The animals in the new Amazon's Edge exhibit aren't the only ones at the Santa Ana Zoo exploring uncharted territory.
On Sunday, "Arts Alive," a family-oriented festival showcasing Santa Ana's performing and visual arts, takes its maiden voyage on the zoo grounds. The event will feature live music, comedy, poetry and ethnic dance, as well as art exhibitions and children's activities. Scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the festival is free with zoo admission.
All of the participating groups, including the zoo, are members of the 5-year-old Santa Ana Council of Art and Culture, which works to preserve and enhance the city's cultural assets, said council founder and director Don Cribb. The owner of a Los Angels antiques conservation business, Cribb said that when he relocated to Santa Ana in the late 1980s, he was dismayed by what he saw as a steady erosion of the city's cultural profile.
"I noticed that some of the arts organizations were moving out of town and getting press coverage (because of it), so I went to the city of Santa Ana and said, 'You need to pay more attention to these assets.'
"In this city, where you have such a disparity of income and education, and such a diverse ethnic composition . . . the arts are a tremendous asset," continued Cribb. "We should make use of them."
The council, which is funded largely by its members, is autonomous from the city but is recognized by the Santa Ana City Council as the "official arts ambassador" of Santa Ana, Cribb said.
Twenty groups or individuals make up the council, including Bowers Museum, Pacific Symphony, St. Joseph Ballet Company, the Discovery Museum of Orange County and Discovery Science Center and the Way Off Broadway Playhouse, and nearly all of them will be represented at the festival, Cribb said. (St. Joseph Ballet will not make an appearance because artistic director Beth Burns is on hiatus.)
Every half hour, a live performance will be offered in the zoo's 100-seat amphitheater. These include animal-themed poetry by Odgen Nash and others, read by Sarah Lang of Alternative Repertory Theatre; comedy by the Orange County Crazies and Way Off Broadway Playhouse (Cribb promises "family oriented" language) and music by the Pacific Symphony brass quartet. A member of the zoo's education staff will lead a session on native and South American wildlife.
Other groups will perform or exhibit on the lawn near Amazon's Edge, the open-air home of South American monkeys and capybaras that debuted late last month. Participants there will include the Jazz Generation, performing from noon to 3 p.m.; ceramic artist Randy Au, who will demonstrate the ceramic-making process, and artists from the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, who will exhibit their sculptures and talk with visitors. The costumed dancers of Relampago del Cielo will present regional Mexican folk dances.
Children's activities include animal chalk drawing by the Friends of the Santa Ana Zoo, tin-punching by the Discovery Museum and the crafting of paper tropical animals by the Bowers Museum.
"Arts Alive" is the largest event of its kind attempted by the council, Cribb said. Until now, the group has focused on more specialized events, such as an exhibit of David Hockney works at Hutton Center. The council also provides the Santa Ana Unified School District with free in-school performances and workshops by artists with Pacific Symphony, the Orange County Crazies, the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art and Alternative Repertory Theatre. Future plans include a downtown center dedicated to children's art, Cribb said.
Cribb, who estimates he donates 50 hours a week to running the council, said his group decided to take on "Arts Alive" partly because of the demise of Arts on the Green, a large annual event in Costa Mesa's Town Center park that featured visual, performing and culinary arts by groups from across the county. (Arts on the Green was canceled last September after the city of Costa Mesa withdrew $20,000 in funding.)
Cribb said that one of the reasons the council chose the city-owned zoo as a site was because it gave them a chance to help the public see the zoo not only as a source of entertainment, but as part of the city's cultural whole.
"People have derived a great sense of beauty and grace from nature and animals," Cribb said. "It's kind of an experience of living color and sound and form, which is the perfect setting of what (artists) do."