Paintbrushes in hand, a small group of residents and employees crowded around a piano late last week inside the arts and crafts room of PATH San Diego , a nonprofit that provides housing and services to the homeless. They were there to paint the piano with artistic interpretations of the concept of home.
“We asked residents to share some words related to how they felt while they were on the street and how they feel now that they’re housed and what it means to have housing,” said Kalie Standish, who helps lead PATH’s community engagement program. “So along here on the piano, the darkness to the light, that’s where we’ll put those words.”
The piano is one of 10 the San Diego Symphony has distributed to local community groups and artists in advance of its upcoming Upright & Grand Piano Festival  happening Jan. 8 through Feb. 8. The groups are prettying up the pianos and, when they’re done, the instruments will be placed out in public places like the Central Library downtown, The Headquarters near Seaport Village and the Coronado Ferry Landing.
There’ll be signs and stickers on the pianos that say “Play Me.” The hope is that anyone will be emboldened to sit down and make music.
“Everyone is an artist,” said Allison Morrissey, programs coordinator at the symphony. “So this is about finding your inner artist and then putting these pianos out so people can find their inner musicians as well.”
The public pianos  are just one aspect of the symphony’s piano festival. The ambitious debut event also includes a series of performances  by world-class pianists, a hands-on community day  where people can take piano lessons orhear a “monster piano” performance with eight or more grand pianos on one stage.
The festival’s eagerness to enlist the public is another example of local arts organizations flipping the traditional performance model on its head (Last week, I told you about the local dance company Malashock Dance and its series that’s asks audience members to get more involved in performances ). Morrissey said community engagement and collaboration with audiences and other arts organizations is something the symphony is doing more of these days.
“It’s a big trend within the arts,” she said. “We’re all transitioning more from this outreach model of ‘Here’s our program and we’re bringing it to you’ to ‘What do you want and do you be a part of the process?’ which is why we’re here working with community organizations and local artists to paint the pianos.”
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‘A Thoughtful Retrospective and Predictive Future of Downtown San Diego’
“Developers aren’t necessarily bad guys,” reads a portion of a comment left on my story last week about Bosa Development’s “Rethink Downtown” exhibition, which closed over the weekend .
The museum-style exhibition was either an honest attempt to tell the story of downtown San Diego, a real estate marketing ploy that used the language of an art show to sell the promise of Bosa’s future condo projec t or a little bit of both, depending on who I asked.
Indeed, as the aforementioned commenter pointed out, Bosa, a company that’s built several high-rise condo projects downtown, has also donated to a local school that educates children impacted by homelessness , among other local philanthropic endeavors.
Here’s another comment from someone who digs what Bosa is doing:
“Bosa Development could have opened the typical sales office with the same, boring old roll-out,” it reads in part. “Instead, they pulled together a thoughtful retrospective and predictive future of downtown San Diego.”
Not everyone was rooting for Bosa, though. A few folks called out the development firm for being part of the problem when it comes to bad downtown development.
“Bosa is trying to soft peddle the fact that it is busy walling off downtown from its bayfront …”
Whether you dig or despise Bosa, its “Rethink Downtown” exhibit was interesting since it’s something outside of the wheelhouse of most real estate development firms. But borrowing from the arts and culture world and using elements of it to engage with or attract a community where developers are planning to build isn’t entirely new.
Locally, Makers Quarter  is a good example of the same type of creative approach to development.
Stacey Lankford Pennington is one of the urban planners behind Silo in Makers Quarter , which is currently a dirt lot that’s been transformed into a community event space filled with murals by local artists. The lot will eventually be a large mixed-used development .
Pennington described her interest in arts and culture as “genuine” and said that Silo in its current form is much more than a clever marketing campaign. She said the space is operating as a living laboratory where they test ideas generated by the community. She said the events that work best in the space or the interest areas deemed important by the community will end up being incorporated into the design of the building and the programming of the project’s open space (it’s on a fault line so there will be a strip of land that Makers Quarter will continue to activate with events).
“We’ll take the best of what Silo has informed us, which includes the importance of the inclusion of art in the evolution of this neighborhood,” she said.
While reporting on “Rethink Downtown” and talking to Pennington, I learned that neither Makers Quarter nor Bosa’s Pacific Gate tower is required by the city to include public art. The city’s percent for art program , which sets aside a small percentage of certain development projects’ costs for public art, doesn’t apply to private, residential projects.
Yet the current plans for both include public art elements.
