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 Mexicoand Latin America. But things didn’t exactly work out as Heraldezplanned. Instead of using her savings on a backpack, hiking boots,and airline tickets, she used them to open SolArt Gallerycaféon Santa Ana’s busy Main Street. As for SolArt, it may be the mostunusual gallery-cafe in Southern California: It sells neither artnor coffee.

“It’s not a typical gallery,” admits Heraldez, now 30,explaining that limited parking prevented her from getting abusiness license from the city. So she established a free space forpeople to gather―artists, musicians, poets, as well ascommunity groups like the Grain Project, a local nonprofitpromoting community gardens.

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

Despite these obstacles, SolArt has become a vital part ofdowntown Santa Ana. It celebrated its one-year anniversary thisspring. It has exhibited the works of over 50 artists, many of themlocal. “I love this community,” says Heraldez, a photographerherself. “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.comor 714/926-4375)

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