We are starting a new Grand Central Art Center blog.
This is the first post – many more to come!
September 6, 2011, just a little over four months ago, I started my new role as Director/Chief Curator of the Grand Central Art Center. Although born and raised in Orange County, a 1985 graduate of Tustin High School, I’ve spent the last 17 years of my life in Arizona as a member of the curatorial team at Arizona State University Art Museum.
I am honored to be here at the GCAC and in this amazing community of Santa Ana. I was fortunate to spend much of my youth in this community. My grandparents lived just up the street from the downtown area in Santa Ana’s Washington Square (1954-1998). My grandfather took me to the 4th street district; he banked down here off Main Street; at family gatherings we ate Koo’s Chinese take-out; played on the fields of Woodrow Wilson Elementary School; went to the Pep Boys on 1st Street to get parts for his cars; shopped at the Montgomery Wards in Horner Plaza; and giggled when we drove by the Mitchell Brothers Theater. As a member of the Tustin High School marching band, I performed in parades on the streets of this city and during field shows at Santa Ana Stadium. As I grew older, I took classes at Santa Ana College – my dad, after graduating from Santa Ana High School, began his college career at Santa Ana College as well, before heading off to the University of Arizona to get his degree in civil engineering.
In the late 90s, I watched with anticipation the development of Grand Central Art Center. As it was being retrofitted and renovated, I was fortunate to receive a preview tour of the facility. As a curator with a sociology degree, working at a major university art museum with a focus on social engagement, I found the approach Santa Ana, California State University Fullerton and the CSUF College of the Arts was taking extremely innovative. I met with Mike Mcgee and Don Cribb, the forward thinking minds behind Grand Central, and they shared their vision.
As the center prepared to open in 1998, Mike approached me with the offer to bring an exhibition I was curating for Arizona State University Art Museum to GCAC, for what would be the second exhibition to be presented within this space. I accepted, and in the summer of 1999 the exhibition Sig-alert 2, which featured the work of twenty-one Los Angeles area artists, opened in downtown Santa Ana. I have kept engaged with the institution ever since, seeing the exhibitions of Grand Central every time I was home from Arizona visiting my parents and sisters.
In 2003, I once again had the good fortune of involvement in curating a project at the center, the group video exhibition VJ Johnny D. Presents: Top of the Pops. After appearing at GCAC, the exhibition traveled back to ASU Art Museum for a one-night screening.
From 2000-2006, the Arizona State University Art Museum Short Film and Video Festival presented a tour version of the festival on the 2nd Street plaza in front of Grand Central, a project realized through the co-organizational efforts of artist/filmmaker Bob Pece. Bob was a co-founder of the ASU Art Museum Festival, which began in 1997, and had his studio in the Santora building for many years. The Santora studio was where Bob and I would spend three full days each year, from 9am – 10pm, jurying the ASU festival.
The reason for providing this background information is to let you know how invested I am in the Grand Central Art Center, Downtown Santa Ana, this community and a forward vision. I LOVE THIS INSTITUTION AND CITY! It has a mix of everything I desire – the rich cultural diversity and energy that thrives throughout downtown, especially along 4th Street; the creativity and innovation occurring in the Artists Village; the vision and quality of the numerous restaurants in the district; the collaborative partnerships that exist through the City, University, organizations such as Latino Health Access, Downtown Inc., local business owners and residents. Most of all, what this downtown has that makes it so desirable to me is its authenticity. That is why I not only work in this city, but chose to live in Santa Ana as well.
My desire for Grand Central Art Center is to be a major contributor to the vision of Santa Ana, working in collaborative, mutually beneficial ways, to engage community through artistic and creative practice.
Over the past four months, I have been adjusting to my role as director and working to reach out to meet new individuals – introducing Grand Central Art Center and downtown Santa Ana to individuals who might not yet be familiar with these jewels of Southern California. I am beginning to develop partnerships and implement a vision for Grand Central Art Center moving forward.
Following you’ll find a little recap of a few of the activities that have taken place since September…
In November, we opened the hugely successful RIDE exhibition to an opening night crowd of over 2,800. Curator Elle Seven (Loriann Hernandez), a MFA candidate of Cal State Fullerton’s Exhibition Design/Museum Studies Program, brought a number of the artists, who live nationally, to the opening to enjoy the evening with us. Members of Apache Skateboard, OC Roller Girls and the curator herself activated the in-gallery, half-pipe skate ramp throughout the evening as DJs rocked the house with music energy. At the closing reception January 6, over 2,100 people attended as skaters from Element Skateboard’s team activated the half-pipe, exhibition artist Tommii Lim DJed the music and the audience enjoyed art in the exhibitions. I cannot take credit for this exhibition or it’s success. The full credit must go to Elle Seven for curating the project, Mike Mcgee for scheduling it here at GCAC, the artists who have work in the exhibition and the dedicated GCAC team I was fortunate to inherit.
For the record, that team includes Tracey Gayer, Matthew W. Miller, Krystal Glasman (who just left us for an amazing opportunity at the Palm Springs Art Museum), Jenny Mikhailik, Angelica Perez and Tony Pedraza.