If the art isn’t eventually value-engineered out of either project, does that make both of the development teams’ forays into arts and culture more authentic and easier to stomach? Let me know what you think. 
Bringing the Weird to Horton Plaza
Malls aren’t typically a place you can find challenging contemporary art.
That’s what makes San Diego Art Institute’s new temporary project space inside Westfield Horton Plaza mall so interesting. The formerly vacant space, which mall folks offered to SDAI rent-free for the next 18 months, opened over the weekend  with an art fair organized by local artists and groups.
“It was really bizarre having something like that in the mall, but I think they pulled it off,” said Ginger Shulick Porcella, SDAI’s executive director.
Porcella said she’ll be using the space as a staging ground for art events, workshops, studios and more. She said while the mall seemed interested in getting the SDAI crowd to come check out its retail shops, she has an interest in reaching out to non-museum-going audiences.
That doesn’t mean she’s about to censor or tone things down for the mall crowd.
“It’s a project space,” she said. “I want people to experiment and do weird things in there.”
Early next year, SDAI’s current curator-in-residence  will program the space. Then Porcella has plans to do a few fun things. After that, she said she’s open to input and ideas.
“We just opened Friday and I’ve already gotten a proposal for a dance performance in the space,” she said.
SDSU Not Actually That Sterile
I recently wrote about a muralist who’s been challenging the San Diego State administration  over its lack of art and color on the school’s campus.
The past few weeks, though, I’ve been noticing more and more art popping up across my alma mater’s campus.
And now there’s this, a new project gallery space inside SDSU’s Love Library:
The over-sized cardboard furniture was designed and built by students in one of artist David Fobes ‘ classes, and the new mural was designed and painted by art Carlos Castro Arias and Eva Struble’s students.
Fobes said the space inside the library where the murals and chairs are has been officially turned into a yet-to-be-named art gallery. He said he wanted to take advantage of the new space because it provides students with a real-world learning opportunity.
“I like projects where my students have to put stuff out in the public,” he said. “Like those big chairs, if people are going to sit on these they have to work, they have to be excellent. When you do a project like that that’s in the public eye, there’s no slacking off.”
The Centennial’s Success and Other Culture News
• Word on the street is that Kindred , the vegan food and bar that took over the Alchemy space win South Park, is opening on Friday. Here’s an Instagram photo of the owners inside the new joint .
• Comic book fans are hardcore and loyal. That’s part of why at least one local comic book store is doing OK  despite the overall malaise of the book-selling industry. (KPBS)
• The Balboa Park centennial celebration was a success , say some of the folks running Balboa Park institutions. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s James Chute talked to Balboa Park leaders who said an increase in attendance, infrastructure and improvement investments and a new level of collaboration amid museums in the park are all evidence of the effort’s overall triumph.
Fair enough, but it’s still important to understand where the city went wrong  after it first envisioned a centennial celebration of a much larger and more impressive caliber.
• Have you gotten a glimpse of “MetroGnome,” the new public art installation by Los Angeles artist Christian Moeller ? The piece is part of the San Diego International Airport’s new Rental Car Center. (sdnews.com)
• San Diego sculptor Chris Puzio will create a new piece of public art for the Alpine Public Library. He’s experimenting and testing out some ideas for that new piece .
• Dennis Ellman does more than public relations, he’s also an artist and an arts supporter . (U-T)
• Kensington Video is back  despite the fact that running a video store seems like such a nutty idea in this day and age. (U-T)
• The Old Globe’s Freedome Bradley-Ballentine has a wonderful mustache and a sweet-sounding gig  that relates to all the audience and community engagement stuff I’ve been harping on lately. (U-T)
• A Tijuana-born opera singer wins a big prize . (U-T)
• This is the U-T’s James Chute’s final classical music review for the paper  (remember, he took the buyout and his last day is Dec. 24).
• Yay for the local arts organizations that landed grants from the National Endowment for the Arts . Boo to the two comments on the story complaining about government money going to the arts. (KPBS)
• Thanks to CityBeat’s annual gift guide , my husband will be getting an expensive little bottle of beard oil. Shhhh, don’t tell him.
• The NTC Foundation has launched an initiative called “Art in Public Places .” (press release)
• A San Diego firm makes this list of architects doing innovative and interesting things . (Architectural Record) Speaking of architecture in San Diego, how did I miss this sweet San Diego Magazine spread on Rob Quigley’s not-at-all-humble abode ? Dwell also shined its light on a unique Ocean Beach remodel this month .
