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The North County Arts Network has been chugging along since the start of 2015 as a grassroots effort led by arts organizations in Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, Carlsbad, San Marcos and other communities in northern San Diego County.
Before the group sprang up, North County’s arts community was isolated and the organizations were even somewhat competitive, said Daniel Foster, the former executive director of the Oceanside Museum of Art and one of the group’s leaders. Now various organizations are working together, looking at how they can share resources, collectively brand themselves, go after funding sources and ultimately strengthen the North County arts scene.
“The cultural affluence in North County is strong,” Foster said. “But most of that money leaves North County and filters into downtown and La Jolla. Most of the arts organizations located here are under-funded in my opinion.”
So far, the North County Arts Network has been an all volunteer-led effort with zero funding. But in 2016, Foster said the group will get serious. It’ll be applying for nonprofit status, working to secure grants and other revenue streams and otherwise becoming more official.
“We’re starting to spin wildly and strongly into an organization with a pretty ambitious mission and vision,” he said. “Committees are forming and very tangible projects are coming up, like developing a website to promote all the arts events happening in the North County.”
If all goes according to plan, the North County Arts Network will become what people in the art world call an arts council, a quasi-governmental nonprofit that works to promote the arts in a certain region. The state’s arts council, the California Arts Council, has a State-Local Partnership Program that provides up to $28,000 annually of funding to regional arts councils that are officially recognized and designated by a county board of supervisors.
San Diego county is one, and by far the biggest, of a handful of California’s 58 counties that doesn’t already have an official countywide arts council. Foster said it’s not yet clear if the North County Arts Network would be eligible for the supervisors’ designation and the resulting state funding since the group only represents one part of the whole county.
“But I don’t feel the success of this organization is dependent on just that one funding source,” Foster said. “And we don’t necessarily need the supervisors’ designation to validate our sense of purpose.”
He said East County and the South Bay would benefit from similar arts networks too, but an arts council providing services to every arts group in the county is still something he sees as necessary.
“I still think we need a countywide arts council,” he said. “We’re just leading by example.”
The North County Arts Network meets quarterly, and its next gathering happens at 5 p.m. Jan. 21 in Poway (email Foster for details). Foster said every meeting since the group’s founding has resulted in multiplied membership numbers. He said the rapid growth of the group has been a good indication that it’s headed in the right direction.
“It’s nice to light the spark of something that’s been waiting for years to happen and to see that spark grow so quickly,” he said. “I think the time for North County arts has arrived.”
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The Old Globe, San Diego Opera and La Jolla Playhouse will be getting serious about expanding arts access to more people in 2016.
When I set out to write that story, I thought I’d focus on how local arts groups were specifically going after the millennial audience. But after I talked to folks at the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse, which both received sizable grants for expanding their reach to a more diverse and wider audience, I realized that getting in front of younger people was just a happy byproduct, not the overall goal.
The effort is really about going into San Diego County’s under-served communities, partnering with nonprofit organizations that already have ties there and working directly with people to find out what kind of art they want or need and providing it to them in more accessible ways.
Truly expanding arts engagement to folks who don’t consider themselves consumers of art, the thinking goes, should eventually create a feedback loop that results in arts organizations changing the very core of who they are, what they do and why.
Before I decided to focus only on that sort of effort to expand arts access, though, I talked to a few other local arts groups doing cool things to reach younger people.
Cygnet Theatre, for example, has three programs designed to attract millennials: It offers discounted tickets to the under-30 crowd, pairs beer tasting with theatrical performances and offers social media nights that invite audience members to take out their smart phones and interact in real-time with the cast and crew on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
“Audience interaction, that’s something that attracts younger audiences,” said Autumn Doermann-Rojas, Cygnet’s marketing director.
But she said no matter what sort of innovative programming arts organizations come up with, the thing that matters most is the type of programming offered. Young people, of course, often gravitate toward newer, edgier plays.
The Museum of Photographic Arts is another local arts organization that’s been working to expand its reach to a younger and more diverse audience. This year, the Balboa Park institution launched its pay-what-you-wish initiative.
