It’s 2016, and Cal State Long Beach art instructor and Orange resident Carolin Peters is thinking about the results of the election.
She is watching the country begin to divide, with everyone in their own little camp, not talking to one another.
She decides to do something about it.
If you’re a creative and your home prevents you from splashing paint around, or if the distractions of Netflix, your cat and your partner prevent you from getting work done, you need to look for alternative spaces. Starbucks works if you can handle the noise and the smell of burnt coffee. The library has free space, but their clientele isn’t likely to be on the same page as you. The solitude you need to work—or at least the quiet—goes away the more public the space is.
But located in an industrial park, Cura Studios’ humble confines offer something almost impossible to find in the city of Orange: affordable space for artists to rent, meet and work in. (Only the writing-focused 1888 Center and the ceramic-centric the Treasury, both near the Circle, offer anything remotely similar.) As I walk into the modest two-seater lobby of Peters’ self-described “community hub for visual artists,” she’s sitting behind a tiny desk just to the left of the front door. She gets up, and we shake hands, start chatting immediately and go on a tour.
With Orange as big and as affluent as it is, it’s a travesty there’s only a couple of bookstores, no independent theater company with its own space, no city-supported art center . . . the list goes on. And the bandshell at Hart Park is barely used. You have to go to Santa Ana, Irvine, Costa Mesa, Brea, Laguna Beach—basically anywhere else in the county, save Orange, if you want a bit of culture.
That’s why the sudden blossoming of places such as Cura is just what’s needed to begin the city’s cultural rebirth.
Opposite shelves full of art books, there’s a row of padlocked lockers stacked atop one another in the coffee room, conveniently available for paying members to leave their supplies. It reminded me right away of art school, and the studio’s hope for community is echoed by the code-of-conduct sign on the lobby wall. Its first tenant (of seven): “Kindness is King.”
The studio is the backroom of the industrial space, complete with a roll-up garage door. Paintings and sketches, nudes, graffiti-inflected imagery—some of it very good—are displayed on one wall. There’s a backstage for models on the other side, folded tight to conserve space; stands for art supplies hang on pegs nearby. The small studio seats 18 for its drawing and painting classes and sessions. It’s warm from the record heat on the day of my visit and too early in the morning for anyone to be working, so the fan isn’t on. But it’s cozy and comfortable. I mention that the intimacy of the space surprised me. Peters smiles and says, “Sitting near each other is good for the social fabric.”
She’s right, of course. Painting or drawing near someone in a class can be a revelatory way to improve your technique—watching others working, stealing their tricks, or simply getting to know the process. Building that shared community that we all talk about, that we so desperately need despite it often seeming more like a pipedream than a reality, begins with people meeting one another.
Cura’s prices range from $25 to $250, with some plans allowing for shorter periods in which you just need a day to bust out some work, others providing an unheard-of 24/7 access via passkey, letting an insomniac work at all hours of the night, with Cura’s free coffee and tea helping them burn the candles at both ends.
And to prove they aren’t just in it for the big bucks, if you already know what you’re doing and don’t need a class, you don’t have to be a member to swing by and see what everyone’s up to: There are open sessions on the schedule.
Upstairs is a quiet suite of desks—with air conditioning—where graphic artists, illustrators, comic book and digital artists, as well as a fashion designer and writers generally work. There are two dedicated desks, already rented by two artists who want the same space to work in each time they arrive, but alongside them are six open spaces in an L shape.
It’s innocuous, comfortable and, best of all, quiet.
“I truly believe doing something creative is good for your being,” says Peters, after we discuss isolation, as well as the entitlement and inevitable complaints that come with the disappointment many artists have to face. Bringing the conversation back to the positive, she offers, “Artists are changemakers. . . . Don’t wait for a handout. Make your own thing happen.”
Cura Studios, 1407 N. Batavia, Ste. 114, Orange; www.curaoc.com/welcome. If you’re not a member, it’s open by appointment; call (949) 813-2795 or email draw@curaOC.com. Follow Cura on Instagram: @curaOC.
Dave Barton has written for the OC Weekly for over twenty years, the last eight as their lead art critic. He has interviewed artists from punk rock photographer Edward Colver to monologist Mike Daisey, playwright Joe Penhall to culture jammer Ron English.