The artist group Workshop for Community Arts organized eight artists to paint a Plaza Santa Ana mural at the intersection of 4th and French streets by Dec. 13, according to the O.C. Register.
We promoted the WCA’s call for artists in a post we published on Sep 4, 2013
But the mural isn’t going to happen after all – it was killed by the current Acting City Manager of Santa Ana, Carlos Rojas, who is also the City’s Police Chief.
The question is – who killed the mural? And was that maybe for the best?
Eric Cocoletzi and Keex, over at Santanero, wrote a post about what happened Here are a few excerpts:
- Ryan Chase is one of the key figures in the story of the mural because he was able to obtain the wall for WCA by reaching out to the city. As far as finances, Ryan had agreed to donate between $800.00 and $1,000.00 during the initial stages of the mural and to maintain the mural after it was finished.
- Ryan can’t seem to get a break when it comes to funding or spearheading new projects either on his property or city property. Almost every new idea he has implemented has produced a stick up someone’s a** in the city.
- Two of the most vocal people, specifically with regards to the lack of process, have been United Artists of Santa Ana (UASA) member and OC Film Fiesta director Sandra “Pocha” Peña and Victor Payan, Creative Director for OC Film Fiesta and also member of UASA.
- In an email to the City (click here), “Pocha states that the artists are “inexperienced” and that United Artists of Santa Ana and El Centro Cultural De Mèxico were “completely left out and discouraged from participating in the project.”
- After reading Pocha’s letter to the city, Lara Montagne, Co-Founder and Executive Director of The Grain Project, contacted us to correct the account Pocha parlayed to the city. In clear language, Lara refutes Pocha’s complaint that community members were “completely left out of and discouraged from participating in the project,” and states that The Grain Project’s collaborative outreach and planning with WCA has been vast and inclusive. In addition to WCA’s outreach, Lara details The Grain Project’s own outreach efforts: posted bilingual invites on their Facebook page on August 19th, September 3rd, September 13th, as well as other dates; bilingual emails with flyers sent to 100 plus members in the community, including Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities, group leaders (including El Centro), business owners, school teachers, residents, neighborhood associations, and reporters; made a bilingual public announcement during Art Walk in between bands’ performance at Plaza Santa Ana; as well as reached out to the community by talking to people on the street and passing out bilingual flyers at community events.
- “In [Pocha’s letter], Pocha claims we (and WCA) do not have experience doing murals. On the contrary, The Grain Project has organized, collaborated (often w/a leadership role), and/or sponsored on many murals and community art projects to date, all projects that emphasize diversity, bridge-building, community engagement and empowerment.
- All of the artists involved in the project have years of experience as artists and some of them also have plenty of mural experience. Also, El Centro and UASA were never officially banned or excluded from any meetings regarding the mural. Both Pocha and Victor even stated (in our recorded interview) to attending a WCA meeting themselves and that they were never asked to leave or told that they could not enter.
- As I mentioned earlier, the problem/issue has been, amongst some people, that there is currently no official process for painting murals on public walls in Santa Ana. The other concern is that this mural never went through an official Request for Proposal (RFP) process. An RFP for this wall by the city would have opened up the opportunity to paint a mural on that wall to whoever came up with the most appealing proposal in the eyes of the city. But, there never was an RFP.
- I wanted to know how Pocha really felt about the mural and why she felt the way she did. So I asked Pocha for an interview regarding the topic in order to hear her concerns about the project. Weeks before the termination of the mural, we met at Santanero’s old headquarters in the Spurgeon Building in Downtown Santa Ana. We talked about the artists, process, and why she even felt the need to voice her opinion in an email to the city. Her husband, Victor Payan, was also present and expressed his opinions.
- There were more arguments made by the two during the interview, but I checked out their stories and called the people involved in their stories and it turned out that what Pocha and Victor had told me, according to Moises and Adriana (the people they named in those particular stories), were lies. One story Victor told me involved three kids that he supposedly saw canvassing outside of the Fiesta Twin Theatre. He told me that he invited them to come inside the theatre for a screening of one of the films that was showing during the OC Film Fiesta and that he even asked for Adriana and that the kids explained that she had left early. So, I called Adriana to confirm Victor’s story and she explained that there was no WCA issued canvassing or surveys conducted on that day and said that she wasn’t even in the area at the time.
- Another story involved Moises Camacho. Victor told me (again, this is recorded), he and Pocha had a “pretty long conversation with Moises.” The story was that, according to Victor, Moises had told him that as soon as Alicia joined the project, the group began striving for the wall at Plaza Santa Ana instead of it just being a temporary mural. Pocha said, “He said, ‘Once Alicia got involved, it became this real drive to getting the biggest wall…’” Once again, I checked their story out and called Moises myself. He told me they only talked for five minutes and that he never said those things and he was shocked that Victor said that.
- Lying in order to make sure that you get your way, ESPECIALLY when it comes to a community mural, is pretty low. That was honestly one of the lowest points in this story that I experienced and it happened at a point where I had a lot of back and forth conversations about the mural. Like I said during the interview: “It makes me fuckin’ sick.” Sometimes I still think about it and it still makes me sick. Maybe this was the cost of the mural, or the mural that could have been. Relationships, integrity, self-respect…all gambled and disposed of for the sake of one wall.
