Taking my kids to the New Children’s Museum makes me feel human again. Yes, I love my children, but having two young ones doesn’t allow for much to happen after 6 p.m. (cue dinner, baths, books, lullabies, multiple calls for glasses of water, occasional insane fits about wanting to keep the light on and hours of intermittent night nursing).

In other words, my arts and culture consumption has dropped dramatically since becoming a mom.

Enter the New Children’s Museum, which doesn’t just serve up canned, pre-fab traveling exhibitions like most of its counterparts. Instead, the museum gives us art-starved parents something special: They commission contemporary artists to create new, site-specific work based on a theme, and curators assist them in coming up with a piece of interactive or participatory installation art that both adults and kids will hopefully dig.

Pleasing parents is the easy part. Getting artists to design something that little people will actually understand and enjoy is a huge risk and a challenge, but the museum has succeeded far more often than it’s failed.

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Eureka!,” the Children’s Museum’s newest California-themed exhibition that opened over the weekend, is a big hit with my kids.

Roman De Salvo, a San Diego artist who’s done several large public-art installations, was inspired by our state’s ability to re-engineer the watersheds by building reservoirs that help make our desert landscapes livable for large populations. He built hand-carved wooden cars that kids can drive on a wooden ramp that wraps around a wood and foam reservoir sculpture.

“San Diego County in particular has no lakes, but we have lot of reservoirs,” De Salvo told me at the “Eureka!” ribbon-cutting event last Friday. “This is a major character of the California landscape, so I thought I’d make a caricature representation of it that kids could play with.”

Do I think my 2-year-old understands what he’s playing with as he zooms his beautiful little handmade car around De Salvo’s artwork? Nope. But I get to stand there and appreciate the artist’s intentions while my boy squeals with glee. And if I take a minute to point things out to him, he, too, can grasp certain concepts. The installations are more like conversation-starters. They’re only as educational as we parents want them to be.

“Eureka!” includes a four-story fort built by  San Francisco artist Alison Pebworth. While I was at the museum over the weekend, kids young and old had a blast climbing up Pebworth’s tower, which is built of materials inspired by and sourced from California. Their favorite part of the intricate piece was the simple, old-school pulley system they used to send hand-written messages up a bucket from the first to the second story.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
The pulley on Alison Pebworth's tower

Nick Rodrigues’ “Car-a-oke” installation invites kids into a care sculpture where they can grab one of two mics and sing along karaoke-style to pop songs playing on the radio. Jesse Kaminsky’s “Sandbox Gallery,” which has been at the museum for a few months now, is a huge sandbox that doubles as a theater for staging video art. And local arts duo Collective Magpie’s giant “Globos” balloon made of interconnected gold tissue paper and fabricated in dozens of workshops in Tijuana and San Diego is fun for kids to watch as it floats over an image of the U.S.-Mexico border fence (there’ll be more workshops and more balloons for kids to help build soon).

The Children’s Museum’s new exhibition is far from perfect. A talking tube in Pebworth’s piece didn’t seem to work well and the karaoke piece is hard to navigate if you’re a parent of toddlers who need to be in sight at all times. But the one complaint I observed and heard over and over again was one that’s been an ongoing problem since the museum opened in its eye-catching new Rob Quigley-designed building in 2008.

“They need some fans up in here,” said one mom as she chased her kid up the ladders inside Pebworth’s tower.

“It’s so hot in here but it’s not even that hot outside,” said another mom as she fanned herself with one of the Foamcore info sheets outside the sandbox.

I, too, was sweating both times I explored “Eureka!” last week. I asked the museum about the problem and a spokesperson said it was due to Quigley’s design, which uses a more environmentally-friendly heating and cooling system.

Kids seem immune to weather, hot and cold, so it’s hard to argue that the comfort of parents is more important than the environment. But if you plan on seeing the new show, be prepared for the heat.

The New Children’s Museum board, by the way, is still searching for a new executive director after the former director unexpectedly left in July without ever really explaining why. So props to the museum staff who pulled off the big new exhibition amid a surprise leadership change.

