Take a look at the greatest examples of Arts and Culture we could find for this year's Best of OC Issue.
Best Public Art: Newport Beach Civic Center and Park
We're not being lazy by voting for them two years running because Newport Beach's Arts Commission has been busy installing another 10 sculptures since we shared the love last year. It includes something that resembles a beautiful melding of a water fountain and a jellyfish, which may or may not be named after a musical (La Cage aux Folles); a kinetic Sunflower sculpture; Three Saplings, made from reclaimed steel; a 12,000-pound granite sculpture that looks as if Picasso took a crack at it; a Re-Cycled sphere made from bicycle wheels; and a nightmarish blue damselfly–among others. Newport may have this category locked up for a while: Ten new sculptures should appear next year.
Best Author Who Doesn't Deserve the Side-Eye: Dean Koontz
The 70-year-old Newport Coast writer is the perfect example of the kind of popular author who sells a few books (a measly 450 million copies), is adored by fans, critically acclaimed, and still gets a glance askance because of the genre he writes in: horror fiction. We say, fuck the haters. If adoring a multiple New York Times best-selling author (in hardcover and paperback), confirmed dog-lover, creator of the Odd Thomas series and–to all accounts–nice guy is wrong . . . we don't want to be right.
Best Art Walk: Santa Ana Artists Village
Santa Ana did it first. Be on the Second Street Promenade between Broadway and Spurgeon on the first Saturday of every month.
Best Art Museum: Fullerton Museum Center
Surprisingly not as risk-averse or conservative as the city it resides in, the Little Museum That Could defies expectations, each year delivering an eclectic exhibition or two or three. The Fullerton Museum Center scored a coup earlier this year with a capture of comic-book artist Alex Ross' "Heroes and Villains" touring show, a Johnny Carson exhibit and an exhibition about the troubling World War II "comfort women." Not a single piece of broken pottery or stray dinosaur bone in sight.
Best Visual Artist: G. Ray Kerciu
One test of good work is whether it's relevant at the time of its creation. Double that when art feels fresh several decades later. Laguna Beach artist G. Ray Kerciu's Confederate-flag paintings were a strike against bigotry in the 1960s, painted while he was living in Mississippi, the bastion of Southern racism. Two of the paintings recently hung in the Laguna Art Museum, and they continue to speak to us–about Ferguson, South Carolina, abuse of power, #BlackLivesMatter–just as loudly as they did half a century before.
Best Art Gallery: The Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery
No one comes as close to affectionately capturing the weirdness of Orange County artists as Cal State Fullerton professor Mike McGee does with the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Gallery. Director of this gem of a space, McGee's catholic tastes in programming–with its blending of the colorful, eccentric, academic and socially conscious–always aims to show you something you've never seen before. Thoroughly organized by guest curators, students or McGee himself, past exhibitions have included an empathetic excursion into homelessness, the rarely examined phenomenon of post-mortem photography, a retrospective of G. Ray Kerciu's career, psychedelic local boy done good Fred Tomaselli, and the Freudian nightmare whirligigs of Peter Gelker.
Best Curator: John Spiak
Grand Central Art Center's John Spiak has the Best Taste In the County and that's a big deal because there are many curators with insight, knowledge and adventurous ideas residing here. Spiak's programming works on a more intellectual level, utterly unafraid to put up a show that may seem vague or requires work, is provocative or–gasp!–engages its audience . . . and we're grateful for that reckoning. Every time we leave Grand Central, his choices make us ponder the world in a deeper way, allowing for the possibilities of intelligence with our art. Not just a bunch of pretty pictures that sell tickets.
Best Indie Film Theater: The Frida Cinema
These guys really get it. Where else in OC can you see carefully curated programming such as Québécois enfant terrible director Xavier Dolan's latest, a revival of Cabaret or Jesus Christ Superstar, then get a Ted Neeley autograph? Revival house, art theater, nonprofit and volunteer-driven, the Frida Cinema is the perfect place to de-virginize your friends who somehow haven't seen Rocky Horror Picture Show, attended an open-mic night, or seen comedy and horror classics at a graveyard.
