered just after it expired.

    All the artists are asking for is the fair deal they were swindled out of. The new owners should respect this agreement and the City Attorney should look into why the contract was not divulged to the artists.

    And to address your note about the Art Walk, the gallery owners and the Art Walk organizers were planning how to better integrate the Santora and its artists into the Art Walk to boost sales and visibility when they discovered the building was in escrow to a church that wants to turn it into a worship center. According to the OC Register, Harrah denied the deal was going down. The opposite was true. Now do you understand why the artists are mobilizing? Please help them get the fair deal. They are reaching out to NewSong, Harrah and any potential new owners to do the right thing. Support the effort to Save the Santora.

  3. It’s too bad that there is such a disconnect between the building owner and the tenants. I’ve been going to ArtWalk for years and really have to push myself to even cross the threshold of that horror show. If it’s true that the building owner has received money from the taxpayers, then clearly he didn’t spend all of it on the building.

    I WANT to be supportive but most of the work I’ve seen on display has been less than great. There is a vast difference between the qaulity of the work being displayed at OCCCA and the galleries at Santora. It’s like swap meet vs. gallery.

    I took lots of people up the stairs to visit with Joseph Musil, but once he left the trip upstairs became harder and harder.

    The place is dark and dirty and very uninviting and worst of all, it smells. Maybe the church people will be able to clean it up.

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