Writerz Blok  was launched in 1999 by the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation as a nomadic program offering kids a legal outlet for graffiti art. Eventually, the crew of graffiti artists and muralists who ran the program landed on a half-acre piece of property owned by the Jacobs Center near Market Creek Plaza in southeastern San Diego.
Anyone is invited to stop by the outdoor urban art park to color the big wooden walls mounted throughout the property with spray paint. By most accounts, the program’s been successful at redirecting graffiti-inclined youth  and has helped cut the amount of illegal graffiti in the neighborhood.
But Writerz Blok isn’t satisfied with its success just yet. The group is ready to become an official nonprofit. It also wants to reach more kids and offer more classes that help kids find jobs in creative industries like graphic design. The group needs money to help make that all happen, so this Saturday they’re throwing a party and announcing the launch of a crowdfunding campaign  to fund new classrooms, a retail shop, more walls for art and a large stage for community events.
Sergio Gonzalez, a program director at Writerz Blok, said some of the money raised will also help repair the park, which took a beating in some of the recent El Niño storms.
“These are walls that have been around since 2006,” he said, pointing out huge wooden boards covered in thick paint that had fallen to the ground. “So you can imagine the layers and layers of paint that just weighted the walls down and then the rain did the rest.”
Gonzalez said if the campaign is successful, Writerz Blok will be closer to becoming a “self-sustaining social enterprise” that makes money by offering graphic design and other creative services to clients. He said he’s also looking into having Writerz Blok become one of the dozens of diversion programs  offered through the county juvenile justice system.
For years, the group had been eyeing other, more permanent locations. It’s always imagined bigger, better classrooms and more space, but Gonzalez said the group’s ready to invest in the bare-bones lot to make it a more fitting long-term home.
“This was always meant to be a temporary location until we found a new space,” Gonzalez said. “But now it seems like this will be one of the permanent spaces for us. … We’re growing as a company and as a program so we need to do this.”
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego ’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
On the Importance of Learning to Play the Recorder
In elementary school, I, like almost every other grade-school student in the ’80s and ’90s, learned how to play the recorder. It’s not much more than a glorified whistle with a few holes carved in it to change notes, but I embraced the silly instrument for a short while and went beyond the standard “Hot Cross Buns” to earn extra credit by teaching myself how to play the Irish classic “Molly Malone.”
Fast-forward a few decades and that song is still burned into my brain. It’s become an important staple in the nightly lullaby repertoire I sing to help both my sons fall asleep.
“See, and that’s just one small example of how powerful and important an arts education can be,” said Joe Landon, executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, after I told him about my recorder skills.
The advocacy coalition Landon runs is putting on a big conference about arts education in San Diego this week. Called Arts Education Learning Exchange , the first-of-its-kind conference will, in part, highlight the Chula Vista school district’s recent $15 million investment  in expanded arts education and San Diego Unified’s initiative to integrate arts education  into most its schools. For San Diego Unified, the accolades  come in the midst of an effort to make sure not just some, but all of its approximately 130,000 students eventually get access to a quality arts education. Last week, I wrote about that effort .
But back to me and my recorder.
Landon told me there’s an entire generation of kids who went through the educational system after me without getting much of an arts education at all. He said the federal K-12 public education policy No Child Left Behind and the economic downtown played a big part in killing creativity in schools.  The economy and the policy, he said, forced many educators to cut budgets and worry too much about teaching kids how to pass tests. The arts were widely seen as unnecessary.
Landon said that’s changing. He praised the replacement for No Child Left Behind, the so-called Every Student Succeeds Act, as a public education policy he thinks will result in a huge boost for arts education .
The co-author of a paper called “A Policy Pathway: Embracing Arts Education to Achieve Title I Goals ,” Landon said another positive trend in arts education is more and more school districts using Title I funds, a federal source of money earmarked for assisting students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to pay for arts education. In the paper, he argues that arts education has been proven to help disadvantaged students.
“There are still some districts that are hesitant to spend Title 1 funds on arts education,” Landon said. “But that’s changing, too .”
A final note on the recorder: Last year my colleague Mario Koran conducted an important investigation into why kids in San Diego still play it in school . Here’s a snippet of what he found:
Turns out there’s an actual reason schools encourage the recorder. Little-kid fingers aren’t all that dexterous. Because it’s a bit easier to play, it serves as a nice transition that gets kids ready for more complicated instruments like the clarinet, Nicholson said. Plus, they’re cheap. You can buy one on Amazon for about $10.
So it looks like the recorder might be here to stay. Lord help us.
Big Ol’ Sushi Rolls, All Eyes on Walter Pomeroy’s Collection and Other Arts and Culture News
• The controversial burrito-sized sushi rolls have arrived . (Eater San Diego)
• Parking is tough. It’s easy to get lost on campus. But ultimately the annual UCSD Open Studios event last week was worth the trouble. Because awesome, experimental art . (CityBeat)
• The New York Times decided to shine some light on IDW Publishing’s comic-art themed gallery  in Liberty Station.
