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Culture Report: City Heights Space Wants to Be Ground Zero for Creativity

The San Diego arts scene can’t stop its soul-searching, Camp Pendleton exhibit explores black women’s contributions to the military, what NEH cuts might mean for San Diego and more in our weekly roundup of the region’s arts and culture news.

Upgrades being made to the City Heights Performance Annex will ultimately change the role the city-owned space plays in the community.

Nigel Brookes, who manages the performance center at the City Heights Library, said the new equipment and shifted focus are meant to help neighborhood residents get more involved in the actual production of art and culture.

Brookes has been running the space for the last year and a half. Before his tenure, the programming at the Performance Annex was often geared toward children, and produced the type of events you might expect from a community theater.

“But my hope is that it will become a place where people can come and learn how to become artists and develop and hone their skills,” Brookes said. “People will be encouraged to show off their creative selves.”

The venue has become the ideal backdrop for the community engagement efforts of large San Diego arts organizations that want to reach new audiences. The Old Globe, for instance, will hold its Community Voices playwright workshops there this year. The theater will invite refugees and other members of the City Heights community to learn how to tell their stories through theater.

Brookes has also teamed up with smaller arts groups to launch more participatory art projects.

The new City Heights Puppet Project is a collaboration between Brookes, the San Diego Guild of Puppetry and Animal Cracker Conspiracy. It was started as a seven-month pilot project that uses puppetry to engage various age groups in the community, while attracting folks outside City Heights to the neighborhood. Brookes said puppetry is a good way to cater to City Heights’ diverse population.

“It’s an ancient art form and just about every culture has puppets,” he said.

The next City Heights Puppet Project performance is at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, and Mindy Donner of the San Diego Guild of Puppetry calls it an “art-making party for grownups.” Participants will be invited to make character masks out of paper grocery bags, and puppet experts will be on hand to show people how to make shadow puppets and provide other instructions.

If all goes according to plan, Brookes said City Heights residents who attend events like these will start thinking of the Performance Annex as a catalyst for their own creativity.

“If people find the right medium, then we can build something here,” he said. “If they have an idea, I want them to feel like they can develop it with us.”

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The Art Talk That Won’t Die

I’ve been covering culture in the San Diego region for over a decade, so I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked to help try to diagnose the problem with the city’s lackluster visual arts scene.

The same complaints come up over and over again, so finally I decided to write them all down.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

At one point in my career, I got so sick and tired of having the same old debate that I decided to do something about it. I was living in Tijuana , and I started a curatorial project with two of my friends. We organized big, experimental art exhibitions on both sides of the border.

I’ve long thought that the border and Tijuana are the most interesting thing about San Diego. By showing San Diego artists in Tijuana and vice versa, the thinking went, we’d create some buzz that would once and for all help lift regional artists into the international spotlight, where we thought they belonged.

That didn’t happen, though, and it wasn’t long before we realized that organizing art exhibitions takes a lot of time and money and they don’t often result in tangible returns on investment. We quit after a little over a year.

So I’ve been in the trenches. I know how hard it is to make art and money at the same time. I don’t have the solutions, but I’ve been happy to receive emails and comments about ideas or efforts that are under way.

Arts advocate Joy Decena has a good list of ideas for helping the local art scene. Muralist Mario Torero offered his take, which is that Chicano art is alive and well. And Kotaro Nakamura, the director of the school of art and design at San Diego State University, had a response to the longstanding complaint that local colleges’ art offerings are inaccessible to the average San Diegan. He said his school’s downtown gallery is starting to move the needle.

“We have increased attendance at our SDSU Downtown Gallery from 2,000 three years ago to 7,200 last year,” Nakamura wrote in an email. “We encourage artists and designers to engage with communities and issues at hand, making artwork much more meaningful and relevant. Please watch out how we break out from the bubbles.”

• CityBeat’s Seth Combs also offered his takeaways from the most recent discussion about the health of San Diego’s art scene.