• Thrillist thinks you should eat at these eight new restaurants . And SanDiegoVille’s got a handy list of the biggest restaurant openings and most surprising closing  of the year.
• When is the new Horton Plaza Park gonna open? I’m hungry . (Eater San Diego)
• Yes, there are many pictures of Santa Claus in this new book about San Diego Christmas traditions , but there’s also more to it than that. (U-T) VOSD’s Randy Dotinga interviewed Bill Swank , the author of “Christmas in San Diego,” a few years ago. The dude knows his stuff when it comes to local baseball history, too.
• An Encinitas family is behind the poinsettia’s rise to holiday fame . (Encinitas Advocate)
• And the 2015 San Diego Film Critics Society award winners are  …
• CityBeat’s got more on that new gallery in Barrio Logan  I told you about last week.
Get Cultured: Things to Do in San Diego This Week
• On Friday, Animal Cracker Conspiracy presents a night of experimental puppet theater , live music, puppet-making and more.
• Four well-known artist couples are the focus of a new exhibition opening at the San Diego Public Library’s Art Gallery  downtown on Saturday. The show, “Significant Others,” includes work by Jean Lowe and Kim MacConnel; Jessica McCambly and John Oliver Lewis; Debby and Larry Kline; and Anna O’Cain and Richard Keely.
• Moscow Ballet brings its “Great Russian Nutcracker ” to San Diego Tuesday night.
• Actor Hershey Felder brings composer Irving Berlin’s story to life  on the La Jolla Playhouse stage. The show opens Wednesday.
• Opera NEO will perform arias, duets and a few holiday classics  at 7 p.m. Friday.
• That exclusive private screening of the new “Star Wars” movie  at The Fleet is sold out, but you can put your name on a waiting list and cross your lightsabers for luck.
• Fresh Sound presents a performance by Mary Oliver  (violin, viola and hardanger fiddle) at San Diego Art Institute at 6 p.m. Thursday.
• So Say We All’s got two live storytelling events this week, both themed on the darker side of the holidays .
• Join an annual binational holiday celebration at Friendship Park . Folks on the other side of the border fence at Playas de Tijuana will be celebrating, too.
• Got impressive “Star Wars” knowledge in your head? Show it off at this trivia night at Border X Brewing in Barrio Logan .
• MCASD’s new third Thursday event, Downtown at Sundown , is happening this week.
• The San Diego Art Institute’s year-end gala  is happening Tuesday night.
• Lamb’s Players Theatre pairs theater with food in its “An American Christmas ” show opening Dec. 17.
• Jump in The Pearl’s cold pool  and help raise money for a good cause.
• The Blind Boys of Alabama play songs from their new Christmas album .
• The Soweto Gospel Choir is up next in the Jacobs Presents  2015-2016 season.
• Arts documentary filmmakers The Artist Odyssey will premiere their film about singer-songwriter Frank Lee Drennen on Thursday .
• Get your holiday concert fix  at San Diego Symphony’s Holiday Pops concert with Cirque Musica this weekend.
• Ashley Jameson Eriksmoen finds furniture and turns it into art. A show featuring her work opens Thursday .
• Listen to live jazz in a North Park art gallery .
• A massive lightsaber battle  is planned at Waterfront Park Saturday night.
• Bar Pink’s craft show  is where you’ll find handmade stuff that doesn’t exist on Amazon.
• Is it really December if you haven’t yet seen “It’s a Wonderful Life “?
• Rob Greenfield lives in a tiny house , rides his bike everywhere and otherwise makes us normies look bad for not being even close to as green as he. Greenfield will be signing his book , “Dude Making a Difference,” in Ocean Beach on Sunday.
• There’s a holiday art show and vendor showcase  happening in North Park Friday afternoon.
• A new mural in Normal Heights will be unveiled during a shindig Thursday.
• This furniture shop does not sound boring .
• Next Tuesday, local theater company Circle Circle dot dot hosts a holiday craft fair that includes all sorts of holiday-related shenanigans .
• The Lemon Grove Library will host a gingerbread festival at 2 p.m. Saturday.
• It’s your last chance to see boats decked out in holiday lights  as they cruise around the San Diego Bay.
• Kid music master Hullabaloo will be performing at a Santa appearance  in Bay Park Friday afternoon.
Update: An earlier version of this post included an invite to a VOSD culture walk downtown. We’re re-evaluating the date for the event and will keep you posted.