Culture Report: UCSD's Got a New Choir and All the Members Are Trees
Revisiting the city’s reasoning for putting public art in inaccessible places, San Diego artists react to the Oakland fire and more in our weekly digest of arts and culture news.
The University of California, San Diego has added an immersive sound installation by composer John Luther Adams to its public art collection.
Part of the university’s Stuart Collection, the new piece, called “The Wind Garden,” includes 32 trees near the Mandell Weiss Theatre that Adams has outfitted with speakers and accelerometers. The accelerometers – instruments that essentially measures vibrations – capture the trees’ movements and turn them into sound via a computer and software housed in the nearby theater.
I visited the musical eucalyptus grove Monday, a particularly windy day. As the leaves rustled and the tree trunks swayed in the wind, a symphony of bells and chimes poured from the speakers, swelling and subsiding along with the gusts of cold ocean air.
“The Wind Garden” is the Stuart Collection’s 19th piece of public art on the 1,200-acre campus. Mary Beebe, director of the Stuart Collection, said the project has been years in the making – it took two years just to find donations and funding for it – but she said the result was worth the wait.
“It will be on 24/7,” she said. “Soft sometimes, louder when the wind blows hard, and we think it’s pretty extraordinary. There are different choruses you can detect, and it’s different as you walk through it. It will constantly change. You will never hear the same thing twice.”
This is the first time that Beebe and the Stuart Collection have endeavored to install a completely sound-based work of art on campus. Beebe said the project is now up and running, but they want to see how things go and make sure the piece is working perfectly before holding a public opening and doing a wider publicity campaign in the spring.
Adams, a Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy-winning composer and longtime environmental activist, said that while technical and other challenges have made the project difficult, he’s happy with how it’s turned out.
“We’ve got this instrument in the form of a eucalyptus grove – this choir of 32 voices that are singing with the wind,” he said. “It’s like trying to get a team of 32 wild horses to work together and it turns out to be a very tricky thing to do. I’m loving it, but it’s a process of discovery and, in a way, it’s learning to play this new instrument that we’ve created.”
• For more on Adams, read this interview the U-T’s
Making Public Art More Public
The city of San Diego puts pricey public art in facilities like water treatment plants that aren’t accessible to the public. I’ve covered the issue before, but I wanted to circle back and find out exactly why the city continues to do it.
Dana Springs, executive director of the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, said it all comes down to the complicated funding schemes for city construction projects, which are required to put 2 percent of the budget toward public art. Springs said that some types of funding require that the art stays on the site.
But I found that the city could be interpreting the law too narrowly. Arts leaders in San Francisco, for instance, investigated funding restrictions and found that they aren’t often that limiting after all. Now San Francisco doesn’t put public art in places that aren’t open to the public.
Two water facility construction projects totaling $1.3 million are currently in the city of San Diego’s pipeline. I tried to get the city attorney’s office to do an analysis of the funding for both projects to determine whether the art would have to remain anchored to the two buildings, but the office declined. They could only answer the question at the request of a city official, not a journalist, they said.
Springs, executive director of the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, which manages the city’s public art program, said she thinks it’s important to include public art in every qualifying city project, whether the spaces are accessible to the public or not.
• Earlier this year, we mapped every piece of city-owned public art in San Diego and found that the art is hardly distributed equally throughout the city. The Commission for Arts and Culture did add a new funding source to pay for more public art this year and is working to expand public art into more neighborhoods.
Local Artists Mull Implications of Oakland Fire
But beyond that local tie, many artists in San Diego and elsewhere feel a deep connection to the victims of the fire. Unsafe but affordable spaces like the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland have long served as underground cultural hubs for artists and musicians in San Diego and beyond who need places where they can cheaply live and make art.
NBC 7 San Diego talked to a few local artists, one who called on the city to step up and help creatives find affordable studio and living spaces that still comply with fire codes and building regulations.
Downtown and the East Village were once a haven of affordable but subpar warehouses like Ghost Ship that incubated local artists. I asked people on Facebook if they could think of any underground, unregulated warehouses that still exist in San Diego, and these are the various conversations my questions inspired. San Diego artist Andrea Chung said she thinks artists themselves should step up and take responsibility for their own safety.
“Artists need to think about safety and stop leaving it up to other people,” she wrote. “Even if you are working in a fire-safe space, our materials (paint, etc.) is highly toxic and flammable. I’m sure most don’t properly dispose of their materials. It’s something WE need to do for ourselves outside of just fire codes.”
Influential Arts Leaders, Public Opinions Sought for New Art in San Ysidro and Other Arts and Culture News
• The connections between San Diego’s mid-century arts scene and the local defense industry are explored in a new exhibition opening Saturday at the Central Library.
• The U-T talked to the artist behind the proposed San Diego-Coronado Bridge lighting project that’s backed by the Port of San Diego.
• The city has selected artists Einar and Jamex de la Torre to create a piece of public art for the new San Ysidro Branch Library. The artists are inviting the public to meet next week to discuss what kind of art they’d like to see. The city is also looking for artists to create public art for Mission Trails Regional Park.
• San Diego State University students have created a multimedia presentation meant to bolster an annual Christmas ornament display in Balboa Park. (U-T)
• KPBS digs deep into the life and times of San Diego trumpet virtuoso Gilbert Castellanos, whose Young Lions program at Panama 66 in Balboa Park is helping to groom future jazz musicians.
• This new event series sets out to strengthen the relationship between San Diego’s black community and The Old Globe.
• Arte on the Line is a series of events in Tijuana and San Diego that features artists focused on migration and immigrant rights.
• Bach Collegium San Diego, an early music performance ensemble, is searching for a new executive director.
• Kestrel Jenkins from the Conscious Chatter podcast will be talking about the ugly side of the fashion industry and how folks can make “fashion choices that reflect compassion for our planet and its people.”
• Local artist Randall Christopher is hoping to turn his animated short film based on the true story of a Holocaust survivor into a more polished version he can submit to film festivals.
• Here are the winners of Citybeat’s annual short fiction contest.
• The San Diego Museum of Art app, made by a local tech company, won an award.
• CityBeat checks in with the owner of Barrio Logan’s Chicana Art Gallery, which is turning 3. Barrio Logan, by the way, is hosting all sorts of art openings this weekend. Check out some of the events here, here, here and here.
• The New Children’s Museum is getting into the business of hosting adult-only parties.
• That big luxury condo project that’s going up at the corner of Pacific Highway and Broadway downtown will feature a big art installation by Jaume Plensa.
• A new art gallery is opening at 6340 El Cajon Blvd. in the College Area.
• The U-T calls “A Snow White Christmas” a “couple of hours of breezy, often goofy fun, with talented performers, clever twists, groaner gags and a string of pop hits.” Meanwhile, the U-T says the “Hedwig” musical is good, but might’ve been even better had it been staged at a more intimate venue.
• Wear tweed and ride your bike – it’s become an annual San Diego tradition.
Food, Beer and Booze News
• Craft coffee roaster Manzanita Roasting Company is turning 1.
• Pacific Magazine talks to one of the bartenders at Oceanside’s new speakeasy.
• The big beer versus craft beer battle continues. (Reader)
• Barrio Logan’s Border X Brewing won $5,000. (Brewbound)
• Eater San Diego has some inside tips for those who’ve been wanting to check out the new tiki bar and poke restaurant in Pacific Beach.