Sandra Hahn: Commissioner Spotlight

"As an Arts Commissioner today, I am so blown away by the resources that are available to so many communities—that I had no idea were available before…I’m trying to bring a window to these resources by visiting schools and inviting both students and teachers to participate in exhibits within the surrounding district." —Arts Commissioner Sandra Hahn

Sandra HahnSandra Hahn grew up in East LA and in Whittier, artistically inclined from the start. She had challenges to navigate—including not speaking English when she first started school, needing glasses, and dealing with then-undiagnosed dyslexia. But she always drew, and won many art contests at school and at fairs. As she got a little older, Sandra became interested in photography, film, and murals through after-school programs. She also got into trouble a lot, and because her parents didn’t see or understand the vast opportunities in the field of arts for a young girl, they pushed her toward beauty college.

At 17, Sandra got her cosmetology license, and because she had been working odd jobs and saving money for years, the teenage entrepreneur bought her own salon. There, she began to produce and create special fashion show events that featured local fashion designers, hairstylists, artists, and photographers. She worked as a platform artist with product companies KMS Hair and TRI-K Industries—platform artists promote products and techniques at trades shows and events. Ever since, she’s had the talent and vision to create multi-artform events herself.

Her career has taken many, many interesting turns since. She was a hairdresser for rockers Alice Cooper, Meatloaf, and Davey Johnstone, Elton John’s guitarist, and was never starstruck. "I was into the art and fashion disco dancing," Sandra said. "I didn’t know who they were until I heard their music!"

After she sold her salon, Sandra took some computer graphic design courses, then started taking on new clients. She never stopped making art and building her creative resource network. She put together performances, exhibited at Self Help Graphics, Photography Center, LACMA, and collaborated with artists Patssi Valdez, Gronk, Harry Gamboa, and Willie Herrón from ASCO, the Eastside Chicano art collective, and many others. She even played keyboards, briefly, in the East LA band, Los Illegals.

Collaborating with other artists as a multi-discipline artist herself became her specialty. Since there were very few computer artists experimenting with digital prints and animated short films at the time, centering her media in an accessible genre was difficult. She still managed to win several awards for her video film art.

After her daughter was born, Sandra sought stability and tried her hand in the corporate world as a creative director at a Fortune 500 company. She also launched Wetstone, a side business, for which she made homemade soap and lotions, and held soap-carving workshops. It was very successful for several years, but the essential oils made her second daughter nauseous. More side hustles were on the horizon, and she worked as an installation artist and painter in local galleries. But she knew instinctively that she was meant to run her own business—so she found a space in Whitter and opened Crêpes & Grapes Café, building it into a longstanding business from scratch. "I took all my various experiences from art and the corporate world, then put them into the development of a restaurant," Sandra said. "I knew how to build an environment, how to create a space where people can connect, experience all the senses, and where everyone is welcome. It’s about building community and being successful at creating jobs and making a steady living."

Back in 2015, the City of Santa Fe Springs hired Sandra as the Art Consultant for the SFS Art Fest. Her charge was to create access to art resources through film, dance, textile, painting, and performing arts. It has grown in both size and artist diversity ever year. It was received the California Parks & Recreation Society Award.

Today, she sits on several boards and community committees, including the Los Angeles Music and Art School, the Latino Company at LATC, and she is the Whittier of Chamber of Commerce recent past president. In early 2022, she was appointed to the Arts Commission by Supervisor Janice Hahn (no relation). "Sandra’s journey from a business-minded little girl to a civic tour de force could probably only happen in Los Angeles County. It’s full of fearless career pivots, a devotion to community and art, and a passion for reviving businesses and civic endeavors. Her lived experience enables her to connect people and initiatives in commerce, art, education, and government sectors, in ways that few people can," Supervisor Hahn said.

“As an Arts Commissioner today, I am so blown away by the resources that are available to so many communities—that I had no idea were available before,” Sandra says. “But I am also very aware that some areas just don’t get as many resources and programs, or as much cultural information, grants, and access to theater performances, storytelling, dance, and technology art platforms. Santa Fe Springs is just one example. I’m trying to bring a window to these resources by visiting schools and inviting both students and teachers to participate in exhibits within the surrounding district.”

Her other passion, as a Commissioner, is arts education. "I love working with young people in high school, especially the ones who fall off the track—because that’s what happened to me," she says. "These young people are searching. There’s something innate in them, but they don’t have guidance or opportunities to plan a career in what calls them. I can recognize that."

She once helped set up and teach in the first computer lab at LA Music & Art School. She had a student who loved graffiti but refused to do computer work. "I said to him, ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll help you tweak your graffiti alphabet fonts in the computer by creating your own Adobe illustrator alphabet.’ He was into it. With some time, he created his set of letters and designed them with popping colors, then made an awesome poster!"

Several years later, a young man came up to her in Uptown Whittier. "He says to me, ‘Mrs. Hahn, do you remember me, I was the kid with the alphabets! I work at an advertising agency now.’ It was that one class that changed his direction and journey. That’s why I’m passionate about this. If you can create a path and open the dialogue—I mean, they still have to do the work—but if the path opens, change happens."