Times Staff Writer

Four years ago, things seemed to be looking up for a group of Latino artists in Orange County. They had acquired their own gallery in Santa Ana, and their opening exhibition, “The Last Chicano Art Show,” was the largest all-Latino effort of its kind ever held in the county.

But all that changed rapidly. The Galeria in Santa Ana was closed the following year when public funds ran out and major private support never materialized. The artists were once again left to hold group shows on a sporadic, scattered basis.

Since then, little has changed for the group that calls itself the Orange County Latino Artist Network. In fact, the artists--some have now moved to Los Angeles--are still without a home base.

“We’re all old friends. Most of us started (in art) about the same time. We have all seen how the trends (in support for ethnic arts) have blown hot and cold,” said Ben Valenzuela of Artesia, whose works have been shown in Mexico and Oregon, as well as in Southern California.

Valenzuela and 13 other network-affiliated artists will showcase their work Saturday and Sunday at Anaheim’s George Washington Community Center. An artists’ reception from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday will open the 70-work exhibit at the center, 250 E. Cypress St., Anaheim. A Mexican-style festival in conjunction with the exhibit will be held from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.


The network’s predecessor, Artistas Latinos de Orange County, was formed in 1979 because--members claimed--too many Latino artists were being ignored by the county’s museums and traditional galleries. Artistas Latinos’ first group show was at the Orange Public Library’s El Modena branch; others were at Chapman College and at the Fullerton Public Library.

Finally, in 1981, the group was given a regular home at the Galeria, the county’s first all-Latino gallery.

Opened in a vacant second-floor warehouse in downtown Santa Ana, the Galeria was a major multi-agency collaboration. The sponsor was Friendly Center Inc., a barrio-based organization in Orange, backed wholly with public funds: $21,000 from the California Arts Council; $18,000 from the City of Santa Ana, and $15,000 from the county. (The city and county used funds available under federal community-development programs.)

But the Galeria project, which offered workshops and other educational programs, lasted only a year at the warehouse site before funds ran out. For a brief time, the project moved to a tiny downtown site operated by the Relampago del Cielo dance troupe. Then, late in 1982, the exhibition project folded altogether.

Still, these Latino artists managed an occasional group show here and there. (Member artists continued to exhibit individually, including some in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach and Los Angeles.) In addition to the annual Washington Community Center exhibits that began in 1983, Latino Artist Network members have held group shows at Garden Grove’s Mills House Art Complex, Fullerton Public Library’s Hunt branch and the Anaheim Cultural Arts Center.

“People are always surprised (by the shows),” said Gilbert Melendez, director of Anaheim’s Washington Community Center. “Many people--even some Latinos--have a stereotypical view of what contemporary Latino art is supposed to be. These shows are hardly that. They are as diverse in themes as they are in styles.”

Artists in this weekend’s Washington Community Center show include Javier Alvarez, Paul Apodaca, Sergio O’Cadiz, Henry Godines, Rosa Huerta, Arbie Keown, Jose Lozano and Marciano Martinez. The others are Abel Moya, Hector Torres, Art Valenzuela, Jess Valenzuela and Emigdio Vasquez.

Overall, network members like to point to what they consider encouraging trends of support. There is increased backing for ethnic-minority--or “multicultural"--arts programs, they say, citing the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council.

The Orange County Arts Alliance recently formed an Intercultural Arts Committee to pursue pilot projects for ethnic-minority groups. Santa Ana city officials have plans for expanded ethnic-minority arts facilities in the city’s old downtown sector, including a possible revival of a Galeria-style project.

“The impact of all this (on Orange County ethnic-minority groups) is still to be determined,” said Vasquez, of Orange, who recently received a $9,000 state grant to be 1985-86 artist-in-residence at Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum.

“Right now, it’s just not clear to us what’s going to happen. Sure, the signs are good; the talk’s very encouraging. But for us, it’s still a case of wait and see.”