Best Museum (Non-Art): The Pilgrim
We don't talk much these days about Richard Henry Dana Jr. or his memoir, Two Years Before the Mast, but its sympathetic account of a Boston trading ship doing business along the coast of California provides us with an early historical perspective of what the landscape, economy and people were like in the early 1800s. The full-size replica of Dana's tall ship, The Pilgrim, is really something to see, a legitimate sailing vessel that also operates as a classroom, providing a "living-history program to over 16,000 students a year," with hands-on exhibitions focused on interactive, immersive ocean experiences. Music and theatrical productions also take place aboard the ship when weather permits. Just leave the homoeroticism to Dana's book–you can look it up!
Best Drag Show: VLVT Lounge
In the middle of a lip-sync performance, RuPaul's Drag Race alum and drag diva extraordinaire Shannel pointedly stopped to stare at a woman sitting in the front row of the VLVT Lounge who was focused on her phone; the queen gracefully–and sternly–lifted the phone from its owner with her long, manicured fingers. This gay club consistently hosts the most entertaining shows in OC with incredible performers, some of whom make drag their life's work–and an art form. Just be sure when you're enjoying one of VLVT's popular drag shows that you show the same amount of love and respect right back.
Best Place to Take an Art Class: Open House Creative
We're not talking finger-painting classes taught by New Age-y hippies here; Open House Creative brings in talented professionals to share their skills. Enroll your kids in six-week art camps or individual sessions to learn how to paint, screen print, make letterpress art, or even become mini-curators of art shows (seriously). Adults who've always had dreams of taking up watercolor or typography or collage can take classes specially tailored for them, accompanied by fine wine, water, fruit and charcuterie platters. Kinda makes us wish art school was more like this. . . .
Best Street Art: The Blue Lot
When Dutch soccer player Arjen Robben was given a penalty shot in the 2014 FIFA World Cup game against Mexico, El Tri fans wailed the now-famous lament heard around the world: "¡No fue penal!" ("It wasn't a penalty!") Memes exploded over the Internet, and a short-lived mural commemorating the injustice was emblazoned on a wall over the Blue Lot property. Such is the rollicking canvas that is the Blue Lot, whose artists have enjoyed responding to discussions in popular culture and graffiti technique through colorful paintings on its giant walls facing First Street, guarded by a chain-link fence. Novices are generally discouraged from entering its sacred grounds, but, hey, you can always spy the art from across the street, right?
Best Strip Joint: Fritz That's It
Last year, Fritz That's It (formerly Fritz That's Too–anyone figure out why the change?) celebrated its 20th anniversary, and it's as great as ever. While hipsters in rapidly gentrifying Anaheim think they're classy as shit for going to burlesque shows, real men come to Fritz for a night of good drinks, good food and great lap dances. Take it from the many men of distinction (whose names we won't mention out of respect) who patronize Fritz. Okay, we'll mention one: our Mexican In Chief! Okay, so he's not a man of distinction, but still . . .
Best Lecturer: Gregorio Luke
The quixotic dream of bringing art to the people through public lectures still thrives in Gregorio Luke's imagination. The Long Beach-based expert on Latin American art and culture continues to redefine the lecture as an art form itself. Luke's riveting passion is undeniable, and his range of topics immense. He gives talks on literary, artistic and revolutionary icons including Pablo Neruda, Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Jesus and Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Beyond the biographical, the conversationalist also delves into Mexican cinema, mariachi music and Mayan civilization. Luke has done the museum circuit countless times, but the newest tool in his intellectual repertoire is a giant inflatable projection screen allowing him to go anywhere with his outdoor "Murals Under the Stars" series that includes frequent stops at Latino Health Access' Green Heart Families Park in Santa Ana.
Best Book Fair: The Anarchist Book Fair
The inaugural OC Anarchist Bookfair in May stayed true to the adage "Anarchy Is Order" (you never learned that in high-school civics? It was supposed to be on the $1 bill, you know) by offering a compact, daylong, tightly organized event. Hundreds of radicals poured through El Centro Cultural de México in Santa Ana, where the event was hosted. Bay Area anarchist and radical publishers AK Press and PM Press traveled down to offer classics and new works alongside local vendors. The space also offered free books, avocados and gender-neutral bathrooms. Political programming included a talk by radical educator Antonia Darder, numerous workshops and heated panel discussions. Austin-based activist scott crow energetically closed out the day, sharing how anarchism played a rebuilding role in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Chalk art in the parking lot outside summed up the insurgent spirit of the event best, though. A paraphrased quote from the late Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti scrawled into the cracked pavement read, "We are not in the least afraid of ruins. . . . We hold another world in our hearts."