Barrio Logan is in the midst of a self-imposed identity crisis.

Alex Zaragoza on Culture logoResidents are still reeling from a citywide vote in June that shot down their years-in-the-making plans to shape the neighborhood in a way that would steer homes away from shipyards.

And ever since the historic, predominately Chicano/Mexican-American neighborhood began to build cache among hip, young urbanites, longtime residents have begun to feel the threat of their neighborhood losing its character.

That’s what happens when an area people once visited only when they made a wrong turn becomes a hub for exciting art and culture. Developers begin to creep in. Visit the neighborhood and you’ll already see condos beginning to rise to the sky just feet from Chicano Park, the epicenter of San Diego’s Chicano civil rights movement.

Enter the Barrio Art Association. The group has been formed to fulfill two missions: promote Barrio Logan artists and to conserve the Barrio way of life. That means preserving the area’s Chicano heritage, maintaining its vibrant arts scene and blunting some of the effects of complete gentrification.

Still in its early days, the BAA is composed of community organizers, local business owners and others who have a vested interest in maintaining the Barrio’s identity.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

“About three months ago, I got contacted by a group of business people down in the Barrio and they said, ‘We’re really concerned because we can feel development coming,’ ” says Benjamin Nicholls, executive director of the BAA. “You stand on the southeast end of the Barrio, you can feel the East Village coming, and I think people remember 10 years ago, the East Village, there were really artistic and creative things going on there, and there still are. But a lot of the culture that was there was wiped out. People know the narrative, right? Artists move into a neighborhood, they make it cool and trendy, developers move in, prices go up, artists get booted out. So the very thing that made it trendy is gone, so there’s nervousness about that because in the Barrio you have that history of art.”

Nicholls, a New Zealand transplant, has a background in community organizing. He worked at the Pacific Beach Business Association and the Hillcrest Business Association, for which he still offers consulting. He and the board members that make up the BAA have set forth a plan to carry out their two missions.

The BAA will work closely with the artists and galleries that make up the Barrio Arts District, which creates and promotes neighborhood arts events like the Barrio Art Crawl, a monthly series of gallery openings, open studios and special programming throughout the Barrio’s arts spaces.  Among them are La Bodega, The Stronghold, Roots Factory, Bread & Salt, The Glashaus, Woodbury School of Architecture and many other galleries that have turned Barrio Logan into one of San Diego’s most exciting arts districts.

For the upcoming Barrio Art Crawl on July 26, the BAA will light the Chicano Park murals so they can be viewed after dark. They’re also planning a large arts festival around late September/early October to coincide with the unveiling of the Barrio Logan sign, designed by BAA board member Armando Nuñez. The hope is to turn the festival into an annual event.

BAA members seem aware, though, that their events have the potential to backfire in a way by creating an atmosphere that’s more attractive to development.

“A festival doesn’t change the realities of the economy,” says Nicholls. “In fact, it probably creates this idea that property values are worth more and exacerbates the problem.”

That’s where projects to preserve the Barrio way of life come in. The BAA has put together a three-step objective it believes will ensure the community keeps flourishing culturally.

Create a Barrio Public Art Fund

The BAA is waiting to be granted nonprofit status from the IRS. Once it gets the green light, the group will begin soliciting donations and applying for grants from organizations like the Port of San Diego, the San Diego Foundation and anywhere else with a few bucks to spare. It hopes to set up a charitable fund that bankrolls projects and artists working strictly within Barrio Logan.

“It creates a permanent source of funding for these artists, and it’s relatively easy,” said Nicholls. “You have to get people to contribute to the fund, but for every dollar that’s raised through the Barrio Arts Association, 75 percent will go into this art fund.”

The goal is to raise $80,000 annually for the art fund.

Work With Developers

Though they’re wary of development having an impact on neighborhood character, Nicholls and the BAA want to work with developers – stopping development, after all, is basically impossible.

“How do you get the benefits of new development but preserve your culture and your neighborhood?” he said. “What we’ve seen in the Barrio before, and with other neighborhoods, is that people don’t want their neighborhoods to change so they say no [to developments]. Saying no is not a solution, especially when the way that the city makes its money is through new development.”

They’re lobbying City Council to require all new developments created in the Barrio to give 1 percent of their budget to the Barrio Art Fund. Developers already pay fees for each unit they build to help finance parks, community centers and other neighborhood amenities. This would be similar, but would be a new fee marked only for the local art initiative.