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Expanding Arts and Cultural Offerings in the South Bay

In early September, artist Anna Stump held the first South Bay Culture Think Tank, an intimate dinner staged at Art Produce gallery while Stump’s Chula Vista-based art exhibition was on view. Players in the South Bay art scene showed up to kick off a conversation about the lack of arts and culture opportunities in their cities and what they could do to change that.

Photo by Lynn Susholtz / Art Produce
Photo by Lynn Susholtz / Art Produce
The first "South Bay Culture Think Tank" event

On Wednesday, the second South Bay Culture Think Tank is happening at the art gallery at Southwestern College. The private event will include about 20 participants, including Lynnette Tessitore-Lopez, Chula Vista’s new interim cultural arts manager.  Tessitore-Lopez told me she’s in the middle of putting together Chula Vista’s first-ever cultural arts master plan, so she’ll be using the event as a way to get people engaged in that process. She said there will be more gatherings, big and small, that’ll allow residents to get involved.

“Sometimes the public forum can be intimating and not everyone’s voices are heard,” she said. “So we want to do these more creative forms of public outreach.”

James Brown, the architect and developer behind the revival of the Bread & Salt building in Logan Heights, recently purchased property in Chula Vista, and said he’llbe at the think tank this week. He told me he has plans to build live/work studios on his new property near Third Avenue, and while the project itself won’t be a big boon for arts and culture, he said he thinks the city has potential to become a new home for the arts.

“I think developing an arts community in Chula Vista is possible,” he said. “Especially on Broadway or closer to the freeway there’s definitely some potential because real estate is a little more affordable. … Anything could happen there, and if it’s organized and the city wants it, they can make it happen.”

Tessitore-Lopez said Chula Vista is trying to launch a new cultural arts website this week. In the meantime, she invited those interested in the push for arts in Chula Vista and the rest of the South Bay to send her an email.

A Lively Bunch of Five-Minute Pitches

The local market for quick-but-inspiring talks keeps growing. There’s the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s ongoing PechaKucha Night of rapid-fire talks centered mostly on urban design. Voice of San Diego organizes our quarterly Meeting of the Minds events. Creative Mornings launched this year (the talks are longer, but just as inspiring). And how many different TEDx talks are happening around the city these days?

Photo by Wayne Labat
Photo by Wayne Labat
A speaker at the last Ignite San Diego event

Ignite San Diego is another one of these fast-paced presentation events. It popped up back in 2011 then went away when the founder moved to San Francisco. (I was actually one of the presenters at the inaugural event and gave a presentation on the future of arts journalism, which included me talking about moving coverage online and into the nonprofit model: self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?)

Ignite relaunched earlier this year and its first event, which packed in about 20 five-minute talks by San Diegans on anything and everything, sold out. There’s another one coming up at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Central Library. The night includes talks by folks like Erin Holko, who’ll be waxing poetic about keeping thousands of bees on the roof of her house, and a well-spoken 13-year-old who’ll make an argument about why politicians should set aside their differences and practice true bipartisanship.

I talked to Amy Lisewski, founder of Finest City Improv, about her talk, which she said will attempt to convince people of the life-changing powers of improvisation.

“By doing improv, by trying something, anything, well outside your comfort zone, you actually expand your comfort zone and then you try more new things,” she said. “Then you’re basically able to conquer anything you want in the world.”

Unfortunately, the event recently sold out. I have two tickets, though, and I’m going to give them up to the first person who sends me an email asking nicely for them.

Honor Thy Dead: The Art and Tradition of Altar-Making

Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday celebrating those who’ve died, is on the horizon. One of the traditions connected to the holiday, which happens Oct. 31 through Nov. 2, is building altars packed with photos, food, marigolds, sugar skulls and other offerings honoring the deceased.

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the New Americans Museum will open its big, annual altar exhibition by Jose Flores Aguilar, a professor at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California in Tijuana who travels the world talking about and building traditional Day of the Dead altars.

Courtesy of New Americans Museum
Photo courtesy of New Americans Museum
Last year's altar display at the New Americans Museum

This year’s altar will be dedicated to Gabriel García Márquez, the famed Colombian novelist who Aguilar calls a “Mexican by adoption.”