- The story of the mural has dragged on for weeks now. There were delays regarding permits and the city of Santa Ana’s inability to respond to my questions in a timely manner. I still haven’t gotten some key answers from them. I’ll have to do a follow-up later on. And what’s more, Chase has funded another mural (a permanent mural) right behind the Plaza Santa Ana stage, which would have made it neighbors with the WCA mural. It’s right on the side of the Fiesta Twin Theatre, soon to be called The Frida Cinema.
When I received and read the email from Jose Gonzalez (Professional Standards staff member for the City of Santa Ana) with the attached letter from Carlos Rojas, I felt complete disillusion and disgust. Not because of the reasons that Rojas stated in his letter for deciding to terminate the project. I was disillusioned because it felt like tantrums and straight-up lying killed the mural. It shows how far some people will go to destroy someone’s dream just because they don’t agree with it. This goes beyond under-handedness and heavy-handedness. This goes beyond deceit. How can people do this to other artists while belonging to a group called United Artists of Santa Ana? When I first joined UASA, it was about supporting the local artists that couldn’t get a fair break—that is why I joined. I would never have dreamt that members of UASA would make it a point to thwart a community mural proposed by local artists from Santa Ana—and that is why I quit.
I spoke to Sandra “Pocha” Peña today. She called me to set the record straight. She says that Alicia Rojas did not leave the UASA on good terms. According to Peña, she had worked with Rojas on the mural idea. When Rojas suddenly quit UASA she took the mural idea with her but it had been reduced from what Peñahad originally conceived.
Rojas also contacted me today and she said, in rebuttal to these charges, that she resigned from UASA because “because Pocha and Victor play politics with everything and its divisive and not good for the artists or the community.”
Peñahad originally budgeted $30K for the mural and felt that the project could end up costing double that amount. When you figure scaffolding and fencing alone that is a considerable cost.
Rojas said that “Pocha and Victor had proposed that their close friend Ricardo Duffy would do the wall many months ago. They went behind my back and proposed it to the newly formed Santa Ana Business Council (SABC) with a budget of 60k.”
Rojas added that the proposed deal with the SABC fell apart because they were new at the time and weren’t able or ready to make such decisions.
Rojas also said that “The allegations about me stealing the wall and proposal are false. I came into the project in the first call for artists that the WCA had. I then became part of the organizing team. The wall came about when the OC Register printed an article that the WCA was looking for a wall and someone who knows Chase saw it and contacted him and said “hey these local artists are looking for a wall” so then the WCA submitted around 10 walls to his contact that would be ideal… one of those walls was the Plaza Santa Ana Wall…I guess when Chase contacted the City Staff to talk about possible walls somehow this was the wall chosen when the City saw the proposal of a community wall. I urge you to listen to this interview starting at minute 24 until the end as it talks about that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9AhoQ5ArFk#t=1506.” (Note – Peña says these videos were highly edited and do not include much of what was discussed).
Peña says “Here’s a flyer for WCA canvassing event you (the guys at Santanero) say never happened:”
Whether or not there was a contract in place with the city is contested but Peña’s big issue is the lack of a formal civic RFP process for murals. The Santa Ana Parks and Rec Agency Director, Gerardo Mouet, actually has a decent mural RFP process as he has overseen the painting of murals at several of our city parks. But the Plaza Santa Ana mural was handled by the City’s Community Development Agency.
Rojas said, with regard to the RFP issue, that “How do we create an RFP process that protects community over flashy big names/money and privilege? When we talk about process, we don’t want to limit that to just bureaucratic process – i.e., the establishment of an RFP process – which we are by no means against. We’re also talking about a larger process of community involvement in public art. And when we say there’s an opportunity to set precedent, THAT is what we’re talking about.”
I will let Peña have the last word with regard to the RFP issue, “All we asked for was a fair & open process by which all interested parties could present their proposals for Santa Ana’s most iconic wall.”
Rojas also advised that we “Just listen to this and maybe you can sense and pulse what actually happened. You can start around minute 12. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZHYoJAM2nA.”
So who then is the villain in this story? Or is there a villain at all? Peña would like to see a mural on the wall in question but she envisions this project being run by a master muralist who would train local artists, who could then use that training on other public spaces.
As for Rojas, Peña says that she has apparently hijacked UASA’s Facebook page, which I hope is untrue as that would be quite childish. Peña says that Rojas lives in Huntington Beach and offers this proof of the FB page hijacking:
I am impressed that Ryan Chase would instigate the mural process in the first place but if this entire process was launched by him simply calling someone at City Hall then perhaps the new City Manager needs to make sure that there is a more deliberate process put in place for dealing with these issues. Why, Peña Pena, don’t we have a City Arts Commission? That is a darn good question.
Peña also says, by the way, that she has rebutted most of what was published in Santanero, over at her Twitter feed, at @La_Pocha.
Is there some finality to all this? As you can see above, it is a lot of she said/she said. Peña and Rojas are both smart and they are both passionate about the arts, but they appear to be coming from two different directions. Is there some happy medium? Or is all this angst just part of the deal when it comes to working with creatives?