Culture Report: Even the Alt-Cons Are Bursting at the Seams - Voice of San Diego

Arts/Culture UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Culture Report: Even the Alt-Cons Are Bursting at the Seams

Comic-Con’s been vocal about its desire for a Convention Center expansion at the existing site. But even the events that have sprung up around Comic-Con, like Nerd HQ, say they’re desperate for more space.

Comic-Con International has outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, packing the place with pop-culture creators and their fervent fans. The city is working to expand the facility, but it’s not yet clear whether that will happen at the current site or at a campus-style annex that might be attached to a new East Village stadium.

David Glanzer, marketing and public relations director of Comic-Con, recently wrote an op-ed for the U-T making the case for adding on to the existing Convention Center. In it, he said relegating exhibitors to the “other” annex space wouldn’t go over well. He also said popular events like Comic-Con might be forced to rent the annex space whether they really want to or not.

“If a non-contiguous facility is built, any convention considering San Diego as a venue will have to consider whether they will need to rent the new facility even if they had little or no plan for its use,” he wrote. “If nothing else than to prevent the very real threat of rival events securing that space.”

As a guest on the VOSD podcast, Glanzer told us that those rival events siphon off attendees and, even to giants like Comic-Con, can have a detrimental effect.

As other Comic-Con-style events continue to pop up across the country, the behemoth pop-culture convention also has a ballooning number of alternative conventions, or alt-cons, setting up right outside the Convention Center doors. And some of them, like Nerd HQ, are drawing bigger and bigger crowds every year.

The situation has caused a bit of a turf war among the alt-cons and other events that feed off the Comic-Con crowd as they bid for the same limited event venues. Finding space close enough to the Convention Center and big enough to attract a large crowd has become increasingly difficult.

Nerd HQ is a mini convention that offers $20 panel discussions with famous folks like Joss Whedon and Felicia Day, free access (for those who register) to gaming and virtual reality experiences, plus parties and lounges. It launched six years ago at Jolt’n Joe’s Gaslamp and has since seen wild growth that eventually landed the event, which raises funds for a charity, at Petco Park.

Several other offsite, unofficial events for the Comic-Con crowd followed Nerd HQ’s lead and now plenty of folks are getting the Comic-Con experience without stepping foot inside the Convention Center.

“We weren’t the first pop-up in downtown, but we were definitely the first mini convention, if you will, and we were successful in it. And anytime anyone’s successful, clearly people are going to take notice,” said one of the Nerd HQ founders, actor Zachary Levi. “As more things started popping up, it made it not so conducive to stay at Petco, so we had to go back to the drawing board and we found the New Children’s Museum.”

All of the panels at this year’s Nerd HQ event at the New Children’s Museum are already sold out, and Levi expects big crowds that they’ll let in on a first-come, first-serve basis for the rest of the event offerings.

Levi said he would eventually like to see Nerd HQ expand again so they can put on more panels and let more people in, but finding the right venue gets harder every year. He wavered when it came to the possibility of renting out a future Convention Center annex.

Yes, Nerd HQ has grown so much that it might make sense to use that space, he said, but he still sees the event as complementary, not competitive with Comic-Con. If Comic-Con didn’t rent out the future annex space for some reason, Levi said he’s not sure he’d want Nerd HQ to be the one to swoop it up and potentially be seen as direct competition.

Comic-Con has already spilled outside of the Convention Center, so it, too, has become one of the entities bidding on a dwindling amount of space. Levi said the city should act fast to help quell the turf war happening outside the Convention Center.

“I just wish the city would have approved and expanded the Convention Center for Comic-Con already,” he said. “Because they’re packed to the gills.”

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

Immigration in the Arts

Only a handful of folks showed up to an event last night geared toward helping arts employees gain full United States citizenship.

Elizabeth Doran says she feels like it was a success anyway.

“Even if just a few people become citizens, it was worth it,” she said.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Doran is the new president and CEO of San Diego Theatres Inc., the nonprofit that runs the city-owned Balboa Theare and Civic Theatre. She’s got a lot on her to-do list in terms of reshaping the organization, but first she said she wanted to look inward and see how she could help her own staff. She noticed that several of her employees were legal permanent residents with an interest in becoming citizens.

I talked to Doran and one of her employees, Rosina Navarrete, who told me she wants to become a citizen so she can vote.

• I found out about Doran’s immigration initiative at VOSD’s recent Meeting of the Minds event. Listen to highlights from our event in the second half of last week’s VOSD Podcast.

Luring the Comic-Con Crowd to TJ, Opera Goes on the Rails and Other Arts and Culture News

The organizers of Saturday’s Tijuana Zine Fest said they hope at least a few of Comic-Con’s attendees trickle down this weekend. The fest, which has included several events in July geared toward DIY magazine makers, is being held at Estación Federal, a new redevelopment project that nearly butts the border fence. The newly revamped space is one to keep an eye on since it’s playing host to a new farmers market and other arts and culture events.

Image courtesy of Tijuana Zine Fest
Photo courtesy of Tijuana Zine Fest

• San Diego Visual Arts Network announced this year’s “emerging artist” San Diego Art Prize winners: William Feeney and Shinpei Takeda. Folks who attended this year’s exhibition at the City College Gallery featuring all of this year’s Art Prize nominees also voted for Feeney to win the “people’s choice” category, so he’ll get an extra $250 along with the other perks that come with winning the prize.

I explained the San Diego Art Prize program and some recent changes to it last year for CityBeat.

• San Diego Opera didn’t die in 2014. Instead, it reinvented itself. The opera remake continues this fall with Opera on Track, a new concert series that takes performances out of Civic Theatre and into trolley stations, amphitheaters, parks and other venues along San Diego trolley lines. (U-T)

The future of Seaport Village is getting clearer. (U-T)

Here’s a look at some renderings by the developer whose proposal will get a closer look from the Port of San Diego.

• Longtime San Diego art critic Robert L. Pincus details the story encapsulated in La Casa de Estudillo, the 19th century historic adobe home in San Diego’s Old Town.

A local artist and writer have teamed up to produce a new web television series. (CityBeat)

This Pokémon Go thing is big. (KPBS)

Personally, I’m digging how the game makes lots of urban art and murals official Pokéstops, or places where players can get supplies they need to level up.

• San Diego Story’s Welton Jones has lots of good things to say about The Old Globe Theatre’s adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility.”

•  The furniture made of recycled materials and crafted by students of the industrial arts program at A Reason to Survive, or ARTS, is top-notch. Plus, the program is helping teenagers facing adversities. (U-T)

Pacific San Diego rounded up some art exhibitions to see this month.

Two San Diego Fringe Festival musicals are being restaged for the Comic-Con crowd. (KPBS)

Food, Beer and Booze News

• Here’s a map of nearly 40 restaurants San Diego Eater thinks you should hit up this summer.

Breakfast Republic, a popular brunch spot in North Park, has officially opened its Liberty Station location.

There’s a new farmers market coming to Waterfront Park at the end of the month.

La Mesa’s cool cred just leveled up. (San Diego Eater)

Carlsbad’s craft beer scene just grew again. (WestCoaster)

Stone Brewing is taking over the world. (Reader)

Eat your way through Comic-Con. (Nerdist)

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