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Books by mail: A Santa Ana arts center reimagines lending library services

Marytza Rubio’s home is stocked with books. About 300 titles travel back and forth between her bookshelves and the post office. An estimated 750 are stored inside weatherproof bins in the garage. The inventory is a part of Makara Center for the Arts’ book collection, which has continued to circulate since the brick-and-mortar space shut down last year.

Rubio, a writer who was born and raised in Santa Ana, said she always loved books and had an affinity for specialized collections like the fashion library at Otis College of Art and Design, her former workplace. After completing an MFA program based in South America, she wanted to bring the bookstores, libraries and kiosks she came across in cities like Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Santiago to her hometown.

“I didn’t want to teach. I’m not really into academia or any similar formal environments,” Rubio said. “I wanted to recreate some of the energy in those places I visited, but specifically that kind of library that I was able to explore when I was working at Otis.”

She describes Makara as a lending library specializing in global arts and culture with a focus on perspectives that have been historically excluded.

The volunteer-run nonprofit was established in 2016. Rubio held pop-up book clubs and sold books to fundraise. A year later, she opened a commercial space on 811 N. Main St. The book inventory, free to Santa Ana residents, began to grow. Programming like book clubs, kid-friendly Surreal StoryTime, lectures on Santa Ana history and Tarot and Tea kept the center busy for the next couple of years.

Exterior of Makara Center for the Arts, which closed in 2020.

In early 2020, Rubio

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