There was a time when what little was known about Fullerton were factoids someone might uncover in a turn of Trivial Pursuit. The birthplace of the Fender Guitar legacy. The fertile grounds for Philip K. Dick’s last works. The hotbed of the Orange County hardcore punk rock scene. Perhaps even, Tommy Lasorda’s longtime residence.

Nearly a year ago, the eyes of the world became fixated  on our otherwise innocuous burb — duly landing us a glaring skullhead on the tourist map.  Amidst vestiges of the just celebrated Independence Day the night before, police officers accosted an unassuming Kelly Thomas at the Fullerton Transportation Center on the premise that he was “breaking into cars”. Thomas, a well-recognized schizophrenic homeless man, was savagely beaten by no less than five officers into a bloody coma that would ultimately result in his untimely demise. What has transpired since then has been a blitzkrieg of media coverage and street protests, plus a special Recall Election of the three deplorable council members who refused to acknowledge the gravity of the crime.

Although arraignment has been postponed to July 13 for officers Ramos and Cicinelli, the community is already seeking a more peaceful path to closure. In observance of Thomas’ misguided life and the tragedy of his death, a tribute of historical breadth will be held to benefit the Kelly Thomas Memorial Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to assisting the homeless men, women and children of Orange County. Unlike the Los Angeles riots that fomented as an outcry from the Rodney King case, Thomas supporters are powering through the Kübler-Ross model with art, music and compassion for those on the margins of society. Main organizer Stephan Baxter, a personal friend of Thomas’, walks us through the details of the three-pronged event of The Memorial, Art With An Agenda Group Exhibit at PÄS Gallery, and the Memorial Concert fundraiser at the Museum Plaza:

July 5

The Memorial-  Under normal circumstances, where a child dies of natural causes, and is fondly remembered by all, the one year anniversary is a tough day. Now add murder, torture, false accusations about their son, controversy, the press, and the many detractors on top of everything one would normally deal with. I assure you that this day will be a sad day and I hope they [his family] are surrounded by love.

Art With An Agenda Family Walk Through – We want the family to see the exhibit privately before the opening, as we believe the nature of the exhibit will be very emotional. Consequently, we prefer that they experience the exhibit, which was inspired by their son, for the first time without dozens of guests staring at them. It will be my obligation that day to ensure that any pain resulting from the viewing of the selected art which depicts the ugliness of that day, is a conduit, a catalyst that brings us closer to our goal of greater community and justice – not that this tragedy is being exploited for other, less noble means. The bottom line is that we need to prove to the family that what we are doing, and all the emotions we are stirring up in the process, have furthered their cause and in some small way validated their son’s ultimate sacrifice.

July 6

Art With An Agenda OpeningAll the established artists who gave their commitment to this exhibit months ago came through well above and beyond expectations. Most created multiple pieces specific to this topic, and all donated their work with no strings. Caliber artists like William Zdan, Rene Cardona (who painted the murals at the Amerige  Alcoves) Hagop Najarian, Andrea Bersaglieri, Valerie Lewis,  John M. Sollom, and many younger artists, they all dug deep and turned in some amazing work. We have the work not only of full-time professional artists, but celebrities, students, and other members of our community who were all  sincere in what they wanted to do.

This exhibit is co-curated by John M. Sollom, who is also contributing multiple pieces. John is a full-time working artist who I met in a life drawing class when we were both 18 years old. In my opinion, John is one of the best still life painters in Los Angeles, and to be honest, John is the real curator of our endeavor, while I am more of the organizer. Brian Prince, who owns PÄS with his wife Kristy, Mike and Candace Magoski, who run the adjoining Violet Hour, all have made incredible contributions; so have  a dozen other volunteers who are experienced at getting the gallery ready for Art Walk every month.  

This event we hope will be bigger, and when it is, we will be ready: they are all brilliant and dedicated to the cause.  When Kelly’s family sees what we have done for the first time, and understands that the art community, now close to 50 artists, gave of their time to create art inspired by what they have endured for the last year, it will all have been worth it.

July 7

The Concert –  Dana, Kelly’s stepmom, did most of the organizing for the concert. She made sure the bands had a great a sound system; she got the food trucks; she worked with the city on all permits, and she is responsible for signing on most of the bands. All I’ve done is help with the headliner and created the flyer. We wanted a headliner that could bring in a crowd, but it was essential that they were known as a “Fullerton Band” and that they had been part of the Justice for Kelly Thomas movement. This brought us to the The Adolescents.  I had seen the bass player Steve Soto, who is a good friend of mine, at the protests, and both he and Tony Brandenburg, the lead singer, immediately said they would do it if their schedule of summer festivals in Europe permitted it.  We got very lucky. There was no rider, they just wanted to know when to show up and they want to help in any way they can. 

The Adolescents have been one of my favorites since I purchased their Blue Album when I was 16, they are also the band the OC Weekly called the “Greatest OC Band Ever!” on a list of 129 and they are the band that our very own museum highlighted in their retrospective of OC music a few years back. Now they are also headlining our benefit concert. It does not get much better than that.  

Baxter himself is a punk rocker for life. Always fervently outspoken, he has been on a moral campaign to uphold Thomas’ memory as the mild-mannered and kind soul that he fondly remembers him.

Continue with Pt. II

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