The solo exhibition of artist Hiromi Takizawa‘s installation work has been on exhibition since November as well. The artist, a Cal State Fullerton Alum, reflects on connection, the ocean and distance that separates her from her homeland of Japan. Again, an exhibition that would not have been possible without the hard work, skill sets and intelligence of a team already in place prior to my arrival.
Both exhibition close this Sunday, January 15, so if you haven’t yet seen the exhibitions, this is your last chance. The center will be open 11am-7pm today (Friday), 11am-4pm Saturday and Sunday.
In December, the first of many Dutch Treat Dinners, a gathering of creative and arts professionals, occurred at downtown Santa Ana’s El Curtido Salvadorian Restaurant. The evening was attended by 78 individuals from the Southern California region, with artists, community members and individuals representing the following institutions: Museum of Contemporary Art, Orange County Museum of Art, Laguna Art Museum, Bowers Museum, UC Riverside’s Sweeny Art Gallery, Orange Coast College’s Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion, Coastline Community College Art Gallery, Irvine Fine Arts Center, Irvine Great Park, Cal State Northridge and of course, Cal State Fullerton. The evening was followed by an informal tour of the Grand Central Art Center. It was a great success and the next Dutch Treat Dinner is already in the planning stages.
For the past two months, artist Naida Osline has been Grand Central Art Center’s Artist-in-Residence. Through her vision for four different bodies of work, Naida has engaged and photographed middle aged men of our community, including individuals of our street community and local business owners; she’s collected stories of individuals past drug use, for which she is currently creating audio files for future projects; and just this week she engaged the local drag queen community, bringing them into our GCAC Theater space for a 10-hour day photo shoot. Naida has definitely made the most of her time here and taken advantage of a full depth of resources this community has to offer. Her time here and the success of her residency would not have been possible without the generous support of the Grand Central Art Forum and its board.
January marks the beginning of our new collaborative partnership/tenant relationship with The Road Less Traveled store. The Road Less Traveled store is an environmentally and human conscious store dedicated to bringing alternatives to every aspect of life. Delilah Snell has moved everything from her old location on Main Street to the storefront space on our 2nd Street promenade (formerly Watermark Printmaking Workshop). She will be opening the doors (and window blinds) February 1st for a soft opening, before celebrating a major grand opening during the First Saturday Art Walk events in April. Grand Central Art Center and The Road Less Traveled will be working together to create engaged community programs, expanded partnerships and activities for mutually beneficial outcomes. The initial collaboration will begin with Belly Sprout, which is a natural living store for families in Orange County, from pregnancy through parenthood. The Road Less Traveled and Belly Sprout are community hubs of resources, information and education, so a natural fit for the Grand Central Art Center. In the coming months our outreach activities will continue expanding to include our additional collaborative partnership/tenants The Gypsy Den restaurant, Claudia de la Cruz Flamenco Institute Tierra Flamenca, MASKA architectural school for kids and adults, the 27 MFA student resident apartments of Grand Central Art Center’s upstairs space, as well as businesses, non-profits, NGO’s and individuals throughout Santa Ana and the region.
The coming months will also involve the realizing of exhibitions and a few programs that remain on the schedule set by former directors of Grand Central Art Center. Projects like The LA Cacophony Society retrospective exhibition opening February 4, organized by former Interim Director and GCAC Founder Mike Mcgee, members of LA’s Cacophony Society and students of Cal State Fullerton’s Exhibition Design/Museum Studies Program. The exhibition will run through April 15. The next blog post will include many more details.
With an open time slot in the GCAC Project Room for the same period, February 4 – April 15, we decided to organize an exhibition that creates a dialogue with the work of the Cacophony Society exhibition. Here in Your Space will focus on the work of three artists – Guy Ben-Ner, Christian Jankowski and Gillian Wearing – engaging in private/pubic space. More information on this exhibition will appear on the blog next week.
In the year to come, you will have the opportunity to meet and engage with visiting artists of the Grand Central Art Center Artist-in-Residence program. We’ve been in dialogue with artists and are making arrangements for their time here in our downtown Community. The new emphasis of the residencies will focus on artists working in Social Practice, projects that will look toward collaborating with community. The artists will be invited to explore the intellectual, cultural and physical resources of our community. GCAC provides each artist an apartment, studio, time and the support to empower their vision, focused toward creating new projects and/or research relevant to their artistic practice.
Visit our blog, website or sign-up for our email list to keep informed of the visiting artist dates and activities.
In November, you will see the first exhibition scheduled through the new vision for Grand Central Art Center. Artist Tony de los Reyes will be premiering his new body of work, both in painting and sculpture, that will focus on the US/Mexico border. A series of programs are being developed to compliment the exhibition, so we will definitely keep you posted as these are scheduled.
As the new Director/Chief Curator, I invite you to join us here at the Grand Central Art Center. Come visit and share our vision, enjoy our programs, engage with our community and explore all that Grand Central Art Center and Downtown Santa Ana has to offer.
We look forward to collaborating with you!
John D. Spiak
Grand Central Art Center