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Arts and culture highlights by Engagement Editor Kinsee Morlan (Tuesdays)
Rep. Duncan Hunter kicks off a debate about art censorship, the push to diversify local theater, the story behind Javier Plascencia’s departure from Bracero and more in our weekly roundup of arts and culture news.
You don’t have to be a musician to make music using the San Diego Sound Booths.
The new interactive public art pieces include a panel of 16 buttons, each producing a unique digital sound. There are different types of beats (from hip hop to electronic and R&B), various symphonic sounds and a handful of city noises – like sounds from the beach and planes flying over downtown San Diego.
Passersby are invited to walk up to the booths, push the buttons and make their own impromptu musical compositions. The booths are located at the Jacobs Music Center, the downtown Central Library and the Balboa Park Visitors Center. A fourth one will travel to various community centers through the month of January.
“You can find a rhythm that you like and then you can use symphonic sounds and really kind of express how you’re feeling,” said Brandon Steppe, director and founder of David’s Harp Foundation. He gave me a quick demo of one of the sounds booths by creating a catchy two-minute hip-hop song on the spot.
The sound booths are a collaboration between the San Diego Symphony and the David’s Harp Foundation, a nonprofit that works with at-risk and homeless youth by providing free music education and hands-on audio engineering and multimedia production classes. The kids in the program produced the music and sounds for the booths.
Steppe said he was excited when the symphony reached out to his small East Village nonprofit, which serves about 200 kids a year. He said it gave the kids in his program a chance to work on an important project and give back to the community.
“It was an opportunity to get the kids in on something that’s way big,” he said. “We’re big on inspiration. We’re big on giving kids projects that are relevant, and there’s nothing more relevant than something as big as the symphony.”
The sound booths are just one piece of the symphony’s bold new Our American Music festival, a month-long concert series featuring a diverse array of music meant to explore what it means to be an American in 2017. The fest, happening now through Jan. 29, includes a mix of free and affordable concerts by hip-hop artist Talib Kweli, Los Angles Latin music band La Santa Cecilia and country/folk singer and songwriter Rosanne Cash, alongside contemporary chamber and classical music performances.
Chelsea Allen, the new manager of community engagement at the San Diego Symphony, said the music festival, the sound booths and a community quilt project, which is hanging outside the symphony’s concert hall and invites people to answer the question “What inspires your American Voice?” by writing their answers on a square of fabric, are all good examples of what people will see from the symphony’s CEO Martha Gilmer. Gilmer was hired in 2014 and has a history of introducing innovative programs to connect new, more diverse audiences to classical music organizations.
“Kind of embracing the great diversity that is American music has been something that has stretched us as an organization, but it’s also inviting a new life into our traditional classical productions,” Allen said.
Rep. Duncan Hunter took matters into his own hands last week and removed a painting from the U.S. Capitol that depicted a police officer as a wild boar.
The painting is by David Pulphus, a high school student at the time he created it, and depicts a police officer as a pig in uniform aiming a gun at black protesters, a reference to the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of an unarmed black man.
Pulphus won an art competition hosted annually by members of Congress. It’s tradition to hang the winners’ artworks in a hallway between the Capitol and adjacent House office buildings.
Law enforcement groups had been complaining about the painting, saying it wasn’t right to depict police so poorly on government property. Hunter, a Republican whose district includes Julian, Ramona and parts of El Cajon, decided to unscrew it from the wall and deliver it to the office of Rep. Lacy Clay, the Missouri Democratic congressman who selected the painting and who represents Ferguson.
Hunter’s move touched off a back-and-forth in which the painting was rehung eventually rehung, removed again (Hunter said it wasn’t him the second time), and rehung again. Clay attempted to file a police report against Hunter for removing the painting without permission (a request that was denied by Capitol police).
Hunter is busy writing op-eds and making television appearances defending his move, even asking House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to step in and put the kibosh on allowing art in the Capitol that depicts police officers or members of Congress in an unfavorable light.
Allowing any art censorship of any kind, though, can be a slippery slope. It made me wonder if any of the art that’s been awarded through Hunter’s office would set off red flags if Ryan does indeed step in and put parameters on the content allowed in the Congressional Art Competition.
While most of the work awarded through Hunter’s office was what you might expect (bald eagles and whatnot), there was one piece that depicts American corporations as nefarious entities able to tip the scales of justice. There are probably business-friendly congressmen who could’ve complained about that piece.