• It’s official: Craft beer can now be consumed at farmers markets in the state of California . (CBS 8)
• Women brew beer, too . (CityBeat)
• From Iran to Encinitas, get to know more about artist Lily Pourat and her work . (Encinitas Advocate)
• Food news freaks, take note: Pacific Magazine has rounded up lots of new and coming-soon restaurants in town .
• Who won the San Diego Young Choreographers Showcase and Prize? Find out . (San Diego Story)
• Are evil pigs or the mafia responsible for this missing art ? (U-T)
• San Diego Magazine’s food writer Troy Johnson takes on the topic of fading snobbery in the craft cocktail world  and profiles Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center  in National City. Johnson will be at Olivewood Sunday for a conversation about the authenticity of the farm-to-table movement  (he joined VOSD’s podcast to talk about the same topic last July ).
• Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar was recently in town exploring the border. Here’s a YouTube video documenting the art project that resulted from his time here .
• The AjA Project and The Jacobs Center installed new pieces of public art featuring portraits of youth who live in southeastern San Diego . The photos are hanging on the outside wall of Market Creek Plaza. (press release)
Get Cultured: Things to Do in San Diego This Week
• The artist behind the crooked rooftop house at UCSD  is featured in a big show opening at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego  this week. Explore the solo exhibition by artist Do Ho Suh at the museum’s Downtown at Sundown  event on Thursday.
• The Latin American Art Festival  happening at Liberty Station March 19 and 20 will feature works by nearly 100 artists, including Gloria Muriel, Marco Tulio and Paco Reyes.
• Choreographer John Malashock and his dancers collaborate with the San Diego Symphony in “Music in Motion ” happening March 19-20.
• Over 50 women artists  will show work in the “The Power of Feminine Energy” exhibition opening in Balboa Park .
• The San Diego Natural History Museum opens the “Whales: Giants of the Deep ” exhibition that includes science, storytelling, interactive installations and two full sperm whale skeletons. KPBS has more .
• The inaugural Berry Best Chocolate Fest  is billed as a “family-friendly foodie festival centered around chocolate and berries.”
• The San Diego Guild of Puppetry, Animal Cracker Conspiracy, Drummers Without Borders and Fern St. Circus are the creatives behind the World Day of Puppetry Giant Puppet Parade and Pageantry Festival  happening at the City Heights Performance Annex from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, March 20.
• San Diego’s Kyoto Prize Symposium  includes a talk by renowned choreographer John Neumeier, a special dance performance, a talk by materials science guru Toyoki Kunitake and more.
• Aleksey Igudesman and Hyung-ki Joo are two classical musicians who put on comedic theatrical shows. The quirky duo will be in San Diego this week .
• The sixth annual San Diego Storytelling Festival  is 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 19 in Encinitas.
• The San Diego History Center opens the “Lore Behind the ROAR! 100 Years of the San Diego Zoo ” exhibition.
• A series featuring experimental sound, visual and performance artists  continues at Space 4 Art this week.
• Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy will talk about her book “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges .”
• The San Diego Pro Arte Voices presents its spring concert .
• Wednesday is Bukowski Appreciation Night at Ducky Waddle’ s gallery and bookstore.
• ETSY IRL  in Escondido.
• The Women’s Film Festival San Diego  is in full swing.
• Video games are the source of inspiration for this one-night pop-up art exhibition .
• Film writer and director Malik Vitthal is in town to talk about his movie “Imperial Dreams.”  The event might be maxed out by the time you see this. Sorry.
• See art made by prison inmates .
• There’s a music and arts festival happening Thursday afternoon  on the beaches of Tijuana.
• A touring exhibit themed on immigration to the United States  is making a stop at the art gallery at Mesa College.
• Gym Standard in North Park opens a solo show with works by Bradford Lynn , an artist who “illustrates the imaginative and unseen world we all might see when we close our eyes.”
• Ronis Fine Art in Golden Hill doesn’t open its doors to the public often, but when it does the shows are pretty interesting. This robot show is no exception .
• Latin food, beer and wine will be consumed  at Fashion Valley Mall on Saturday.
• Look! Another beer fest ! This one’s in Ensenada.
• Slap bracelets, neon and other things from the 1980s  are the theme of this group show opening in Barrio Logan.
• A group art show  opens in the Gaslamp.
• Hear stories about jobs and getting fired from them .
• Dizzy’s has an experimental music concert  coming up.
• Artists from Los Angeles meet artists from San Diego  in this big, annual art exhibition at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park.
• Fallbrook Art in Public Places  holds its annual fundraiser event.
• Lambda Archives of San Diego presents a talk by Joycelyn Elders, former U.S. surgeon general .
• Photographer Jennifer Greenburg’s work  is featured in a solo show opening in Little Italy.
• Ernest Hemingway’s famed six-word story inspires visual artwork in this show .
• Architect David Marshall will talk about “Protecting Our Architectural Legacy: The Do’s and Dont’s of Preservation.” 
• The Living Coast Discovery Center opens a new educational exhibition .
• The Easter bunny will be in Spring Valley . Here’s a good rundown from San Diego Family Magazine about other bunny-related events happening around town .
• “The Wizard of Oz” musical is still playing in San Diego .
• Pick strawberries with the fam  at Stehly Farm Organics in Valley Center.
• Pretend to be a sailor  at this annual event.