President Barack Obama is super into the microbiome.

Earlier this year he announced a $121 million federal investment meant to spur massive research of the micro-organisms, or the invisible bacterium, viruses and fungus, living inside all of us.

Famed author and educator Michael Pollan is excited about the microbiome, too, and while he’s warned about the dangerous potential to overstate (à la all the probiotic hype) the disease-curing promises of our “unruly garden within,” he also says we now know enough about the benefits of the bugs to “begin to shop and cook with the microbiome in mind.”

Overall interest in the microbiome has indeed reached peak levels. Some say microbiome sequencing is now as important as genome sequencing, or the process of analyzing every single strand of DNA in the human body.

But it wasn’t the rising international excitement over the microbiome that got San Diego artist Sara Parent-Ramos interested in the subject, nor was it the fact that both her parents are microbiologists. What finally made the artist and new mom really start to think about the microbiome was her own breast milk and all the beneficial bacterium swimming in it.

“That just kind of took me down the rabbit hole,” Parent-Ramos said. “There’s always been an awareness that there’s bacteria in our gut, but the awareness that different bacteria can be helpful or hurtful in different context, or that these things can actually have an effect on how we behave and on our emotions – that fascinated me.”


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

In a mixed-media exhibition at East Village’s Space 4 Art, which opens with a reception on Sunday, Parent-Ramos used scientific images of microbes as a starting point, blowing them up and using her creative license to mold them into more beautiful and interesting sculptural forms and installations.

“Bacterium are pretty stupid-looking,” she said. “They just look dopey because they’re very basic shapes. If you get into more complex viruses, that’s when you get the crazy little doodads and whatnot.”

The show includes ceramic sculptures, 3D-printed and laser-cut plastics, wall hangings and other works of art that invite viewers to ponder the existence of the microscopic world thriving inside and outside of us. She said she hopes the show piques other people’s interest in the topic.

“It’s a really exciting time to pay more attention to the microbiome,” she said.

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

Upping Access to the ‘Magical Circle’

Queen Califia’s Magical Circle” by international artist Niki de Saint Phalle is easily one of the region’s largest and most well-known works of public art. But years of vandalism and wear and tear on the iconic sculpture garden in Escondido caused the city to close access to the artwork in May 2013.

The artist donated the artwork to the city and, in turn, the city assumed responsibility for its maintenance. But the city was criticized for the maintenance of the artwork, so it rethought its approach before reopening the garden over a year later.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
A father and son enjoy "Queen Califia's Magical Circle"

By September 2014, the city cautiously began to open up public access to the “Magical Circle,” as I reported for CityBeat, at first via docent-led tours that folks that had to book in advance, then through monitored public openings every second Saturday of the month.

Now, as the Union-Tribune reports, the city is again expanding the hours the art garden is open to the public. The city announced the new hours on its website.

“Beginning Aug. 9, and until further notice, Queen Califia’s ‘Magical Circle’ will be open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, weather permitting,” the announcement says. “The garden will also be open to the public on the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon, with docents available to answer questions.”

Some people left comments on the U-T story saying they feel the ongoing maintenance of the “Magical Circle” should be paid for by the Niki Charitable Art Foundation, a nonprofit that holds the rights to de Saint Phalle’s art and uses an endowment to help maintain and repair the artist’s work. The foundation did pay for half the costs of the total repairs of the “Magical Circle” and funded the construction of a fence around the art garden to help deter vandalism, but some of the comments say the foundation isn’t doing enough.

On a recent outing to Balboa Park After Dark on a Friday night, I noticed some damage to the so-called “Nikigator” sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle that sits in front of the Mingei International Museum. I talked to a museum spokesperson, who said the piece was repaired just a few weeks ago. She said hundreds of kids play on the mosaic alligator and the wear and tear that causes, plus water and perhaps a few naughty tourists who want to take home souvenirs from the work, contribute to the museum doing repairs on the piece twice a year.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Damage to the "Nikigator" has since been repaired.

An Art-Funding Party, Change at The Old Globe and Other Arts and Culture News

Betsy Davis was an artist who was diagnosed with ALS in 2013. In a moving new commentary, VOSD contributor Kelly Davis, Betsy’s sister, writes about what she learned through helping Betsy end her own life using the state’s new aid-in-dying law. I was personally moved by how carefully and creatively Betsy curated her end-of-life event.

• Arts advocates didn’t get the full percentage of funding promised via the city’s Penny for the Arts plan, which laid out a five-year blueprint for increasing arts and culture funding, from about 5 percent of the city’s transient occupancy tax collections in 2012 to 9.5 percent by this year’s budget. But they did get the City Council and mayor to bump up arts funding pretty significantly this year, so they’re celebrating. Wednesday night, the region’s arts advocacy group will throw a party that includes the chance to hear from arts bigwigs Craig Watson, director of the California Arts Council, and Richard Stein, president of Californians for the Arts and California Arts Advocates.

The U-T reports that Michael G. Murphy, the managing director at Old Globe Theatre for 13 years, is resigning and taking a position with Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, N.Y.

The Oceanside International Film Festival is in full swing. (The Coast News Group)

• There’s a 30-year-old Steve Martin joke that made it into “Meteor Shower,” the play Martin wrote that’s currently showing at The Old Globe in Balboa Park. KPBS’s Nina Garin collected that tidbit and other interesting notes from a recent conversation between Martin and The Old Globe’s Barry Edelstein.

The U-T, by the way, calls Martin’s “Meteor Shower” a “wild and laugh-filled rocket ride” for the most part.

• KPBS dropped in on the San Diego Opera’s listening tour. The tour is the opera’s effort to get feedback on where it should be headed after it nearly closed in 2014.

Last year, I followed the opera’s new director David Bennett around as he scouted some possible new alternative venues for future experimental opera showcases. I’ve also written about how the opera’s effort is part of a bigger trend of arts organizations working to engage a broader, more diverse audience.

• The annual ArtWalk @ Liberty Station event is happening this weekend. (San Diego LGBT Weekly)

San Diego art critic Robert L. Pincus dives into the backstory behind Tijuana-based artist Marcos Ramirez and photographer David Taylor’s ambitious border-related exhibition currently showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s downtown location. (KCET)

The La Jolla Light profiles Tijuana and San Diego-based artist Iana Quesnell and mentions a new, free pop-up art class the artist offers at a local beach.

Speaking of Tijuana artists, Toni Larios is one you should get to know. (CityBeat)

Folks are cleaning up Balboa Park’s crumbling Starlight Bowl amphitheater on Saturday.

Alleyways don’t have to be empty or ugly. (La Jolla Light)

• The Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center is hosting a fundraiser at Bread & Salt in Logan Heights on Saturday. (San Diego Free Press)

Listen to the Culturecast episode on the efforts to open the museum, or read more about it here.

Experience “Oklahoma!” in downtown Carlsbad. (U-T)

Here’s the U-T’s Michael James Rocha in a Q-and-A with the photographer behind a provocative pop-up exhibition at the Museum of Photographic Arts this week.

New mural alert: There’s this one near San Diego State University and this one at Barrio Logan’s Cafe Moto.

This dance series by San Diego choreographer Michael Mizerany features “men and their incredible musculature.” (San Diego Gay & Lesbian News)

Food, Beer and Booze News

Changes are coming to San Diego’s Seaport Village. Eater San Diego digs into the proposed new development and finds the food-related stuff.

This dude is up to any food challenge. (DiscoverSD)

This weekend’s Latin Food Fest is just one of the food events happening this month. (Zagat)

Whole Foods is headed for East Village. (U-T)

The U-T rounded up some of the city’s best meatballs in a photo slideshow.

Amazon’s dinner delivery service was “unavailable because of high order volume” and the Reader’s Ian Anderson was forced to order at lunchtime instead.

    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. She works to expand our reach and helps community members write op-eds. She also manages VOSD’s podcasts and covers the arts, culture, land use and entrepreneurs. Contact her directly at kinsee.morlan@voiceofsandiego.org. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Subscribe to her podcast.

    1 comments
    Caroline McKeown
    Caroline McKeown

    It's amusing to see a story about bacteria in the Culture report ;-)