“Clearly, Hunter has no idea of the basic idea of freedom of speech, or respect for the views, programs and property of others,” wrote Kristen Miller Aliotti, a San Diegan who helped organize the congressional art competitions for former San Diego Rep. Jim Bates, on my Facebook page after I posted the Hunter story . “This is a long-time Congressional program and he should have known better. We already know he has no idea about what he can spend campaign funds for, but this is whole new level of arrogance.”
Meanwhile, others have been praising Hunter.
“My hat is off to Rep. Duncan Hunter for removing from the Capitol the dishonest ‘art’ work depicting police as wild animals,” wrote Joan Wayman in a letter to the U-T. “If the ‘artist’ would instead portray, as vicious animals, those gang members who indiscriminately shoot up neighborhoods killing innocent children in their attempts to eliminate rivals, who lure girls into sex trafficking, who deal drugs and engage in other criminal activities, now that art would serve as a useful social message.”
• You simply must peruse this thread of Tweets by BuzzFeed reporter Paul McLeod who uses the Hunter art controversy as an opportunity check in on all the depictions of pro-slavery advocates and other historical figures who’ve made racist statements displayed in the Capitol.
• Forty San Diego artists collaborated on a book that’s showing at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library through Feb. 11, and this U-T reporter calls it “conceptually playful and visually captivating.”
• I wrote about one man’s work to make theater audiences more diverse. Some readers took offense to the story’s headline, “The Quest to Make San Diego’s Theater Audiences Less White,” calling it click bait or even race baiting. Do you think it’s offensive? Let me know.
• The La Jolla Playhouse’s “Escape to Margaritaville” musical that’s built around the songs and stories of Jimmy Buffett is officially going to Broadway after its May debut in San Diego. (U-T)
• The Globe’s free festival featuring new work is happening this week. (U-T)
• Former Culture Report writer Alex Zaragoza is hosting an event this week at Writerz Blok featuring an all-women lineup of graffiti artists, DJs, musicians and other creatives.
• Space 4 Art is holding an event to raise money for housing geared toward artists. In the invite for the event, they bring up the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland and remind people of the importance of providing safe, affordable housing for artists.
• KPBS talked to Christine Jones, the senior public art manager for San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture, about an upcoming public art project at a a new East Village park by artist Mark Reigelman. Reigelman was in town last week and talked to folks about what they might want in the art at the park.
• The San Diegans behind these wooden watches have raised over $70,000 through their crowd-funding campaign.
• The San Diego Shakespeare Society hosts public readings of the bard’s works. For years, they hosted the events at Upstart Crow at Seaport Village, but that shop’s closing so they’ve moved to Barnes & Noble in Point Loma.
• The La Jolla Light previews ArtPower’s “American Routes” concert series.
• KPBS arts maven Nina Garin makes the case for why folks should still care that the musical “Rent” is playing in San Diego even though it’s showed here many times before.
• Punk singer Alice Bag will be at Por Vida in Barrio Logan this week, reading from her book “Violence Girl: East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage: A Chicana Punk Story.” The folks behind Por Vida were the stars of Culturecast Episode 1.
• Check out this cool night shot of artist David Adey’s public art piece on a county-owned public parking garage.
• This short Facebook story by a San Diegan who stumbled onto an old painting by his grandma at a local swap meet is a must-read.
• Local dancers met up in front of one of the fountains in Balboa Park and did a series of performances while broadcasting it life on Facebook.
• Mikkeller Brewing San Diego kicks off its 2017 Limited Mikkeller San Diego Beer Release series this week.
• The U-T has more details on why Tijuana celebrity chef Javier Plascencia pulled out of of the Bracero Cocina de Raíz restaurant in Little Italy.
• Here’s a Q-and-A with one of the founders of Eat San Diego, a volunteer group that plants free food in shared public spaces.
• A craft distillery is opening in the middle of San Diego’s beer belt. (Eater)
And a juice bar is opening there, too.
• It’s time again for San Diego Restaurant Week. (Times of San Diego)
• Here’s a funny shot from one of the players in San Diego’s underground dinner party scene. Yes, that creature cooks people dinner.
• We’re just a few weeks into 2017 and there’s already at least one new brewery opening. (Reader)
• Eater San Diego rounded up 13 of the city’s best high- and low-brow cocktail bars.
• Tijuana’s culinary renaissance landed the city on The New York Times list of 52 Places to Go in 2017.
Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at email@example.com. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.