Santa Ana College has a long, proud history with Chicano murals. Shifra Goldman, the art world's most influential advocate for the genre, taught there in the early 1970s, and it was under her guidance that members of MEChA helped legendary artist Sergio O’Cadiz paint The History of The Chicano, a tableaux depicting an armed calavera dressed in bandoliers. The school also has pieces by Emigdio Vasquez and others, establishing it as one of the best unofficial museums of Chicano murals in Southern California.
The school even had a mural program for decades, where students learned the craft under masters. But much like OC's Chicano murals, it slowly faded away, forgotten by new generations who had moved on with their aesthetic tastes. But thanks to Santa Ana College art professor Darren Hostetter, Santa Ana College is relaunching the SAC Mural program after after being dormant for 20 years.
“We serve a huge Chicano community here, and I thought it was important not only for the students but for the community to bring the mural program back,” Hostetter says. “I want them to be politically engaged, aware and part of the community.”
Over the past year, he’s had to write a curriculum, reorganize courses and get it approved by the State Board of Education. It’s now a 24-unit program under the auspices of the art department; by fall 2017, Santa Ana College will be the first school in California to offer the specialized field of study.
It's the Emigdio Vasquez painting in the lobby of SAC's Cesar Chavez building that Hostetter attributes to the revival of the mural program. He'd walk past the painting every day and eventually realized his students were missing out on the mural arts that once brought the institution great repute.
“When we first started, there were only nine students enrolled in the program,” says Hostetter. “I used to have to go recruit and pound the pavement to get students to join. We currently have 24 students, and it’s been growing every semester.”
In addition, the program offers the opportunity for artists that might have already gotten their bachelor's degree in art but are looking to get training in murals, like how to plot out a sizable wall, wall preparation and restoration, or even proper safety measures for equipment like lifts and cherry pickers.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Hostetter and his apprentices. The class is coming off of three Day of the Dead events, a Veterans Day collaboration with the Segerstrom Center (their completed mural painting was presented to the Veterans Resource Center) and a Get Out the Vote campaign that saw every student in the program come up with a banner in hopes of getting people to go out and vote. They've done multiple events and project across OC to let people know about SAC's revived mural program: small pieces at 4th Street Market and Santa Ana College, and even a live painting of C.J. Wilson (a former Don) at Angel Stadium for SAC Night. “We’ve been consistently busy,” the professor says, because they're “still in the stage of proving ourselves.”
The mural program recently reached out to Santa Ana officials in hopes of painting on public property; according to Hostetter, it takes a long time for the city to go through the process due to liability issues (thanks for nothing, cholos!). “That’s one of the reasons we’re pushing so hard to prove that we’re a real entity that will get things done—that you can trust us and we’ll make something beautiful for the community.”
“Now that we have the outcome, that we may not have wanted or expected, we have to keep trying,” said one of Hostetter's students. “Keep moving forward and show the opposite of the divisive ideas that are being presented. We have to be an intellectual and articulate voice against that.”
The mural program has already been approached by SAC groups and students. Together, they'll come up with a banner campaign to help encourage students to be inclusive, have empathy and promote equity. The muralistas are also working with Emigdio Vasquez’ son, Higgy, to restore a hidden mural that his late father created as part of a 1998 class he taught at SAC. They're looking into finding funding, as its restoration is estimated to cost between $10,000 to $100,000.
Along with community outreach, the SAC Mural Program has a social media presence on Instagram that they collectively run. They say it’s fire—and with the official Jerry Garcia and Selena fanpages reaching out to commend their work, they can back their self-praise.
Hostetter recently sat down with his students for end-of-semester peer critiques evaluating everyone's Dia De Los Muertos project. Students had to depict a well-known figure who has passed away. J.P., a first-year undergraduate, stood before the class to describe his mural of the late Phife Dawg. His is telling of the mural program’s progression: what was once a blank panel was transformed into a piercing portrait of the late rapper, his rhymes spiraling around him and symbolic of Phife Dawg’s enrapturing lyrics.
Hostetter pointed out how the use of black light paint brought out a different dimension to the piece; the students agreed. “One of the big benefits of taking this class is that you get to learn your visual image,” the professor said. “A visual language of how to convey a message and be clear with what you're trying to say with art. And I think a lot of students in the class have gotten closer to achieving that, refining our techniques, and it’s a much more effective way of communicating our feelings.”