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    The Latino Art and Cultural Center of Oxnard: A Dream Deferred?



    By Armando Vazquez

    The recurring ever present truth in my fifty plus year of promoting, creating, writing about, growing, educating/getting by-in from the community, in creating the necessary critical mass to incite a local art renaissance must be a home-grown, organic and locally incubated partnership of disparate stakeholders (local artist, residents, CBO’s, businesses, students, supporters, city officials, colleges and local schools).

    A local arts renaissance can never be imported, if this is attempted it will fail! This is why many of the arts and cultural ventures and efforts in the past in Oxnard have failed; art promoters, entrepreneurs, and city administrators in their sincere yet limited expertise and understanding of the magical and delicate development and growth of the local arts invariably go for the quick and cheap fix! Bring in a star artist, pay that artist and pray that this will inspire lasting appreciation and support for the arts. Nothing could be further from the truth; importing art is by definition transitionally indifferent and foreign to the local community’s aspiration for a permanent, well defined, well-funded locally created and incubated art scene. The imported artist takes the money and runs, leaves nothing but a one night stand and the city is left artistically/culturally with just that a memory.

    So when both the two assistant city manager, Ms Ruth Osuna and Mr Jesus Nava, approached the Acuna Art Gallery and Cultural Center with extended hands of help; open and willing hearts and minds to help in the development and growth of the arts in Oxnard, I felt like the art gods had finally delivered the gift of seasoned, nuanced and professional partnerships from high ranking city officials that I have been working toward, searching and lobbying for the past fifty years. To be perfectly honest, I thought that this glorious arts and cultural city intervention would never happen in my life time. But here we are, ready to incite and grow a local organic arts and cultural renaissance in the city of Oxnard. Let me tell you how The Acuna Art Gallery and Cultural Center envisions this renaissance to take place.

    The Acuna Art Gallery and Cultural Center is in the process of relocation with the help of the city of Oxnard. We are currently looking at the abandoned Children’s Gull Wings Museum (4th St.) and the abandoned So. Cal Gas Co. building (2nd St.). Our vision is that the Children’s Gull Wings Museum (4th St.) will be converted into a very active, highly productive multi-arts/medium local artists’ studios. This is the initial key and indispensable strategy of seeding the local artistic landscape. Our 25 years in the local arts and cultural scene of greater Oxnard has shown us that our city is immensely rich with talented, hungry and hard-working artists from the entire kaleidoscope of arts mediums. When we build an “artist ball park”, the studios, they will come and ignite the engine of the arts renaissance. The Acuna Art Gallery and Cultural Center has thousands of local, national and international artist friends, contacts, relationship and working collaborations in every artistic medium who have indicated that they will support our efforts.

    The second major ongoing development in current negotiations with the city of Oxnard is to convert the abandoned and badly abused old So. Cal. Gas Co. building (2nd St.) into the regions first LATINO ARTS & CULTURAL CENTER OF OXNARD. In this location we plan to host world class art exhibitions; concerts covering every genre in music; performances art, from classical ballet, belly dancing, folkloric and more. We will complement many of our exhibitions, concert and performance arts presentation with educational community forums and lecture series that will help engender support and a deeper appreciation of the arts renaissance taking place in the city of Oxnard. 

    We are building a strong consortium of partners, that currently include, The Acuna Art Gallery and Cultural Center, the city of Oxnard, Laborers Union 585, CSUCI, CSUN, The Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health Coalition (OMMH), over 200 local volunteers, LULAC (downtown chapter), and other important stakeholders.  The Acuna Art Gallery and Cultural Center   is deeply committed to continuing our ongoing campaign to solicit and expand involvement from additional key supporters as this arts renaissance grows in Oxnard.

    We have read the City of Oxnard Master Plan that embraces arts as a primary economic and community safety drivers; as well as the legislative language of the state of California that mandates that the Successor Agency must include in its deliberation and liquidation decisions that non-profit arts and cultural organizations that have demonstrated historical success and community arts programming efficacy must be seriously considered for the acquisition of available properties.

