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THE EARLY DAYS

The Grand Central Art Forum started out in 1998 as a non-profit corporation offering programming support for the Huntington Beach Art Center and was aptly named "Huntington Beach Art Center."  It was organized by Greg Escalante and Shelley Liberto, who shared a strong enthusiasm for contemporary art and were excited by the edgy direction of the programming for the HBAC.  At the time the HBAC was a small arts organization and relatively unknown in the world of municipal art centers.  The City of Huntington Beach was completely off the radar of the contemporary art world.

However, thanks to the imaginative flair of curator, Tyler Stallings, and the support and encouragement he received from Executive Director, Naida Osline, Director of Operations Randy Pesqueira and other staff and volunteers, the programming of the art center began to get a little funky.  This was happening around 1995 after such legendary art events as the Helter Skelter show at LA's MOCA and Laguna Art Museum's Kustom Kulture.  Stallings, hailing from Atlanta, was interested in exploring that funny little area  where pop culture and representational/surreal art co-mingle in a sort of blissful irony.  No doubt he would describe his interests differently, but everyone can agree that Stallings, Osline and the others were responsible for bringing some compelling fun and important art to their city, which until then, was known largely for surfers, retirees and skinheads.

Says Escalante, "the HBAC from it's inception was amazing.  Bursting on to the scene with one strong show after another, it eclipsed all the other county art institutions. Never in my memory had an art institution of this kind flowered so quickly and so strongly."

Inevitably the HBAC also had its detractors.  Perhaps sensing some opposition among the more conservative elements of Huntington Beach, Osline, Escalante and Liberto agreed that an independent programming support group was in order.  The board was formed to assist the HBAC with fund-raising and PR efforts.  Friends and friends-of-friends were recruited to the Board, which filed as a non-profit organization during the summer of 1998.

With their new support board, as well as ostensible support from the community, Osline and Stallings felt empowered to continue their efforts in bringing significant programming to the municipal art center.  They filled the galleries with the art of such far-aflung dignitaries as Robert Williams and Edger Leeteg.  Audiences were enthralled by the performances of such artists as Paul Zaloom and Tim Miller the latter apparently hit the seaside burg with such force as to be credited/blamed for spontaneous acts of homosexual lust in public parking lots (as was dutifully reported by the police chief the next day).  Oh, the salad days!

KRISTALLNACHT!

Strong art and local politics usually do not mix well.  As one can imagine, the imagery of Robert Williams and the provocations of Tim Miller (among many other artists) did not go unnoticed by local Philistines who began to pull strings in City Hall.  In a shrewd act of outright censorship, the City promoted Naida Osline up and out of the HBAC.  Morale at the art center disintegrated almost overnight at the prospect of losing Osline's leadership.  Stallings resigned and accepted an offer to be chief curator at the prestigious Laguna Art Museum.  Director of Operations Randy Pesqueira was transferred to the City's Special Events section.  Everyone else basically quit.  No one wanted to work under the helm of the incoming director whose mandate was clear: no more real art!

By then, the board had grown and included such respected figures in the art world as collector Stuart Spence and artist Peter Alexander (among others).  But no one on the board was interested in supporting scrimshaw and floral water-colors.  I mean some people were commuting over 40 miles to openings and board meetings!  Come on we wanted good, strong, aggressive art!

The board was on the verge of collapse when it occurred to Liberto that he and Escalante had assembled a group of people who really wanted to, and had the resources to provide top-notch contemporary art programming-but for whom?  We were all dressed up and had nowhere to go!

Board member Stuart Spence suggested that perhaps the board could go the way of the Pasadena Fellows of Contemporary Art, the roving art organization that grew out of the Norton Simon Museum and supports art without being officially affiliated with a single institution.  Then Escalante heard about another fledgling Orange County art center that was looking for a support board along the model of the by-then well-known HBAC.

EXIT: HUNTINGTON BEACH, ENTER: SANTA ANA

The institution was the Grand Central Art Center, Cal State Fullerton's gallery and graduate student residence, and the crown jewel of the redeveloped arts district in the heart of Santa Ana. 

 

 

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