In 1999, the City of Santa Ana partnered with California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), alongside local community activist Don Cribb and director of CSUF’s art gallery Mike McGee to convert and refurbish a historic Santa Ana building into a functional year-round art center in the heart of the Artists Village, now known as Grand Central Art Center (GCAC). Now in its twentieth year of existence, GCAC is a renowned and respected force of creativity and innovation, producing four to six exhibitions per year. This art center isn’t an ordinary art gallery. The 45,000 square-foot building is home to three large gallery spaces, as well as a theater space, and rents spaces to third-party businesses like Gypsy Den, Hipcooks, and the Claudia de la Cruz Flamenco Institute. GCAC also offers twenty-six gorgeous apartments of varying sizes and art studios for graduate students in the Art Departments at CSUF. GCAC also offers an exceptional international artist-in-residence program with an apartment and studio space available.
Originally built in 1922, the Grand Central building in downtown Santa Ana was a single-story building between First and Second Street that functioned as a large centrally located marketplace with contained stalls for independent vendors, butchers, and grocers. This was to be a gathering center for the area, with fresh foods and goods available to its community members. In 1924 the building was expanded, adding two additional stories to the Grand Central building and providing a larger main entrance onto the 2nd Street promenade. Although the building was purchased and renovated by the city of Santa Ana hoping to revitalize the downtown area, and in the early 1980s, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributor to the Downtown Historic District. The building is also listed as a landmark in the California Register as well as the Santa Ana Register of Historical Property.
In 1997, the Grand Central building was renovated and improved with the CSUF goals of GCAC, taking on extensive remodeling to the building, structure and offerings, priming it for the greatness that was just around the corner. Exhibitions began in 1999, and with the leadership of a handful of directors, GCAC has proudly continued the mission of the original Grand Central building and market, to provide a hub for the city of Santa—only now, they are a hub for the arts instead of produce.
Throughout the lifespan of GCAC, they have produced over 100 exhibitions of fine, performing, visual, and experimental arts. In the early 2000s, GCAC was well-respected and known for being a huge supporting and driving force in the movements of Lowbrow, Pop Surrealism, and cutting-edge subversive arts.
Although the art center shifted its focus to more experimental and relational art movements like Social Practice with the acquisition of John Spiak in 2012, GCAC’s current director, GCAC has maintained an excellent reputation for being a place where innovative and compelling art is shown, supported, and welcomed.
Some of the most notorious exhibitions in the history of GCAC have brought amazing art and artists to the art center, but for a long time, the center struggled to integrate into the neighborhood, it stood out as an iconic place for art, but seperate from some aspects of the Santa Ana cultural community. After its first ten years, there was a stronger connection to be forged between Latin arts groups and audiences in downtown Santa Ana and the Artists Village. The Santa Ana community continues to strive to embrace this unique and groundbreaking art center as a place that has not only embraced but also celebrated the native Santa Ana culture, community, and issues.
Although many non-artists may be puzzled, at first, by the anti-object nature of relational art, GCAC (and Spiak) have found a beautiful way to explore relevant and thoughtful social issues through a variety of art styles and projects that engage and entertain the masses. Today, GCAC is celebrated for its ability to present fascinating concepts and issues in beautiful and exciting ways that forces visitors—regardless of education level—to confront personal and political issues through visual information and outside-the-box creative expression. It is inspiring to see how much change is possible through community activation, and how diverse and innovative art can be when artists are given the opportunity to think local, global, and personal all at once with the support and space to showcase their thoughts, creations, and talents.
With twenty years of exceptional exhibitions under its belt and a drive to connect with people in meaningful ways, this historic space and groundbreaking programming is leading the way for the future of art and art institutions, holding us all accountable for our thoughts and actions, and provoking people to think and feel more genuinely and more compassionately with every new project.
Story by Evan Senn
Photos by Brian Feinzimer, Robert Gutierrez, Andrea Lisa Lee Harris
The Highlight Reel: the author's favorite GCAC Exhibitions Over the Years
Best Intentions: Robert Williams
March 3 – April 29, 2000
The Days of Janice Lowry
May 5 – June 24, 2001
Von Dutch: An American Original
December 7-January 26, 2003
Modern Myths Ancient Fables: James Lorigan
September 6-October 26, 2013
100 Artists See Satan
July 3 – Sept 19, 2004
Heaven on Earth: Thomas Kinkade
April 3 – June 20, 2004
The Saddest Place on Earth: The Art of Camille Rose Garcia
Oct 1 – Dec 18, 2005
Beautiful Mutants: Mark Mothersbaugh
Sept 1 – Oct 21, 2007
Original Photography by Andy Warhol
April 5 – June 15, 2008
Interruption: Joe Sorren
Nov 6 – Dec 31, 2010
Weapons of Mass Delusions: Laurie Lipton
May 1 – June 13, 2010
Nov 5 – Dec 31, 2011
Choas Job: Restrain Order: George Herms
Sept 3 – Oct 16, 2011
Empire: Bale Creek Allen
May 7 – June 12, 2011
Feb 5 – April 17, 2011
Cheers! And Focus: ISM: 10 Project
July 7 – Aug 12, 2012
Cross Cut: Aili Schmeltz
Nov 2 – Dec 31, 2013
Flora Kao: Wind House, Abode That A Breath Effaced
June 7 – Aug 10, 2014
Kenyatta Hinkle and Tyler Oyer: Exploring the Nowannago
Aug – Oct, 2016
Sarah Rafael Garcia: SanTana’s Fairy Tales
Feb – April, 2017
Jen Hofer and John Pluecker: AntenaMovil
June – January, 2017
Kim Zumpfe: outside the length of a room / OR / diving into the blue sun
May 5 – Sept 9, 2018
Rebecca Chernow: #superbloom
Nov 4, 2017 – January 14, 2018
McCallium and Tarry: Exchange
Mar 3 – May 15, 2018
Yevgeniya Mikhailik: A Slow Conflict
Feb 2 – April 14, 2019
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