“I actually don’t think that that’s unreasonable,” Nicholls said. “A lot of other cities do that, and there are other neighborhoods in the city of San Diego that have special set-asides for the arts; suburban neighborhoods mainly. I think this is a perfect time to propose that.”

Build Live/Work Space for Artists

This is a long-term goal. The BAA hopes to purchase – and help others purchase – properties that can be turned into live/work spaces for local artists.

“If you become the developer, you can develop the property in the way that you or the neighborhood wants it developed, not the way that the bottom line dictates,” said Nicholls. “The bottom line dictates these big towers. This way, you can build housing for artists to do their craft in the neighborhood.”

Once granted nonprofit status, the BAA hopes to take advantage of certain tax credits that would help them acquire space for artists. They’re looking to organizations like Space 4 Art, which is currently moving its live/work gallery and studios to Sherman Heights from the East Village, for inspiration on how to accomplish the goal in a way that feels true to Barrio Logan’s principles.

They don’t, however, want to emulate the Makers Quarter project, an urban real estate development taking over East Village that’s also being marketed to artists and other creative types.

“I really feel like the difference between the two efforts is that there are plenty of artists in the Barrio,” Nicholls said. “We’re not trying to bring artists to the Barrio. We have them. We’re trying to preserve them whereas with the East Village, this feels like they’re making something up. I love what they’re doing [at Makers Quarter] and I like the guys that are organizing it, but I think the developers are trying to make a cool thing that they can later develop. It doesn’t feel honest.”

The residents, activists and artists who have helped Barrio Logan thrive and grow have been there for decades, Nicholls said. The BAA will simply work to maintain the artistic identity that’s already there, Nicholls said.

“Advocacy and strategy is more about becoming the owner of this movement,” said Nicholls. “If you’re afraid of developers, become a developer. If you don’t have any money, set up a fund. Work with what you’ve got. My hope is that it all comes to fruition. It’s totally doable, someone just has to do it.”

    This article relates to: Arts/Culture, Barrio Logan, Neighborhood Growth, News

    Written by Alex Zaragoza

    Alex Zaragoza is a freelance writer covering arts and culture in San Diego and Tijuana. She also writes the column "There She Goz" for San Diego CityBeat, which has led her to skydive, pose nude and contact her spirit guides in the great beyond. Not at the same time, of course. You can read her random inane thoughts on Twitter by following @there_she_goz or contact her directly at

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    Art Pulse has folded. Haven't heard anything new on the SDMA's gallery. Those barrio artist voices would include Cesar Castañeda at Chicano Art Gallery, Bob Green at The Roots Factory and Milo Lorenzana, Chris Zertuche and Max Bojorquez at La Bodega as well as individuals in the Chicano Park Steering Committee.

    Kristen Aliotti
    Kristen Aliotti subscriber

    Following the links of your commenters, this quote seem quite significant (Dorian Hargrove, from San Diego READER, June 2014): 

    Other residents are now taking action. “McFarlane Communications had the highest bid for the contract, so it raises some serious questions, especially given Nicholls was hired by McFarlane after several years of passing contracts its way,” wrote Leo Wilson, a longtime Bankers Hill resident. “I will be requesting the Uptown Parking District budget not be approved until the question of potential conflict of interest in awarding the contract to McFarlane Communications is investigated and resolved.”

    Kristen Aliotti
    Kristen Aliotti subscriber

    Quote from Mr.Nicholls:

    "I love what they’re doing [at Makers Quarter] and I like the guys that are organizing it, but I think the developers are trying to make a cool thing that they can later develop. It doesn’t feel honest.” 

    If it doesn't feel honest, why does he like it? Doesn't sound right.  

    Marc N
    Marc N subscriber

    Desde la Logan is right to have concerns: Ben Nicholls has a history of helping developers and doing questionable things with nonprofits. The first time he was with the Hillcrest Business Association, the bylaws were changed to allow outside developers to sit on the board and to exclude legitimate businesses--

    Nicholls also registered as a lobbyist with the City expressly to "Establish a conclusion date for the IHO (Interim Height Ordinance) and make it descretionary in Uptown," despite massive opposition by the community. See filing ID 129718805,

    Does Glenn Younger think this is "a great idea" because he's a fan of the arts in Barrio Logan--or because he was the President of the HBA when all this happened, and is now working with Nicholls on yet another uncertified nonprofit, the Hillcrest CDC?

