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Culture Report: Comic-Con Is Growing Even if the Convention Center Isn't

Teen dancers and artists use police shootings as inspiration, San Diego cultural hubs received statewide recognition, national outlets discover Barrio Logan and more in our weekly digest of the region’s arts and culture news.

Comic-Con is growing, with or without a bigger Convention Center.

With the mayor’s special election squashed for this year, there’s no Convention Center expansion in sight. Yet Comic-Con International has been stretching its footprint anyway by expanding into nearby hotel event space.

In 2015, the annual pop culture convention sanctioned a half-dozen events outside the Convention Center walls. This year, the number has jumped to 18.

The situation has created a bit of a turf war as it gets increasingly challenging for the other events and pop-up alternative conventions that piggyback off the Comic-Con crowd to find space close to the Convention Center and big enough to accommodate large crowds.

Joe Terzi, president and chief executive of the San Diego Tourism Authority, told the Los Angeles Times back in 2015 that he believed an “agreement with local hotels to devote their meeting space for Comic-Con activities would help the city sign the deal to keep the convention through 2018.”  That past deal was indeed signed, and so was another one this year that keeps Comic-Con in San Diego through 2021. Both contracts include hotels agreeing to dedicate a lot of inventory to Comic-Con activities and putting a cap on hotel room rates.

The annual Nerd HQ event, a mini convention that includes Comic-Con-style panels and parties, recently posted a weirdly vague and emotional video about its unexpected cancellation this year.

“Every year, we’ve been able to figure out a way – some way some how,” said the event’s founder, actor Zachary Levi, in the video. “Unfortunately, this year we have to announce to you with very heavy hearts that we are not able to do Nerd HQ. … We collectively did everything we possibly could to bring you Nerd HQ. … We turned over every stone.”

The vague explanation left folks to wonder if perhaps Comic-Con was to blame for Nerd HQ’s inability to come back. A few people emailed me to ask if Comic-Con was throwing around its weight and muscling out competing events.

While that doesn’t appear to be the case, it does look like an official Comic-Con partner is using the venue formally used by Nerd HQ. Neither Comic-Con nor Nerd HQ answered my questions about whether there was a discussion about use of the venue, but now Levi is hosting Syfy’s “Live From Comic Con” talk show this year, and Syfy is basing itself at the New Children’s Museum, where Nerd HQ has been located in the past.

Comic-Con communications director David Glanzer said that while expanding offsite adds to the excitement of the event and brings in some additional sponsorship revenue, it doesn’t solve the main issue of needing more space for the biggest revenue generators – exhibitors and attendees.

Glanzer said Comic-Con’s revenue is essentially flat this year compared with last year because of the limitations of the Convention Center.

“We have a finite amount of space,” he wrote in an email. “We have increased prices nominally, so there might be an overall increase in revenue; however, I would imagine it has been offset by increases in expenditures.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news. Sign up here to get the weekly report delivered to your inbox. 

Teen Dancers and Artists Respond to Police Shootings

The fatal shooting of Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man, by El Cajon police last year has led a local youth dance company to create a new performance on race, bias, power, privilege and inequality.

Photo courtesy of TrancenDANCE Youth Arts Project

Photo courtesy of TrancenDANCE Youth Arts Project

Olango’s sister Victoria is a graduate of transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project, an arts group that teaches dance to underserved youth in City Heights and National City. Catherine Corral, the cofounder, executive and artistic director of transcenDANCE, said the new performances will use a combination of dance, video and spoken word to touch on the social issues surrounding the shooting.

“Some pieces are very overt and some are more abstract,” Corral wrote in an email. “[The performance will] allow audiences to hear from a young generation about our social/political climate in an artistic way.”

The performance, called “United We Move,” is happening at 7 p.m. July 21-22 at the Lyceum Theatre in downtown San Diego.

San Diego’s Culture Gets Statewide Recognition, Balboa Park Is Blowing Up and Other Arts News

It’s official: San Diego is packed with culture. Balboa Park, Barrio Logan and downtown Oceanside are among the state’s first 14 cultural districts. (Union-Tribune)

• Speaking of Barrio Logan, The New York Times has discovered it. So has a the Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods” show, which filmed in the neighborhood this week. I feel like this is the 100th time I’ve written this sentence, but if you haven’t been to Barrio Logan’s Logan Avenue lately, you should go.

Barrio Logan Logan Avenue

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

• KPBS talked to Linda Caballero Sotelo, executive director of the New Americans Museum in Liberty Station, about a new exhibit there that shines a spotlight on the personal items immigrants and refugees from Iraq and Syria took with them before fleeing their countries.

• This San Diego artist unearthed hidden family history through a touching art project. (CityBeat)

• Look for 20 life-sized, fiberglass horse statues in Del Mar and other parts of San Diego in coming weeks.

• Seminal San Diego artist Bob Matheny has been making artistic walking canes for several months. He also asked other area artists to make canes. The work will go on view this week.

• Chicano Park is about to get a new mural and community garden.

• Here’s a story about the artist behind a lot of the murals you see in downtown Carlsbad. (Carlsbad Magazine)

• The Friends of Balboa Park recently purchased the Balboa Park carousel and now the group is asking for San Diegans to help raise money to fix it up and keep it running.

Peter Kalivas, director of the PGK Dance Project, is going to show up at this Friday’s Commission for Arts and Culture meeting to air his complaints about how the city funds arts and culture organizations.

• Coronado is unveiling some new public art this week.

• San Diego’s revival as a movie-making hotbed is going slower than some would like. (Union-Tribune)

• California’s poet laureate was in town last week. (Union-Tribune)

• San Diego artist Roman de Salvo was selected by the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture to create a piece of art for the new Mission Trails Field Station. He also won the contract to make art for the South Mission Beach Lifeguard Tower, but that city project has been delayed for more than 10 years.

• I finally went to see the Wonderspaces exhibition on view in a giant white tent in Mission Valley. While it might not be the best installation art I’ve ever seen, and it definitely breaks some art-world rules, my kids, husband and I were highly entertained.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Beer, Booze and Food News

Headlines in the Union-Tribune and other media outlets last week announced that San Diego had a new official beer. The backlash from the beer community was swift – how and why did the San Diego Tourism Authority pick just one beer from a relatively new brewery when there are thousands of great beers being made here? The Tourism Authority’s Candice Eley joined the last segment of the weekly VOSD Podcast to explain what the beer really is and why they helped make it.

• Modern Times wants to open a tasting room in Encinitas. The brewery is asking fans to show up to a city meeting this week to support the project.

• The San Diego Food System Alliance is hosting a talk that will tackle the Farm Bill and its effects.

• These artsy restaurants will entertain your eyes and your taste buds. (Union-Tribune)

Kinsee Morlan is 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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