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Culture Report: From a Quiet Library for the Few to an Exhibition Space for Many

The great Balboa Park debate reignites, Troy Johnson reconsiders the tostada and more in our weekly roundup of San Diego arts and culture news.

Join us next Tuesday, July 12, at NTC Liberty Station for the next installment of Meeting of the Minds. Local arts leaders will give fast-paced presentations about their latest innovations and efforts to expand access to the arts.

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A sculpture of a griffin, the mythological creature that looks like a mashup of a lion and an eagle, hangs above the entrance of a soon-to-open exhibition space at the San Diego Natural History Museum.

The creature “comes right out of a book from the 1500s where there are very scientific descriptions of griffins and dragons and unicorns and sea monsters,” said Michael “Mick” Hager, the museum’s president and CEO who retired at the end of June.

Before Hager hung up his hat, he walked me through the museum’s research library, which is at the tail end of a years-long, $4.3 million project transforming a large section of it into a public exhibition space.

The revamped 3,100-square foot gallery will host a permanent exhibition culled from the museum’s extensive collection of rare books, art, photographs, historical documents and plant and animal specimens. Specifically, the exhibition will focus on the contributions of so-called “citizen scientists” over the years.

Hager explained that while ordinary folks have made important scientific contributions for centuries, they weren’t right about everything; hence the confusion over things like griffins.

“I think some of it was piecing fossils together to come up with strange skeletal shapes, which led to some misinterpretations of the natural world,” Hager said. “But there is a lot of wonderful citizen science that goes on and we’re going to chronicle that and celebrate that in this space.”

The third-floor revamped library, formerly only accessible via appointment, is scheduled to open Aug. 20. Once it’s ready, folks will get the chance to peruse things like a large, extremely rare copy of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America” book, and wallpaper murals of scientific illustrations from a few of the museum’s other rare books. And there’s an exhibition of watercolors of California wildflowers by A.R. Valentien, a children’s book nook area, interactive elements and more.

The museum’s lead exhibition designer, Michael Field, showed me the future site of an installation that will allow visitors to flip through historic glass plate negatives, many picturing trapdoor spiders that a local nature enthusiast donated to the museum. He said one of the goals of the new exhibit is to get more people interested in contributing to science.

“You can be a scientist by being a photographer or an artist. You can be a scientist by being a collector. You can be a scientist by being an observer,” Field said. “So for about six of these exhibits we have what we call the ‘you-can’ pieces, where you can actually sign up to be a part of a citizen science project.”

An example of one of those projects is the annual Christmas Bird Count, when thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada and other countries in the Western Hemisphere identify birds to help track and monitor at-risk populations.

Hager said he’s proud that the exhibition will stand as one of the last contributions of his long career helming the museum. He said it comes at a time when people can easily contribute to documenting and discovering elements of the natural world simply by snapping a photo.

“There was a time when citizen scientists played a major role,” he said. “There was a time when they were the only scientists. Then there was a time when you had to have a Ph.D. to call yourself a scientist. And now with the digital age we’re coming full circle right back to a time when major contributions are being made by citizen scientists. … It’s an exciting time.”

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

The Great Balboa Park Debate

Few topics rile San Diegans like the future of Balboa Park.

Last week, Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced he’s reviving the controversial plan to build a bypass bridge and parking garage to keep cars out of the center of Balboa Park. He also said he wants a November ballot measure that would, in part, increase the funding stream for improvements in Balboa Park.

Folks expressed strong feelings for and against the plan on social media.

VOSD’s Lisa Halverstadt broke down some of the lingering questions about the mayor’s big plans for the park.

The U-T’s editorial board has come out in support of the plan, asking San Diegans to take a minute to imagine the park without any cars in the heart of it and prodding skeptics to “keep in mind that more than 5,600 spaces in the park — 80 percent of the total — would remain free.”

About 45 percent of the people who’ve responded to a U-T poll say they don’t want cars in the heart of Balboa Park. What do you think?

More Cash for the California Arts Council and Other Arts and Culture News

• The California Arts Council will get a $10.8 million funding increase. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state budget last week that included the big boost for the organization that helps fund arts programs in San Diego and across the state. (The Californian)

• Ion Theatre’s performance of “Sunday in the Park With George” is earning some gold stars. The U-T’s James Hebert uses words like “mastery” while San Diego Story’s Kris Eitland says the musical inspired by a Georges Seurat painting has an “ideal cast.” The play runs through July 16.

The U-T has the details on the programming coming out of Comic-Con HQ, a new subscription video-on-demand service by San Diego Comic-Con and Lionsgate.

• “The Wonder Sound,” the new fort-like installation at the San Diego Children’s Museum that I told you about a few weeks ago, might make you feel all the feelings. (U-T)

• The annual San Diego International Fringe Festival wrapped Sunday with an awards show and KPBS’s Beth Accomando has some details about this year’s winners.

• North Park fabric artist Cuauhtémoc Kish made a quilt in honor of the Orlando shooting victims. (SDGLN)

• Artist Vicki Leon donated a new piece of public art to the City Heights neighborhood of Azalea Park. I wrote about the growing amount of art and artists in Azalea Park a few years back.

• CityBeat says the Antique Gas & Steam Engine Museum is one of the best-kept secrets in the region.

The San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst grant has been funding visual and theatrical art in San Diego since 2011. The program has changed since its inception in 2011 and the U-T’s Susan Myrland offers some insight into what’s behind its evolution.

CityBeat talks to one of this year’s Creative Catalyst winners.

Here’s a slideshow highlighting some of the political cartoons featured in SDSU Downtown Gallery’s “Party Lines: The History, Art, and Politics of Editorial Cartoons” exhibition.

• Artist Iana Quesnell’s work will be featured in a retrospective opening in Encinitas this weekend.

David Bowie inspires art in Escondido.

• There are just a few days left to see “First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare” exhibition on view at the San Diego Central Library.

The first exhibition in a series of planned collaborations between the Timken Museum of Art and USD’s University Galleries opened at the Timken in Balboa Park over the weekend.

• Tijuana artist Charles Glaubitz’s art is featured on Miller Lite cans in Texas.

Vanguard Culture has a roundup of lots of arts events happening this week and next.

• California Ballet Company announced the appointment of Jared Nelson as its new associate artistic director.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• North Park Beer Co. has opened its doors. And a few blocks away, Pariah Brewing Company is preparing to become the first of three breweries moving into a new Brewery Igniter space in North park. (San Diego Eater)

• Wikipedia confirms San Diego’s spot as a major craft beer hub. (Reddit)

Modern Luxury San Diego has a roundup of the city’s 50 finest restaurants.

• San Diego Magazine’s Troy Johnson took a food tour of Baja and was eventually convinced that tostadas aren’t as dumb as he once thought.

The best cold brew in San Diego is … (Reader)

• I second CityBeat’s rave review of Chula Vista’s Aqui Es Texcoco. And I recommend adventurous foodies try this.

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