On a recent tour of “The Art of Competition” exhibition, illustrating the breadth and depth of professional sports by world-famous artists, Irvine Great Park Gallery director Kevin Staniec talked enthusiastically about the artwork in that show. Along the way, he reminisced about his own nurturing childhood — he grew up with strong encouragement to pursue both the arts and sports — which mirrored the sports-themed art show.
“My family moved from Chicago to Orange County when I was 3,” he explains. “During that drive, my parents made a pact that they would provide and support equal opportunities for my brother and me to engage in the arts and athletics. Between writing and basketball, soccer and painting, I learned how to balance the creative and the collaborative.”
Staniec describes his childhood education in the O.C., which included daily instruction in the visual arts and music, along with immersion in sports. “I learned to play musical instruments in elementary school, and performed in plays, some of which were written by my classmates’ parents.”
He took classes in painting and illustration, and even had a chalk charcoal drawing included in a children’s exhibition at Laguna Art Museum. “My family drove to the museum one afternoon to see my work,” he says. “When we got near the museum, there were artists painting and musicians performing outside. I thought to myself, ‘this is cool.’ I decided then that I wanted to be in the arts when I grew up.”
Staniec studied film and media arts at Chapman University, with a minor in creative writing. “Chapman provided a unique opportunity to engage in all of the schools on campus, including performing arts, visual arts and literary arts,” he says. He graduated from Chapman in 2001 with a B.F.A. from the School of Film and Television.
His early career included working in marketing at the Orange County Museum of Art, the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, and the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton. He also produced a variety of cultural programs and community art exhibitions at several institutions, including Bergamot Station Arts Center, Grand Central Arts Center, Laguna Art Museum, Long Beach Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, and the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.
After excelling in various positions and volunteer projects, Staniec interviewed in 2011 for the program specialist position at the Great Park’s Palm Court Arts Complex. “During my interviews, I suggested an exhibition combining art with sports,” he says. He finally got to mount his “Art of Competition” show this spring, eight years after that interview.
“My first day working here was in the summer of 2011, during the grand opening of the Arts Complex,” he explains. “Our team here programs the Artist Studios, Gallery, and Hangar 244 [all part of the Arts Complex]. Our exhibitions feature professional artists from all over the globe, as well as emerging artists from Irvine and Orange County. We regularly collaborate with academic institutions, community groups and nonprofit organizations.”
“One of my favorite exhibitions here was “Walt and the Flying Bull,’ featuring the Disney designed ‘Flying Bull’ logo for the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, along with other designs that supported the World War II effort. Another favorite exhibition was ‘Painting in the Abstract: Women Inspired by the Masters.’ In collaboration with curator/artist Suzanne Walsh, this show explored the impact and diversity of women in the Southern California art scene, while showcasing how they challenge the medium and echo the legacies of the mid-century female masters.”
In 2015, Staniec opened his “1888 Center” in Old Towne Orange, promoting the literary arts and culture. With the mission of, “Building community, one story at a time,” the nonprofit publishes novellas, broadcasts podcasts and hosts educational events.
As a longtime Orange Countian, whose education in the arts began here nearly four decades ago, Staniec — also a published author of fiction — exudes an uncommon enthusiasm for the arts in the OC. Through his lifetime, he has seen this area’s art scene grow and flourish dramatically, he explains.
For his many successes on behalf of the arts, and for his mission and vision for the future of creativity in the O.C., Staniec has won several awards. In October 2017, he won the Arts Leader Award at Arts Orange County. “Orange County is full of creativity and sometimes all it takes is a little collaboration to inspire the community,” he remarks.
He has been recognized as one of Orange County’s most influential and innovative entrepreneurs in Modern Luxury Magazine, OC Weekly, and the Orange County Register in 2015 and 2017.
Completing Staniec’s life is his family, his wife Janet and two very small children. “My wife and I met after a book release party,” he says. “We have started publishing companies together and co-founded a nonprofit organization in our community. We are both very passionate about supporting creative and cultural opportunities in Orange County.”
Kevin Staniec looks forward to many more years promoting and curating the visual and literary arts. He expresses appreciation for the visionary artists who have come before him, who have mentored and inspired him. He in turn plans to pass the mantle of creativity on to younger artists. He talks about a conversation he had with local art activist Mark Chamberlain (whose work has been exhibited at the Palm Court) a year before he passed away in April 2018. “I asked Mark how he continues to promote and work for the arts after so many decades. He responded, ‘I used to think that promoting the arts was a sprint. Then I figured that it was a marathon. Now I realize that promoting the arts is a relay.’ ”
The exhibition, “A Brief History of the El Toro Air Show: 1950-1997,” is currently on view at the Great Park Palm Court Art Complex. The show includes artwork by Cynthia Castaneda, Paul Gavin, Kimberleigh Gavin, Bethany Girod and George Katzenberger, and collaborative art by The Draculas. cityofirvine.org/orange-county-great-park/arts-exhibitions.