Former curator takes in a new view

Darlene DeAngelo has traveled many places over the last dozen years: Cuba, Vietnam, Europe and wherever the freeway would take her during her impassioned 12-hour workdays.

Now, the former curator of the Huntington Beach Art Center is embarking on a new frontier. Which is to say, a quiet morning with no alarm.

DeAngelo, who has overseen the museum's exhibits and many of its fundraising and educational programs since 1999, stepped down in September. The last show she curated, a nature-themed multimedia exhibit titled "The Cylinder, the Sphere, the Cone," is scheduled to remain up through Saturday.

This spring, the city gave DeAngelo a layoff notice, and she opted to retire before her position was cut. In the future, the Claremont resident hopes to immerse herself in the art world again. For now, she's enjoying at least a momentary time to reflect.

"I'm one of those people who sort of lived my job," she said. "That's all I did. No matter where I went, I found it. You can always find where the artists are if you ask the right people."

Among the right people that DeAngelo lined up over the years: a group of artists from Cuba, Vietnam and the Netherlands, who put together a show of surf-related art in 2007; photographer Gina Genis, who took portraits of museum visitors in 2011 and had them hand-write messages about how the recession had affected them; and mixed-media artist Gary Simpson, featured in the "Cylinder" show, who presented a conceptual piece containing soil samples from every country in the United Nations.

And then there were the many lesser-known artists that DeAngelo helped promote — through the museum's annual Centered on the Center non-juried show, which brought together hundreds of contributors each year, and Family Arts Day, which allowed parents and children to make crafts of their own.

Simpson, a Laguna Woods resident, said DeAngelo compared "glowingly" to other curators he's worked with.

"I just wish her well, and I'm sure that will happen," he said. "She's a good soul."

Director Kate Hoffman credits DeAngelo with strengthening the center's programming as well as its bond to the community. The venue at 538 Main St., now in its 18th year, didn't always enjoy the local support it has now.

According to a 2005 story in the Independent, the center favored cutting-edge shows in its early years — one, "How to Start Your Own Country," included a bucket of fake feces and urine to demonstrate how people relieved themselves in the artist's home country of Vietnam — and it closed for six months in 1999 to determine its direction and deal with operating debt.

DeAngelo, who had previously served as an assistant director at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and executive director at the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, got the call to be curator and programmer when the center reopened. She also launched what Hoffman called her "signature item": an annual two-week fundraising auction, featuring works by artists who had exhibited at the museum.

"Darlene gets lots of credit for helping to reorganize the art center," Hoffman said.

As a tribute to DeAngelo, the center kept the "Cylinder" show on display longer than usual. In the meantime, on the curator's last day, her colleagues hosted a farewell celebration with city officials, artists and others in attendance.

Listening to the tributes, DeAngelo said, ultimately caused her to tear up.

"It was one of those stories like 'It's a Wonderful Life,'" she said. "You don't always realize the things you do for other people."

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

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