    The BAA was started by and is located at Mike Fuller's events promotions business. Before giving validity to this "arts association," look at how Nicholls has used nonprofits as vehicles for events promotions--

    Joshua Brant
    Joshua Brant subscriber

    I think an interesting development to note is the new Restaurant Depot building which preserved the old mural from the former building which was torn down. A new development which preserved a bit of the former character.

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    First point:

    Gentrification in Barrio Logan is not the reality that many think it is. New developments in and of themselves does not equate to gentrification. Since the 1990's there have been seven new residential developments in BL. Only one has been market rate and it's the smallest one (corner of National/Sigsby). The rest have been apartments for low income people like myself. The author is incorrect when she calls the new building next to Chicano Park condos. The Estrella del Mercado are not condos. It is an affordable housing development. I know because I live there. The vast majority (I'd say 90% if not more) of the new people moving to BL are Latinos and other historical minorities. Including those here at La Estrella.

    I just don't see major condo developers building here with the toxic maritime industry and freeway pollution plus the negative stereotype that my community has. People will not want to pay market rate to live here. If I could I wouldn't pay market rate to live here and I love this vibrant community. I foresee only affordable housing developments being built. That is not gentrification because the same socio-economic and ethnic demographics that have historically lived here will continue to do so. This is not San Francisco's Mission District nor NY's Brooklyn and it will never be like those places that have experienced actual gentrification.

    Second point:

    There is a general distrust by some of the art space people that created the Barrio Arts District towards the Barrio Art Association. Barrio Logan has always been wary of outsiders. We've been dumped on for decades by outsiders so until the BAA proves themselves to be a part of this community that general distrust will continue. The BAA did not happen organically. It wasn't the art spaces that created it. It is the vision of businessman Mike Fuller who hired Ben Nichols (who is mired in a brouhaha at the Hillcrest Business Association). Though I have no distrust towards either of these two individuals, they seem to honestly want to help, some spaces here do. Especially when Nichols is getting paid to create the BAA when the people that run the spaces here are barely making ends meet.

    I think what may end up happening is that the more Chicano/Latino grassroots spaces like The Roots Factory, La Bodega and Chicano Art Gallery will continue doing what they do whereas the non-Chicano/Latino spaces like Glashaus, Woodbury, Bread & Salt and some others will join with the BAA. Especially if the BAA charges a membership fee.

    Though I have no animosity towards Fuller or Nichols, they seem like really nice guys, I feel they went about creating the BAA in the wrong way. Fuller should have surveyed each space, learned about their needs, and then hire an Executive Director that is from Barrio Logan or someone that has a history of working with this community. Because Fuller didn't the the BAA is going to have to do extra to win the trust of the spaces that currently lack that trust. And that can only be done through actions and time.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    If the residents of Barrio Logan want to control their own future, they seriously need to consider incorporating into a city of their own. Of course people in other parts of San Diego will, if given the choice, vote down anything that benefits Barrio Logan if it might disrupt the region's shipbuilding industry. Incorporating will mean Barrio Logan will no longer have to ask permission from the rest of San Diego for every little thing they want to do.

    The first hurdle will be obtaining permission for Barrio Logan to secede from the City of San Diego. This might be tough because Barrio Logan likely subsidizes many of the other, more residential neighborhoods of San Diego, and those neighborhoods won't want to lose the money. But once that's achieved, Barrio Logan will be able to set its own destiny.

    Desde la Logan
    Desde la Logan subscriber

    That is completely unrealistic. It would require a vote of the entire city and we saw in the last election what the city thinks of Barrio Logan residents.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @Desde la Logan We saw in the last election that San Diego fully understands the value of Barrio Logan's maritime industry. Perhaps if Barrio Logan were to accept some of the adjacent low-income neighborhoods into its new city, San Diego might grant secession.

    It would be better if San Diego would keep Barrio Logan but give it complete autonomy and economic self-sufficiency, but that seems to be even more unlikely.

    Carrie subscribermember

    Where would barrio Logan source its water supply if it seceded?

    Joe Point
    Joe Point subscriber

    The article states "the Barrio Art Crawl, a monthly series of gallery openings, open studios...", but when you click on the Barrio Art Crawl site....their last event posting was May 31st.  Doesn't look like a monthly event.