One of a kind

In Santa Ana, Sali Heraldez runs an
art gallery like no other

Like a lot of 20-somethings, Sali Heraldez had wanderlust. That's why she saved her money for a yearlong trek through Mexico and Latin America. But things didn't exactly work out as Heraldez planned. Instead of using her savings on a backpack, hiking boots, and airline tickets, she used them to open SolArt Gallerycafé on Santa Ana's busy Main Street. As for SolArt, it may be the most unusual gallery-cafe in Southern California: It sells neither art nor coffee.

"It's not a typical gallery," admits Heraldez, now 30, explaining that limited parking prevented her from getting a business license from the city. So she established a free space for people to gather―artists, musicians, poets, as well as community groups like the Grain Project, a local nonprofit promoting community gardens.

On a busy night, SolArt is hopping in a Greenwich Village-meets-the-O.C. kind of way. The gallery's walls are covered with the works of local artists, and an espresso machine hisses away as young poets and musicians await their turn for open-mike night. But all the commerce being done is on a donation-only basis. And if the donations don't quite cover the costs of operating SolArt, Heraldez makes up the difference, which is why she has yet to quit her day job working for a Santa Ana psychiatrist.

Despite these obstacles, SolArt has become a vital part of downtown Santa Ana. It celebrated its one-year anniversary this spring. It has exhibited the works of over 50 artists, many of them local. "I love this community," says Heraldez, a photographer herself. "That's why I wanted to do this. My big trip can wait." ―David Lansing

INFO: SolArt Gallerycafé (6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Thu, until 12 a.m. Fri-Sat; 2202 N. Main St., Santa Ana; www.solartgallerycafe.com or 714/926-4375)