    Over the years the Café on A/Acuna Art Gallery has hosted some of the most important and memorable artist shows, receptions and performance in Oxnard and Ventura County history.  In the past two decades we have hosted art exhibitions for Los Four, Margaret Garcia, David Flurry, George Yepes, Ruben Renteria, John Del Rosario, Jacquie Biaggi, Felipe Flores, Smiley, Billy Bejerano, Marion Sargent, Michelle Flores, BJ Halloran, Govan, to name just a few of the artists. We have had the honor to host author readings and book signing events that include Rudy Acuna, Michelle Serros, Rene Corado, Tim Pompey, Cheech Marin, Leo Hernandez, Paul Flores, and Ruth Jones to name a few. We have had hosted world class performers, musicians such as Phora, Reverie, Aztlan Underground, Mariachi La Flor de Tololache, Ty Granderson Jones, Luis Rodriguz, Rising Son, Psycho Realm, The New York World Sound, Cadoan, The great Leon Chavez Teixeiro, Gil Valencia, Memo’s Reggae Familia, Judith Reyes, Quetzal, Dirty Rice, Cruda, Cascada de Flores, The great Tribu, and more.

    Our award winning KEYS Leadership Academy, housed at the Acuna Art Gallery, is a best practices educational remediation program, that works with thousands of acutely at-risk youth and families become contributing members to their communities for over two decades. The Oxnard Police  Department has acknowledged that the KEYS leadership Academy has been a vital community “release valve” for youthful angst and an indispensable safety and social justice partner to traditional community safety institutions.

    The thousands of youth, women and their families call the Acuna Art Gallery a sanctuary, a safe place where they can receive culturally sensitive and congruent arts, civic empowerment, and educational programming and services. The Acuna Art Gallery has worked hard with the most marginalized and disenfranchised populations in Oxnard and we have had tremendous success with thousands of at-promised youth and their families becoming contributing community members.

    One final note, the Acuna Art Gallery & Cultural Center has advocated for a progressive culturally sensitive and congruent 21 century community safety paradigm that has the arts front and center as a best practices, real, cost saving and viable community safety “tool” and a proven and indispensable economic driver. For further inspection on the vital importance of the arts in progressive community building we recommend that you review a recent well respected study entitled, “Exploring the Way Arts and Culture Intersect with Public Safety”, that reinforces the idea that 21st century community safety must include art and culture in progressive, humane, and more effective 21st century community safety programming. The Acuna Art Gallery & Cultural Center along with a handful of other community artists and arts organizations has been providing this vital public safety “tool” and economic driver to the Oxnard community for over two decades. Join us as we expand the magical and transformative power of arts and culture, in our continuing effort to make Oxnard the safest, most prosperous city in all of California.

    In our latest instalment of this ongoing 2 year community drama, a new city manager is hired and he unilaterally decides to kill the entire proposed partnership between the Acuna Art Collective and the city of Oxnard. Mr Alexander Nguyen, the new city manager writes in his Dear John letter to me, “With respect, I had responded to you up until the point when you deviated from the legitimate process of negotiating a potential lease for use of the Gull Wings building.

    Prior to us reaching agreement on a term sheet and getting approval from the City Council, you occupied the building. And when questioned by city staff you tried to tell them that you had a “provisional lease. I understand things may have been done differently in the past here, but I won’t conduct city business this way. Based on what transpired I have no confidence in your ability to abide by the terms of an actual contract” Of course we had occupied (made temporary use with previous city management authorization) of the Gull Wings and the old Social Security building, everyone in Oxnard new of this temporary arrangement, except the new city manager. Mr Alexander Nguyen flexed his newly hired city manager’s muscle and we got the axe. Which leads me to conclude with the premise that I began with, it takes local hearts, minds and energy to create and sustain a local art renaissance that must be a home-grown, organic and locally incubated partnership of disparate stakeholders (local artist, residents, CBO’s, businesses, students, supporters, city officials, colleges and local schools).

    Armando Vazquez, M.Ed.  is Executive Director of  Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition


    The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.

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