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For The Love Of ISM: A Decade In Orange County

ISM.

This year, "ISM: A Community Project" celebrates 10 years of creating interesting and weird projects for awesome art, community-inspired creativity, and my favorite -- the art of words. I am fond of making up words, but who isn't? I often daydream about wordsmithing my way into the dictionary someday, creating whole -isms, and being revered for my quirky and creative diction. ISM magazine didn't just make up words; it was a nexus for creation across many media.

With a retrospective book and three exhibitions at Grand Central Art Center, ISM is commemorating the occasion in style. ISM developed three new projects for public participation to be on display for this anniversary, taking over all three of the spaces at Grand Central Art Center (GCAC).

ISM is a non-profit organization founded by Kevin Staniec, and for the past ten years, ISM has amassed a network of artists and writers through open call submissions for various exhibits and publications. Their most recent venture was "Still Developing: A Story of Instant Gratification," which opened at the Hibbleton Gallery in Fullerton, traveled to Copro Gallery in Santa Monica and spawned a publication featuring images by over 200 international artists. GCAC is the hub of the downtown Santa Ana Artist's Village, and reigns as the king of the contemporary Orange County art gallery scene.

Kevin Staniec.

Staniec started ISM from nothing more than an idea for a free magazine filled with art and writing. Staniec and three friends invested their own money to start this venture, and ISM took off almost instantaneously. A Chapman University graduate, Staniec has been involving Orange County in his ISM projects for years. In an interview with Jennfier Pappas about the history, Staniec reflects, "We thought, 'Let's do a magazine that we can give out for free at these music events, because there are so many great writers and photographers and artists out there and they don't have a home. There weren't any websites where you could post things yet, and if there was, no one knew about it." The idea hinged on bringing all types of artists -- the "creatively homeless" he says -- to one place to work together. From students to up-and-comers to parents who'd given up art to have families to retirees; everyone would be welcome. Anyone was able to submit. This free publication spawned into monthly "First Wednesdays" at The Lab, the "anti-mall" in Costa Mesa, bringing anywhere from 200 to 300 people for the visual version of the magazine in art, poetry, installations, music, and photography. The events brought in the money needed to help produce the free publication, which earned a devout following in O.C. And as the publication spawned the ISM events, the events spawned the ISM projects. Staniec and partners found themselves working with artists and spaces to develop projects and exhibits with neighborhoods, artists' circles, organizations, and creative groups, especially the "low brow" scene.

"ISM: A Community Project" took off. They facilitated a live installation with local artists at the Action Sports Retailer (ASR) Trade Show in 2007, opened an art gallery in downtown Long Beach, and organized fundraising events for youth and education. They also curated Sk8ology, a huge art exhibit that placed pieces by major artists and musicians side by side the work of high school students. That's when Staniec realized ISM's purpose: creating opportunities for people to get out there, to be creative, and to be a part of something that they may not have credentials in, but are passionate about. It's a mission that most of us can get behind, and GCAC's new Director and Chief Curator, John Spiak knew right away that he wanted to bring ISM into the spaces and celebrate their decade-long journey in style.

Kevin Staniec and GCAC Preparator Matthew Miller.

Alongside a published commemorative book highlighting the past 10 years of ISM, featuring the writers, projects, events, and artists featured with ISM, GCAC's three spaces are being taken over by ISM and Staniec. GCAC's Main Gallery and Project Room will be showing "_______ism," an exhibition featuring over 100 invited artists' individual interpretations of their favorite isms, ranging from anthromorphism and communism, all the way to suggestivism, and absolutism. ISM invited these artists to define their own favorite ism through the medium of their choice. The exhibition includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, and more.

The Sales Gallery of GCAC is a much smaller space that usually houses interesting one-of-a-kind jewelry and hand-blown vessels aside seat-belt purses and posters for sale. But thanks to ISM, the Sales Gallery will be dedicated to Focus, a different kind of photography competition, focusing, so to speak, on the photographer and the tools of the trade. ISM included the public in this project as well, challenging people to take a picture of a favorite camera (digital, instant, pinhole, pocket, phone, single-lens reflex, toy camera, etc.) and submit it for competition. The winner will be announced at the closing reception on August 4, 2012. Cameras are tiny little scientific machines that pack a power only replicated by our human eyes and memories combined. Documenting the adoration of these little machines proves to provide more than just an image of a piece of machinery, but instead evokes feelings, and special scenery for loving photographers to tell the world who they are with their creative tool.

Photo of a favorite camera.

The final project for this celebration is "Cheers!," an exhibit that centers on community-inspired artwork using recycled materials. Coasters printed specifically for this exhibition were distributed at a number of participating local bars, restaurants, and shops, including my favorite weird little hipster-gothic watering hole, Lola Gaspar. ISM invited the public to share paintings, photos, or poetry on this coaster canvas and return it to Grand Central Art Center by a specific date for an exhibition project. This exhibit will also be shown in the Sales Gallery. This kind of social activism art not only helps the community feel involved and incorporated with the institution that usually feels so distant, but involves a kind of light-hearted humor and care that some feel Orange County has been lacking.

These strange and crafty invitations seem simple, but the participatory aspect of these art projects invokes the spirit of community, education, and relational aesthetics in a scene, which is sometimes competitive. These exhibitions do more than just look pretty-- they make people reconsider what is art in the gallery and in their community.

ISM: 10 Year Celebration, on view at Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, July 7-August 12, 2012
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Top Image: ISM artwork.

About the Author

Evan is the Editor in Chief of Inland Empire Weekly, Culture Magazine, and Rogue Art Research & Writing (RARW).
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