Santa Ana's Konsept Art and Music Festival Is a Launching Pad For Local Talent

The Konsept Festival crew
The Konsept Festival crew
Courtesy of Tyson Pruong

Orange County has a reputation for lacking in racial diversity, but that's less apparent as you look at the dozens of artists, musicians, photographers, DJs and designers who have come together for the second annual Konsept Art and Music Festival in Santa Ana. There's Shawn Nguyen, a.k.a. DJ Sarisuk, who is the resident DJ at Sutra. There's also Jackie Estrada, a photographer who organizes monthly showcases in the Arts District. There's Dave Allen and Kevin Ferrer, founders of Orange-based, hip-hop-loving, media and art group Locally Grown Collective. Then there's Tyson Pruong, the Cambodian-American who binds all these young creatives together as Konsept, an art collective started by the Santa Ana native three years ago.

"I love my city, and as an artist and musician myself, it was hard to find opportunities to get out there," Pruong says. "I just wanted to build a free network to help people find those stepping stones for where they want to be. I wanted to focus on people in our area so we could build a scene together here, rather than trying to leave to LA. Santa Ana was a growing art scene, but they never had people our age pushing."

The fact that everyone involved with Konsept's art and music festival is younger than 30 speaks volumes about the new blood pulsing through downtown Santa Ana's art scene. For the past few years, the collective's 14 or so consistent members have been building their fan bases and making their mark on the city's decades-old art community through monthly exhibitions of contemporary photos, sculpture, video, painting and more. And last December, the team hosted a free one-day festival--replete with a music stage flanked by local vendors and art installations--to celebrate all the creativity they've fostered.

For the second installment, Konsept went even larger--much larger. Teaming up with others--from 2013 headliners Locally Grown Collective to DJ Sarisuk--looking to share and spread the local-art gospel, the festival will take over six venues (including a movie theater, an empty storefront and a rooftop) during the First Saturdays Art Walk. With 12 hours of live music and more than 50 vendors and artists, it's sure to be the most epic multiblock, multicultural, multimedia, multieverything, grassroots arts event the county has ever seen.

"Everybody's been grinding all year, and they deserve the opportunity to do something on a big scale. That's what's going to make us grow as a community," Pruong says. "It's more a chance for everyone to showcase their work. We bring in some sponsors, and they bring their representatives, and who knows? Maybe someone will get discovered." Beyond the hope of having their work seen by a wider audience, many of the artists participating in the Konsept Music and Arts Festival were drawn to its higher purpose: All proceeds will be donated to Waste Not OC, a food-recovery nonprofit that works with low-income families and homeless in the area.   Though the event itself is free for attendees, the festival charges vendors to set up and earns bar percentages from venues, plus it will be raffling off donated goods and selling tickets to an after-party in the hopes of raising $5,000 so Waste Not OC can launch a pilot culinary program geared toward juveniles on probation.

"More often than not, artists are looked upon as being selfish and not caring about other people, and we want to show that we're artists, and we want to give back, especially as the younger generation," says Ferrer of Locally Grown Collective, which originally brought the idea of a large-scale charity event to Pruong. "We just want to show that we're out here trying to make it better."

Adds Pruong, "People just think festivals are an excuse to go get drunk and do drugs and check out music, but really there's a lot more of a back story behind it. I was a troubled teenager myself. I've been in and out of jail, so it really hit home that [Waste Not OC organizers are] trying to go out of their way to make something happen for these kids."

At the heart of the music, art and good intentions that culminate in Konsept's annual blow-out, however, is a new generation of contemporary artists who are all finding their creative home in Santa Ana. The estimated 200 people involved with putting on and participating in the festival represent a potential Orange County Renaissance. Teeming with endless gallery space, pop-up music venues, open-minded residents, and a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie that sees no race, class, gender or ethnic lines, downtown Santa Ana is solidifying itself as a regional art hub where newcomers can present and explore self-expression in all mediums.

"I'm from Northern California, but I moved to Orange County three years ago," says DJ Sarisuk, who,helped organize the after party at Native Son Alehouse. "Downtown Santa Ana reminds me so much of home, and that's why I love it. It's different here, and over time, it's only going to grow, and it's nice to be a part of that."

Upcoming Events

Konsept Art and Music Festival, featuring Seedless, Reverie, Zokimo, Locally Grown Collective and many more, at East End, 400 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana; www.facebook.com/events/206465796216944/. Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m.-2 a.m. Free. All ages.

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