“We definitely saw a new, often younger crowd coming in because of it,” said MOPA membership officer Angela Venuti. “And it created an experience were people were telling us what their experience was worth.”
The museum also launched a new $5 a month, commitment-free membership program geared toward younger people.
“We can’t just die out because we haven’t tried to make ourselves amenable to future generations,” Venuti said. “You can’t just keep doing the same thing without taking a step back and asking yourself, ‘How can you change for the generations that are changing?'”
• San Diego-born comic artist Lalo Alcaraz is one of the writers and consulting producers on “Bordertown,” the animated show created by “Family Guy” writer Mark Hentemann that’ll debut on Fox on Jan. 3.
Alcaraz told PRI that the show, which is set in a fictitious Texas town near the U.S.-Mexico border, will likely offend people on both sides of the border. But there’s one group in particular that gets hit pretty hard: “If there’s a group called the Redneck Anti-Defamation League, I think they wouldn’t be interested in it,” Alcaraz said.
• In a Q-and-A with himself, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s James Chute talks about his many years as a classical music and visual art critic. Chute’s last day at the paper was Dec. 24. Before he headed off into retirement, he told us about an opera based on human trafficking, previewed the 2016 Fresh Sound mus series and glanced back on the five most memorable moments in visual art and classical music.
• Last week was nutty. I forgot to link to my story about Ginger Shulick Porcella, the new executive director of the San Diego Art Institute who’s been shaking things up. The piece is part of VOSD’s Voice of the Year package profiling the San Diegans who led the biggest and most interesting conversations of the year.
• Kensington Video refuses to give up. After a brief closure, the video store is back, this time with a juice bar. (KPBS)
• The Aja Project only has a few hours left in its campaign to raise money for a mural at the San Diego International Airport. The nonprofit says the artwork will tell the story of San Diego’s refugees and immigrants. (indiegogo)
• San Diego writer and San Diego CityBeat book critic Jim Ruland wrote a piece about his life as a co-author (not to be confused with a ghost writer) for the Los Angeles Times.
“Co-writing books is like being a really good karaoke singer: You have to capture the essence of your subject and stay true to the voice of the person on the page,” Ruland writes.
• San Diego Magazine lists 50 things in San Diego you should do before you die.
• Jay Porter, formerly of The Linkery restaurant in San Diego, opened a small beer and burger joint in Oakland. The New York Times reviewed it.
• Local food writers talk about their favorite eating moments of 2015. It sounds like Darlene Horn of Zagat and I should be eating buddies. (San Diego Eater)
• Intrepid Theatre is taking up residency at downtown’s Horton Grand Theatre for its staging of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (U-T)
• Voz Alta Project presents a pop-up art exhibition dedicated to motorcycles and other two-wheeled vehicles. “Moto Moto” opens at Bread & Salt in Logan Heights at 4 p.m. Saturday.
• San Diego Civic Organist Carol Williams will play a free concert at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park at 2 p.m. Jan. 1.
• The Culture Shock dance crew gives “The Nutcracker” the hip-hop treatment this week.
• More than 20 local artists will be making art for 24 hours straight. The public is invited to drop in to watch.
• Broadway San Diego opens “If/Then” this week.
• Iron Fist Brewing is hosting a Guitar Hero competition Tuesday night.
• Rising Arts Leaders are gathering to rub elbows at Tiger!Tiger!
• “Ditto: An Exhibition of Fine Art Prints” opens at Basic Urban Kitchen + Bar Tuesday night.
• The Holiday Bowl is Wednesday night.
• The WorldBeat Cultural Center in Balboa Park is celebrating Kwanzaa.
• This annual New Year’s Day brunch tradition sounds delicious.
• Experimental music is happening at Low Gallery in Barrio Logan on Saturday.
• See artwork on wood by James E. Watts and other artists next Tuesday night.
• The Port of San Diego’s annual Holiday Bowl Parade is apparently “American’s largest balloon parade.” It’s happening tomorrow at 10 a.m.
• Here’s a kid-friendly New Year’s Eve guide for you.
• Hullaballoo plays music for kids. He’s playing all over the place this week.