Boca de Oro comes back for the fifth time to showcase artistic and literary talent

Former White House photographer Pete Souza and poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph.
Former White House photographer Pete Souza, left, will deliver a keynote address and poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph will deliver a closing address at the Boca de Oro Festival of Literary Arts & Culture.
(Courtesy of Boca de Oro)

If you want a map of Santa Ana’s artistic scene, the event agenda for this year’s Boca de Oro Festival of Literary Arts & Culture is where it’s at.

The free festival returns for the fifth time on March 5 through 7. Like most events these days, it will be held online with about 156 presenters and 109 sessions ranging from readings, workshops, panels, poetry, visual art, theatrical performances and more.

Local and national figures will speak at the events including former White House photographer Pete Souza and poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph.

Local artist Jouvon Michael Kingsby created the festival poster design.
Local artist Jouvon Michael Kingsby created the festival poster design.
(Courtesy of Boca de Oro )

Many of the events are youth-oriented including Santa Ana Unified’s LitCon, a literary arts competition and the “Creative Shorts” session in which fourth-graders present their films.

New programming targeting early-education students is also on the lineup. In the “Puppet Theater” session, the Orange County Puppet Guild will walk viewers through puppet-making and games.

Other events include a roundtable of Santa Ana Unified staff who are also authors, a panel about how to find your writing community and a lecture on how to maintain a weekly web series.

Another new aspect to the festival comes in the form of a free lending library campaign. High school stage managers have built 64 mini-lending libraries, with the Boca de Oro logo and stationed throughout 64 Santa Ana neighborhoods.

The festival’s ongoing theme has been a nod to Greek traditions and mythology.

Co-organizer Madeleine Spencer said the three-day Festival of Dionysus was held in ancient Athens during spring. Everyone was mandated to attend and see two tragedies and a comedy. It was designed as a cathartic moment to reflect on the past and present. Then attendees would go back home rejuvenated to take on the new year.

“The first responders are the ones that help save lives,” Spencer said. “The second responders are the ones that help to heal and those are the artists. That’s why we need arts right now more than ever.”

Cal State Fullerton’s Begovich Gallery is offering an online series of art lectures available to the public from Feb. 26 to April 6. Artists will discuss their studio process as well as practices responding to social issues.

This year Boca de Oro’s theme is Mnemosyne, the mother of all muses and the goddess of memory. Her name comes from the river of remembering.

Spencer explained in the mythology those who drank from the river of remembering are the poets, artists and muses who carry on the culture from ancient times while others within the community have forgotten.

Some event sessions are centered on remembering Santa Ana’s history, like Manny Escamilla’s guide on public art or Kevin Cabrera’s lecture on Santa Ana’s “Little Texas.”

Robyn MacNair is a leading co-organizer of the Boca de Oro festival, an arts and literary event returning for its fifth year.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

When event founders Spencer and Robyn MacNair first met five years ago, they both had Santa Ana’s youth in mind. MacNair was hired onto Santa Ana Unified staff after the state decided to give school districts control over their own funds. Part of MacNair’s job was to ask community members what they wanted in schools.

The city wanted arts education. She devised a strategic arts plan, which included a festival.

Spencer, who owns a consulting firm Diamond Heart Enterprises, worked closely with Santa Ana businesses and organizations. Many of the small business owners in downtown Santa Ana expressed a desire to have a connection to the children in the city.

“Santa Ana is 80% Latino. In towns of Mexico, they have a municipal band,” Spencer said. “One of the things [business owners] asked is whether they can have students marching down the streets in bands so they get to know them.”

What they thought would be five venues ended up being 15 venues with 2,500 students performing in the first iteration of the festival.

Since then, their focus in organizing the festival has continued to be representative of Santa Ana’s demographics, placing an emphasis on local talent and catering to students.

MacNair said data show that kids from other states are accessing jobs in California that local kids aren’t prepared for. Part of the strategic planning for the festival goes by the motto, “seeing is believing.”

“We’re trying to open as many doors as we possibly can for our students and to bring that economy here to Santa Ana,” MacNair said.

Spencer uses the analogy of stone soup — a folk story where hungry strangers convince people of a town to share ingredients in order to make a whole meal that everyone can enjoy.

The local community, businesses and organizations in Santa Ana and Orange County have had a hand in growing the festival throughout the years.

“I think we’re making some pretty good soup,” Spencer said

“Pretty tasty,” MacNair added.

If you watch

What: Boco de Oro Festival of Literary Arts & Culture
Where: Online
When: March 5 through 7
Cost: Free

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