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20th Anniversary

The success of OCCCA can be attributed to many people throughout its 20 years. First and foremost, the hundreds of affiliate artists that have been members of OCCCA over the years and continue to contr

ibute to the unique artist run gallery.

In the early 1990s, community visionary Don Cribb, encouraged the revitalization of Santa Ana's downtown area into an interactive center for artistic development the Artists Village. Don had to impress city decision-makers, such as then council member Robert Richardson, that the rehabilitation of key historic downtown buildings would strengthen the economic base of the community through the arts. Current city council members, particularly Tom Lutz, Mayor Pro Tem, and Miguel Pulido, Mayor, continued to support and believe in the importance of OCCCA as a vital cornerstone of the Artists Village. To get to this reality, the City's redevelopment agency, through a rehabilitation loan program, was able to allocate funds to support the restoration of this historic building. The project would not have been completed without the dedication and perseverance of several past/current board of directors- Don Cribb, Mike McGee, Jerry King and Karin Schnell also past Directors of OCCCA, Jeffrey Frisch, Sandy Deeks, and Frank Miller. Then the last ditch effort can be attributed to the 12 affiliate artists that continued to exhibit an exemplary forum of exhibitions and programs at OCCCA's temporary site. It is the belief in the importance of artistic dialogue and exhibition of contemporary art that keeps the mission of OCCCA alive and well in Orange County and beyond. Karin Schnell President, Board of Directors, OCCCA

Twentieth Year Retrospective:

OCCCA is like a chameleon. Its face can be characterized as the sum of its members at any given time. Although as an organization it has certain definable characteristics, it is essentially formless in that it is highly mutable and can take on any shape necessary to survive. Environmental pressure points, like the changing demographics of their users and the nature of their funding, are effecting all art organizations. OCCCA is a grass roots organization that has remained solvent through a combination of fundraisers like art auctions, private donations and CDBG grants which maintained its Educational Outreach program, but primarily through member contributions. However, its funding has become more complex because of the generous grants it received from HUD and the City of Santa Ana. These were used specifically to purchase and renovate the historic building at 2nd and Sycamore in the heart of Santa Ana's arts community. There are new expectations of OCCCA in terms of its service to its new community of shareholders. However, in any re-conceptualization of OCCCA' s future it must be remembered that the organization has functioned as a contemporary art center for all of Orange County and is not a city art center. Its first responsibility is to the artist. OCCCA was conceived as a site for artistic expression and dialog when it was established twenty years ago. It was based on goals defined by a group of California State University Fullerton graduate students. They were committed to designing an organization where membership and exhibition practices reflected inclusion, a diversity of styles, with no restrictions or censorship.

Many art collectives such as OCCCA, rose to prominence in the early 1970's with similar goals. These were particularly influenced by the Women's Art Movement. The membership and exhibition practices of art co-operatives can be likened to those of the famous 1863 Salon des Refuses in Paris. At that time the idea was established that an artist has the right to do artwork that she/he pleases and to be judged as an individual by peers instead of playing by established rules that might result in artwork not being seen at all. One might be tempted to view the inception of OCCCA as visionary and romantic but the reality was far more pragmatic. Exhibition opportunities were limited in 1980, especially for emerging and alternative artists. OCCCA was an expression of the artists' need to show their work and to take control of their careers. In the beginning, it was enough to be an alternative to the commercial gallery system and to provide a forum for the exchange of aesthetic ideas but there was another important need that OCCCA evolved to meet. The struggling artist alone in his garret seeking a personal truth is a modernist myth. This stereotypical image of the artist as being alienated from the rest of society contrasts sharply with the artist's desire for community. Artists are faced with the paradoxical conflict between desiring the solitude we need to engage our art and this need to speak with others who share our language -to belong. The art collective as a political and social vehicle challenges the romantic notion of artistic isolation. As artists we both teach ourselves and learn from each other. The art collective empowers artists.

There was no particular philosophy or agenda that defined OCCCA. If not always in agreement, all ideas were provided a site for dialogue. OCCCA members were not required to present a "look" in their artwork or express a particular viewpoint in contrast to many commercial spaces. OCCCA has been especially viable for those experimental or controversial ideas that are difficult or impossible to exhibit. Shared ideas as well as conflicts enlivened the creative atmosphere. There was a time when the meetings would hear the passionate expressions of a visual hedonist who insisted that art theory was irrelevant. The next moment a cool analytical misogynist would butt heads with someone holding a feminist perspective. Challenges and frictions energized the group and kept them from going stale. While there is a structured organizational format at OCCCA for responsibilities, nothing is set in stone. Whatever leadership was needed, a member would step forward and fill in. Also the truism of "getting out what you put in" clearly defines the OCCCA experience. Those who take up the mantel of responsibility and leadership ultimately benefit from far more than exhibition privileges. Being a member of the co-operative can be quite rewarding. It gives one a"nuts and bolts" education that facilitates interaction on all levels of the art world - both business and aesthetic. An artist might join OCCCA because of the exhibition opportunities, but members give their time to run the organization thus the artist might find themselves taking on tasks they never dreamed they could accomplish.

One example is handling the publicity for gallery events. In this position one acquires both writing and promotional skills - invaluable tools in any artist's development. The subsequent personal relationships that are developed with the press advantage both OCCCA and the artist. Organizational and interpersonal abilities are developed. A member might facilitate the exhibit of a guest artist, curator or a juror. Because of this, the artist often has to reconsider methods of installation as well as learning the art of lighting. As their skills develop, the member can take up the challenge and curate exhibitions. The primary methodology for the transmission of this knowledge is the practice of mentoring, one member to another. These and a myriad of specific skills allow members to move on to positions of responsibility outside of the organization. Former members are teachers, commercial gallery directors, arts organization directors, curators, art writers, publishers, art dealers, and artist representatives. Members had the opportunity to refine skills, find aptitudes and make contacts with established art networks while in OCCCA that ultimately allowed them access to the art world that was previously denied them.

When so many other art co-operatives have closed, why has OCCCA survived for twenty years and how will it survive the future? A possible answer comes from the organizations' past. George Harms was featured as a guest artist in OCCCA's first exhibition. He arrived at the gallery early the day the show was to open.

His first act was to aim the lights randomly at the blank walls. Then he proceeded to back his truck into the gallery and grabbed art out of his truck. In a reversal of normal practice, he hung his work at the appropriate spot of light. This was a performance based on self-confidence, a willingness to take chances and to work with whatever was available. It was serious, but with an underlying sense of humor. We would like to suggest that this is an appropriate philosophy for the next stage in OCCCA's evolution: to trust in our abilities, to accept the vagaries of life, to make do or invent. Art is a serious business but it should be fun, otherwise what is the point? From its inception, the most important component of OCCCA has been its members, its artists. The personality of its membership has changed many times and its future manifestation will continue to be just as unpredictable and dynamic. The art exhibited does not reflect a hierarchical nor institutional definition rather it is a democratic vision of contemporary art. It is imperative to remember that the foundation of OCCCA's vision as a contemporary art center is rooted in both process and the willingness to take action. Those who have vision, energy and are willing to participate, will determine the continuously adapting identity of OCCCA.

Patrick Merrill Debra R. Winters


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