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Culture Report: La Jolla Playhouse Brings Unconventional Art to the Urban Core

Writerz Blok is being uprooted, the Comic-Con museum is moving forward and more in our weekly digest of the region’s arts and culture news.

Taking theater and art outside traditional venues isn’t easy. The payoff for audiences that see the experimental work can be huge, though, and folks can walk away experiencing something they’ve never experienced before.

La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls Festival, its biennial event featuring immersive, site-specific and eclectic theater, is back this year with dozens of avant-garde performances at interesting venues around downtown Oct. 19-22.

Several pieces are being staged inside Bread & Salt, a former bread factory turned arts venue in Logan Heights. One of those works is by playwright Lily Padilla, a Poway native and masters of fine arts student at UC San Diego.

Padilla got a call from this year’s WOW Festival director, Meiyin Wang, in June. Wang assigned the old grain silo at Bread & Salt to Padilla, and told her to let the space inspire the work.

Lily Padilla and Meiyin Wang

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

“It’s a shape unlike any I’ve ever experience before,” Padilla said. “A 30-by-30 foot cube, almost totally dark. … And the beginning of the process was just going to the space and letting it speak to me.”

The first thing Padilla thought of after spending time inside the grain silo was ghosts. Then she started thinking about all the recent natural and man-made disasters – hurricanes and the mass shooting in Las Vegas – and she envisioned the silo as a fallout shelter where a handful of people were hunkering down, hoping to be rescued.

The resulting work Padilla created with her collaborator Dylan Key is an audio installation that will create the feeling of a fallout shelter. Seven guests at a time will navigate the space and encounter the voices of the ghosts of the people who waited inside the shelter. The experience will last about 25 minutes and will play on loop throughout the festival.

This year’s WOW lineup also includes a virtual reality experience,  a Tijuana dance company performing on a four-by-four foot stage, an interactive experience with San Diego artist Max Daily and his sardine bar inside Bread & Salt, an immersive hip-hop dance party by an artist who goes by Shasta Geaux Pop, an intense-sounding one-on-one experience with San Diego artist David Israel Reynoso, plus family-friendly shows and more.

Ticket prices for the WOW Festival are lower than most theater tickets, ranging from free to $35. The hope is that by offering lower admission fees, and taking diverse, multimedia performances to downtown venues perceived as more accessible than traditional theaters, La Jolla Playhouse will reach more people.

“The mandate really is: How can we get much more people experiencing this kind of work?” Wang said.

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

Writerz Blok Closed for Redesign

A popular graffiti art park in southeastern San Diego has closed.

In a statement released Oct. 10, the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation said the Writerz Blok park in Chollas View has been temporarily shut down while the site undergoes a redesign.

“Building on its long-running platform, Writerz Blok will relaunch as an enhanced, community-informed placemaking concept,” the statement says.

Writerz Blok

File photo by Sam Hodgson

Writerz Blok was launched almost 20 years ago by the Jacobs Center, a nonprofit that’s been struggling to develop and revitalize the 60 acres it owns in southeastern San Diego.

Writerz Blok started as a nomadic program offering kids a legal outlet for graffiti art, and has morphed into an important arts center near Euclid Avenue and Market Street where graffiti artists can create murals and kids can learn graphic design skills. The park has also hosted many cultural events over the years.

Reginald Jones, president of the Jacobs Center, said the nonprofit got a grant to create “placemaking” projects in southeastern San Diego that can host events and serve as neighborhood meeting places. He said the money will be used to pay BNIM, an architecture and design firm, to create a plan to turn Writers Blok into a mobile gathering space and entertainment venue that will include vendors, recreation space and a graffiti art park.

“We’ve got bold plans for its relaunch,” Jones said.

The project has to be temporary and portable – something that can be achieved by using shipping containers or other temporary structures – because the current Writerz Blok property, like much of the Jacob Center’s undeveloped land, is slated to be redeveloped. The land will likely become home to a residential housing project in the next few years.

The new plan, though, contradicts the direction the art park was headed last year, when Writerz Blok representatives launched a public fundraising campaign for classroom space, a retail shop and more. They told me at the time that they wanted Writerz Blok to become a “self-sustaining social enterprise” independent of the Jacobs Center. But they only managed to raise a few thousand dollars.

Writerz Blok artists who’ve run the art park for years didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Last year Sergio Gonzalez, a program director at Writerz Blok, told me they were hoping to make Writerz Blok’s current location its forever home.

“It seems like this will be one of the permanent spaces for us,” he said. “We’re growing as a company and as a program so we need to do this.”