“He loved flowers – yellow ones – butterflies and women,” Aquilar told me. “So, we will have plenty of yellow flowers and butterflies in the altar. Women? They will just have to visit the altar.”

The Sherman Heights Community Center is also kicking off its annual Day of the Dead celebration this week with a party that invites guest to sample various mole dishes, and La Bodega gallery in Barrio Logan is hosting its annual Day of the Dead skull art show Saturday night.

Rob Sidner’s Show at the Mingei, Museum Apps and More Artsy Bits

• Mingei International Museum director Rob Sidner chose two iconic objects from each state in the union to display in “Made in America: Craft Icons From the 50 States.” The San Diego Union-Tribune’s James Chute talked to Sidner about the show and asked him to pick out a few of his favorite objects.

• This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Christopher Konecki’s huge new mural covering the 707 Broadway Garage downtown, but this new video is too purty to pass up.

• CityBeat’s Seth Combs likes almost everything about the Museum of Contemporary Art’s “San Diego Collects” show, which is on view at the La Jolla location through Jan. 10.

• Famed fashion designer Zandra Rhodes is as busy and relevant as ever. (U-T)

• Both the San Diego Museum of Art and the San Diego Natural History Museum have new apps meant to make the museum-going experience more interactive. Get SDMA’s here and theNat’s here.

• The San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park is in the middle of Funding for the Arts Month, a month-long series of educational events for artists, nonprofits arts organizations, educators and administrators.

• There’s a little bit of neuroscience lurking in art if you know where to look. UCSD’s V.S. Ramachandran is one of two professors looking into what they can learn from artists. (The Scientist)

• I want an artsy pancake made by this talented dude. (NBC San Diego)

Get Cultured: Where to Be This Week

• Adult Swim will bring a bunch of un-aired pilots and other shows to San Diego next Monday in an Adult Swim Drive-In event that sounds awesome.

• Two touted, touring dance troupes are coming to Escondido this week: Shaping Sound on Thursday and Momix on Saturday.

• The San Diego Design Film Festival is happening this week.

• Creative Conversations invites rising and veteran arts leaders to rub elbows at its networking event Tuesday night at the Central Library.

• Drone photography always makes me fall in love with the world all over again. Aldryn Estacio will be displaying his aerial photos Tuesday night at Basic in the East Village.

• There’s a beer-themed art show opening at Mike Hess Brewing Company in North Park Wednesday night.

• At 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Gail Scheinder will discuss her process, inspiration and her current show at Sparks Gallery through Nov. 7.

• The Reuben H. Fleet Science Center hosts its quarterly adult-only Fleet After Dark event this week.

The Medium Festival of Photography is a four-day photography event featuring lectures, portfolio reviews and more. It’s happening this week at the Lafayette Hotel.

•  The Bang on a Can All-Stars will perform their landmark live performance of Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” next Tuesday in Terminal 2 of the San Diego International Airport.

• The San Diego Museum of Art’s “The Art of Music” edition of its ongoing Paintings on Tap event gets participants to actually create a piece of art.

• California Ballet Company presents “The Great Gatsby” Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Civic Theatre.

• Regional authors read their harrowing Halloween tales.

• San Diego Early Music Society kicks of its season Friday with a concert featuring the New York Baroque Incorporated.

• Amoeba Music is inviting San Diegans to bring unwanted LPs, CDs and music to their Record Round Up at the King’s Inn this weekend.

• Comedian Margaret Cho swings into town this week.

Pianist Jessie Chang and friends will play a free concert at the Central Library on Sunday.

• Trash will be turned into fashion in Escondido this week.

• Rancho Santa Fe Art’s Rhythm & Wine event is Saturday.

• Cuban pianists Alfredo Rodriquez plays at The Loft at UCSD this Friday.

• Got kids? Kid-friendly Halloween events are happening here, here and here.

Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. Contact her directly at kinsee.morlan@voiceofsandiego.org.

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    This article relates to: Arts/Culture, Culture Report, Must Reads

    Written by Kinsee Morlan

    Kinsee Morlan is the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. Contact her directly at kinsee.morlan@voiceofsandiego.org. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast