I applaud John Raymond Mireles for making the bold move to relocate to New York City, where he believes he will find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as an artist. He’s right that it’s tough to make a living as an artist in San Diego. The struggle is real.

As a visual artist and gallery owner, I differ from Mireles significantly in that I believe San Diego already has the ecosystem to support contemporary artists. Calling San Diego a cultural desert is a great exit line as you drop the mic and leave everyone behind in the dirt.

lettertoeditorThe reality is that opportunities for artists have never been more abundant in the region.

San Diego has traditional galleries servicing patrons’ specific tastes, like Whitebox Contemporary, La Jolla Gallery and Distinction Gallery. It’s home to institutional gallery spaces attempting to define contemporary art, like the San Diego Art Institute. And it has cultural spaces that work to preserve nearly lost arts, like the Mingei International Museum.

There are also many community galleries across the region creating exhibitions that give emerging artists entry-level opportunities, like The Studio Door, the North Park gallery I run and the city-backed Escondido Arts Partnership.

Let’s not forget about the warehouse galleries showcasing installations and conceptual art, like Art Produce and Space 4 Art, and the art producers creating nightclub exhibits in unexpected places, like Kami Farokhi and Johnny Tran.


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And I haven’t even got started on all of the region’s many art walks, art fairs, open studio events, or government-funded public art projects.

In addition to all of these hardworking entities that are a part of our local arts ecosystem, there is always the opportunity to make something happen on your own by using your own ingenuity. We are creative people, after all.

In any endeavor, one has to be focused, know what they want and take action from there. The most successful artists in San Diego that I’ve met – those who are trying or making a living at their art – are doing so by working around the clock to get their foot in the door, making art that resonates with the public and saying yes to any opportunity that fits their personal trajectory.

The foundation of success comes down to relationships between real people who make things happen. It takes the artist, the gallery and the patron to bring together this ecosystem. If you are not actively participating, I suspect that you’ll find that things are really not that much different no matter where you go. Becoming a career artist doesn’t happen in the studio alone.

Instead of shaming San Diego’s art scene and taking off for greener pastures, I prefer to engage in it to make it better for artists, art galleries, art lovers and patrons. I’m sure if you talk to most gallery owners like those at La Bodega, Blue Azul or myself, you’ll find that we are all believers in San Diego’s art scene. We didn’t wait for cultural institutions or anyone else up the food chain to give us a break, we put our money where our mouths are, rolled up our sleeves and starting creating opportunities. It’s all about the love of art.

By the way, have you seen the desert in full bloom in the spring? There are tiny flowers that fill the endless stretches of sands with color. It is just as vibrant as any other ecosystem, you just need to know how to see what’s right in front of you.

Patric Stillman is director of The Studio Door, an art gallery in North Park. Stillman’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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    5 comments
    Jennifer Spencer
    Jennifer Spencer subscriber

    Eric and Robert, please do not despair.  I suggest that you contact Larry Baza, new chair of the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture.  Larry and his partner occasionally have "popup gallery" showings, so he's experienced and understanding the of plight of local artists.  Please either contact him at the Commission or attend the next meeting on Friday, January 27th:  8:30AM - 10:00AM

    202 "C" Street, San Diego, 92101

    Copied from their website:

    Page 1 of 1VISION: Expanding our world by celebrating creativity in San DiegoPURPOSE: The City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture serves in an advisory capacity to the Mayor and City Council on promoting, encouraging and increasing support for the region's artistic and cultural assets, integrating arts and culture into community life and showcasing San Diego as an international tourist destination.Meetings may be recorded. NON-AGENDA PUBLIC COMMENT: Any member of the public may address the Committee on any subject in its area of responsibility on any matter not presently pending or previously discussed at the Committee. Comments are limited to three (3) minutes and are non-debatable. At the conclusion of the comment, the Committee Chair shall have the discretion to determine appropriate disposition of the matter. To exercise this right, members of the public wishing to address the Committee under Public Comment must submit a Public Comment Request form prior to the meeting. Subject matter and time limitations are noted on the form. Pursuant to open meeting laws, no discussion or action, other than a referral, shall be taken by the Committee on any issue brought forth under Public Comment. The information contained in this agenda is available in alternative formats and can be requested by calling 619-236-6800 at least three (3) working days prior to the meeting in order to insure availability.THE CITY OF SAN DIEGO COMMISSION FOR ARTS AND CULTUREAGENDACity Council Committee Room, 12th Floor, City Administration Building202 C Street, San Diego, California 92101Friday, January 27, 20178:30 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.

    Eric Wong
    Eric Wong


    I was really surprised at the level of honesty in John Raymond Mireles article. Much of which is rarely said (publicly at least). The idea that he cared enough to write about it in such depth is hardly “dropping the mic”. Rather, a fond farewell.

    Since our return to San Diego from LA, there seems to be substantially less opportunity than when we moved in 2004. This is quite the opposite of Patric Stillman’s response to the piece. We have noticed a complete transformation in terms of new developments. Which seems to have had no affect at all in strengthening the sustainability of the art community. More so, having pushed it way aside along with the homeless, as well as, those unable to pay over $2000 a month for a studio or 1 bedroom apt. Making way for countless more restaurants and sports bars. Catering to tourism and sports culture alone. This was all planned gentrification by the city of San Diego, and reflects its narrow, short- sighted priorities. They literally dangled false opportunities of affordable spaces and funding for the arts in places such as Liberty Station, East Village, North Park, and now, Barrio Logan. Apparently NASCO has a contract that will bring in hundreds of new employees that they hope to house at higher rental prices in the area. There is an IDEA district in the works that intends on attracting the Silicon Valley types. That ideally would be a good thing. As rents are already near that of the Mission district in SF. Aside from the idea of “IDEAS” and the promise of arts opportunities, I see nothing more than contemporary architecture, and some ply- wood painted ideas on a construction fence. That probably involved some kind of art contest of sorts with fees and the promise of exposure. I’m sure the development is well intended but without a strong tech industry, community support for the arts, and an almost non-existent art market, the lure is probably going to fall short of NYC, LA, or SF. Regardless of the uniqueness of our flowers or how we view them.

    For a flower to bloom it needs soil and water. It needs to be nurtured. San Diego has no shortage of great artists and has the potential for an actual vibrant art community. However, if one only sees the “positive”, nothing changes. This was the problem I left in 2004. It worked for a select few and neglected the many. You would see the same artists time and time again in what scarce venues that existed. As if there were only a hundred or so artists in the entire city. The marketing for art is minimal at best, and almost always incestuous. Never really plugging in to the global art community.

    In a challenging conservative environment, marketing for art should be of the highest priority. Especially for those institutions funded almost entirely with tax dollars. The city is starving for culture but, like many of the artists here, have very little access to it. The bigger community has no investment and is limited to their local guilds and coffee shops.

    One of the important ingredients in a culture that hopes to grow is inclusion. For the artists and the community. We experienced this both in Los Angeles and San Francisco. A city that is inclusive beyond our comfortable circles of craft beer and wine drinking friends. A more expansive and welcoming environment fosters creative and philanthropic contribution, as well as, promotes new ideas and artists. Ultimately, scrapping petty competition, hierarchy, unnecessary rules, and regulations. It sets its own terms and content despite the circumstances. Leading the way for the kind of sustainable cultural economy that John Raymond Mireles sought out in NYC. This is the ecosystem that would wake the sleeping giant that is San Diego.


    John Mireles
    John Mireles

    @Eric Wong Thanks for your comment. It's refreshing to hear from someone who is advancing the conversation instead of responding with a knee-jerk defense of the city that we all love.  By identifying the issues and brainstorming on solutions, hopefully San Diego will grow in ways that benefit a more diverse community that includes artists and those who appreciate the work they do.

    robert nadel
    robert nadel

    I totally agree, and dis-agree.  I have been trying for awhile to get a gallery to show me in San Diego, and it seems almost impossible.  I have been able to get substantial LA, San Francisco, and New York Galleries to give me more attention.  When I am ready to show, I'd love to show here, but, the San Diego art scene for my work, seems very dry, and dis-interested.  robertstonenadel.com