Comic-Con Museum Taking Shape, Artists Building Doctor Empathy and More Arts and Culture News

Comic-Con International has hired an executive director for its proposed museum in Balboa Park.

The innovative artist residency program at UC San Diego is helping build empathy in future doctors. I talked to Joyce Cutler-Shaw, who founded the program, and Debby and Larry Kline, artists who took over the residency a few months ago, about how teaching med students to draw live and dead bodies can build compassion.

debby and larry kline

Photo by Kinsee Morlan

On Saturday, the San Diego Museum of Art is opening “Modern Masters from Latin America: The Pérez Simón Collection,” its contribution to the regional “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” initiative exploring Latin American and Latino art.

The city of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture is presenting a talk with Randy Cohen from Americans for the Arts on Wednesday morning. Cohen will discuss the organization’s economic impact study of the nonprofit arts and culture industry in the United States and why investing in the arts matters to San Diego. He’ll also give a special report on Balboa Park. Cohen and representatives and staffers from the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture will be at Art Produce and the ChuckAlek Biergarten in North Park Wednesday evening for an arts industry networking event.

The Port of San Diego board of commissioners approved a proclamation recognizing October as Celebration of the Arts Month.

See new sculpture by San Diego artist and retired SDSU professor John Rogers at an exhibition opening Saturday.

 Local horror author and CityBeat columnist Ryan Bradford is doing a storytelling project on Instagram. Called “Ryan Dies Every Day in October,” he’s using the Instagram story feature to create hilarious scenarios in which he meets his fate.

San Ysidro will soon be home to more public art. The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture is looking for up to three artists or artist teams to create three public artworks.

Both the San Diego Arab Film festival and the GI Film Festival are happening this week.

San Diego Opera opened its new season with its first-ever operetta, a shorter, often funnier format that some opera diehards call “opera light.” But the Union-Tribune’s Pam Kragen said “based on the capacity audience’s exuberant reaction to “The Pirates of Penzance,” it looks like thar be smooth sailing ahead.”

 The Third Avenue Village Association and Chula Vista Creative Arts department have teamed up for a Halloween-themed “literary crawl” featuring over 20 writers, poets and actors doing readings and performances along Third Avenue.

The photos I keep seeing on social media of site-specific art installations on an old airplane in Tijuana are stunning. The “Viaje de Ida y Vuelta // Round Trip” exhibition featured works by Ander Azpiri, Rizzhel Javier, Griselda Rosas, Aren Skalman and Chris Warr.

Photo courtesy of Aren Skalman

Photo courtesy of Aren Skalman

Wear your Halloween costumes and head to Escondido for A Ship in the Woods’ latest endeavor – an exhibition showcasing works by Christian Jankowski, Marilyn Minter, Lu Yang and others.

 The popular “Young Lions” jazz program founded by trumpeter and composer Gilbert Castellanos will move to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion on Wednesday for one night only.

 Cura Caos, a VOSD Podcast Network show, is hosting a live event this week and interviewing San Diego musician Alfred Howard.

• Learn more about Filipino and Filipino American culture through music, arts, food and more at a festival on Saturday.

 On Wednesday, the La Jolla Music Society kicks off its new season, which will be its last without a permanent home. The $78 million Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center is slated to be completed in early 2019. (Union-Tribune)

 Bach Collegium San Diego is launching a new North County concert series.

 The Coronado Art Walk is this weekend.

 CityBeat checks in on San Diego’s graffiti scene.

• The state’s second largest Día de los Muertos celebration is happening in National City on Saturday.

 Diversionary Theatre launched a new program for older LGBT adults interested in performing.

 Five local photographers, filmmakers and multimedia producers will share the projects they’re working on at the Museum of Photographic Arts on Thursday.

 Off-road racing legend Bruce Meyers is signing his book at the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park on Sunday.

Beer, Booze and Food News

 Blvd Asian Kitchen on La Mesa Boulevard will become a new City Tacos location, according to the employees working Sunday night when I stopped by for dinner.

 The Choral Consortium of San Diego is launching Beer Choir San Diego, “an informal group of singers of all skill levels that meets to drink beer and make music while supporting San Diego’s vibrant craft beer community.”

• Sample food from southeastern San Diego restaurants at the fifth annual Taste of the Diamond event on Thursday.

 Here’s your chance to meet local coffee roasters and beer brewers at the same time.

 Meet four of San Diego’s biggest restaurant companies. (Union-Tribune)

 The city has enlisted a real estate company to find someone to take over the former Downtown Johnny Brown’s building, which is owned by the city.

 Here’s a rundown of 16 new restaurants. (Union-Tribune)

 Shake Shack is opening Friday. (Eater)

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

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