THE EARLY DAYS
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
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.
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
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."
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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
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:
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.