Fresh Sound Turns 20, North Coast Repertory Theatre’s Making Moves and Other Arts and Culture News

• Will an article about Bonnie Wright and her experimental Fresh Sound music series ever manage to refrain from mentioning her age? The series Wright curates has been going strong for 20 years now, but no scribe can seem to steer clear of the “cool grandma” trope. (U-T)

• President Donald Trump wants to trim domestic spending, and the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts are on the chopping block. inewsource looked into the local impact of cutting the NEH, since 21 organizations in the county have gotten nearly $5 million from the agency in the last decade. Last month inewsouce looked at the local impact of Trump possibly cutting the NEA.

• There have been several failed attempts by theater companies to turn a long-vacant Encinitas Ranch Town Center site into a state-of-the performing arts center, but perhaps the North Coast Repertory Theatre will be the one to finally do it. (U-T)

Here’s an easy way to buy local art: CityBeat’s got the story behind the 25 “Artery” kiosks scattered around town that sell prints and postcards by San Diego artists.

• Muralist Victor Ochoa posted a photo of a painting workshop that happened at Chicano Park over the weekend.

• See experimental outdoor art at the Balboa Park Golf Course this weekend.

The La Jolla Light has more details on the memorial honoring art critic and poet David Antin earlier this month at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

The San Diego Symphony launched a new concert series aimed at families with children on the autism spectrum. (San Diego Magazine)

If none of your friends are hosting an Oscar Party on Sunday, here’s one that’s open to the public. (San Diego Fox 5)

• Melissa Walter worked for years as a graphic designer and science illustrator for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. That explains why she has so masterfully illustrated complicated concepts like dark matter in her installations and other work showing at Bread & Salt, where she’s the current artist-in-residence. Walter’s hosting an opening reception and a talk with an astrophysicist on Sunday.

• The Circus Collective of San Diego will perform its multimedia performance piece based on displacement and refugee resettlement in Washington, D.C. this week. (Broadway World)

• This state Assembly bill is still making its way through the system, but let me know what you think about its attempt to provide housing specifically for artists, artisans and other creatives.

• San Diego Theatre Week is happening Feb. 26 through March 5 this year.

• Vanguard Culture reviews the “Impressions: African American Artists and Their Connection to African Art” exhibition showing at Mesa College through March 1.

• Explore Balboa Park’s gay cruising culture and get to know more about the “Fruit Loop” at Parkeology’s event happening Friday night.

• Cygnet Theatre’s production of “Bad Jews” has sold more tickets than any previous non-musical plays it’s staged. (Broadway World)

• The U-T took a look at the La Jolla Historical Society’s “Weather on Steroids: The Art of Climate Change Science” exhibition that I told you about a few weeks back.

• An exhibit at Camp Pendleton highlights some of the contributions of black women in the U.S. military. (KPBS)

• The San Diego Opera is making a concerted effort to be more open about its finances after its near-death experience in 2014. (U-T)

• Bach Collegium has a new executive director.

• Moving art – as in art that actually moves – is the focus of this new exhibition at the Fleet Science Center. (KPBS)

• A three-day event celebrating black art and culture is happening in San Diego this week. KPBS has the details.

• Oscar-nominated short films are showing at Ken Cinema. (U-T)

Here’s the New York Times’ take on how folks should spend 36 hours in San Diego.

• San Diego artist David Fobes’ work has a special way of messing with my brain.

• ArtReach is raising money via a benefit concert on Sunday to help fund its mission of taking arts programming to local schools.

• The San Diego Art Institute is hosting a discussion about social practice, or making artwork with the help of the community.

• Pacific Magazine posted a Q-and-A with artist Scott Rohlfs, whose work is showing at Distinction Gallery in Escondido.

• Sleep Train Amphitheatre has a new name and it’s not good.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• Eater rounded up some of the city’s top brunch spots.

• I helped explain San Diego’s craft coffee boom on NBC 7 San Diego last week.

• The woman behind The Curious Fork in Solana Beach has quite the backstory. (U-T)

San Diego’s Amplified Ale Works makes an appearance in this NPR story about the growing trend of brewers making unfiltered, murky beer.

San Diego’s award-winning Bird Rock Coffee Roasters announced a merger with a coffee roasting company based in Kansas. (Reader)

• Copa Vida’s fourth San Diego location is now open downtown. (Eater)

Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

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