The Santa Ana Art Walk

Stroking his coral phoenix pendant and silver hair, painter and musician Memphis Bobby pauses his discussion on epistemological thinking and communism in order to catch the attention of Jimmy Freeman, a man he regards as “the best R&B artist [he] has ever heard.” Freeman smiles approvingly at his friend’s introduction and proceeds to explain his 18 years of homelessness after brief stints with the Marcels and Whispers, while fiercely clutching his guitar and duffel bag.

“I need some help. I need to get the attention of the music industry but all my money goes to bus passes and my time goes to singing on the streets and finding concrete to sleep on,” says Freeman.

Less than 200 meters away from Memphis Bobby and Freeman is the “Individual Stories” exhibit featuring 19 artists from Slovakia in a cultural project about artistic global exchange at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art.

In the Santa Ana art scene, people can easily weave in and out of these different exchanges and experiences between local artists and the larger international conversation about contemporary art. The city attracts a variety of local and international artists but also engages the community to support and participate within its emerging cultural hub.

The city hosts an art walk on the first Saturday of every month from 7 to 10 p.m. along the 2nd Street Promenade where artists, artisans and musicians gather to sell and display their work either in a gallery, exhibition or their own individual kiosk along four small blocks. Unlike the more historical Sawdust Art Festival in Laguna Beach, the Santa Ana Art Walk does not charge an admission fee nor is it as elaborate. However, it maintains an equivalent diversity in its audience and experience of artists.

The OCCCA exhibit is the second of three phases of this cultural exchange with Americans and Slovakians entitled “After Hours,” where a variety of artistic mediums will be displayed until July 31. The first phase featured American artists in OCCCA last March and the final phase will be the transplanted American work at Galeria Z in Bratislava, Slovakia in September.

“This is an experiment on community outreach and international exchange,” says OCCCA affiliate member and creator of this project Dalibor Polivka, “where we provide a different context and atmosphere for the art.”

“I know all of these Slovak artists and we wanted to reflect the Slovak art scene over three generations,” said curator Xenia Lettrichova.

The Consulate General of Slovak Republic in Los Angeles, Milan Kovac, attended the formal opening for OCCCA’s second international exhibit. “It is so exciting to share this experience of American and Slovac culture,” said Kovac.

The Santa Ana Art Walk fell on the Fourth of July weekend this month and illustrated the spirit of the holiday with its democratic approach to public art and an accessible, communal space where one can become inspired and appreciative of the talent and craftsmanship.

From handbags, jewelry, paintings and music, artists and artisans layered the 2nd Street Promenade’s gallery, studio and restaurant-lined framework as the hip 20-something crowd toting DSLR cameras observed the same art as the grandparents who brought their ice cream-eating grandchildren. These dichotomies contribute to the cooperative, friendly atmosphere at the Santa Ana Art Walk and further emphasize the cultural and generational importance of art as a unifier.

A woman from an art gallery a couple blocks away rushed over to artist Dino Perez’s table and within two minutes, she purchased a small painting.

“I’m an artist too but I love being able to support other artists,” she said as she dashed back to the gallery. “That’s the reason why I come out to the Art Walk.”

Perez is a local artist whose vibrant paintings have been selling at the Art Walk since January of this year. He was born and raised in Santa Ana and is pleased to see that its Art Village is expanding and growing in popularity.

“The Art Walk and the Village itself is so diverse and everyone is so friendly. Sometimes the break-dancers will come and perform right there,” he says pointing toward the popular restaurant, Memphis. “I sell my art as cheap as I can because I believe that art is for the people.”

His artwork ranges from $5 to $150 while his girlfriend, Cassandra Wells, also prices her work at affordable prices, and sells her work alongside Perez. Even this micro instance demonstrates an inspired, collective collaboration between artists participating in the Art Walk.

Perez and Wells were stationed in front of the busy Grand Central Art Center where the opening for its second installation of “100 Artists See Satan” offered the public the chance to purchase the artists’ works as a gallery fundraiser.

“Grand Central Art Center is one of the main anchors of the Art Walk,” said Krystal Glasman, the public relations chair and curatorial assistant.

The Grand Central Art Center is an effort between the city of Santa Ana and Cal State Fullerton to promote student and national artists in a creative space. The current exhibit features 100 different artists’ interpretation of Satan and will remain on display until Aug. 15.

“I’ve been coming to the Art Walk since I was a little kid with my artist parents,” said 21-year old Ivy Leighton. “There are always new artists and half of them are local. I love that there is such a variety—it’s just always rad.”

Memphis Bobby was in the middle of another discussion about why he paints “strong American male icons like Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash” as Freeman crooned to a small audience across the promenade. They give each other a smile and nod. They know they will see each other again Thursday night at The Gypsy Den for open mic as usual, and the two refocus on their music and painting.

Toward the end of the night, the smell of incense is just as strong as it was at dusk. But so is the Art Walk.