Culture Report: Booking Time With 'The Last Black Man in Barrio Logan' - Voice of San Diego

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Culture Report: Booking Time With 'The Last Black Man in Barrio Logan'

Thousands of students are seeing and learning about “Hamilton,” an ongoing debate about the ethics of asking artists to work for free, and more in this week’s roundup of the region’s arts and culture news.

Ramel Wallace last black man in barrio logan
Ramel Wallace is a musician and artist who’s using “Airbnb Experiences” to educate tourists about black history in Barrio Logan. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Home-sharing website Airbnb has rolled out, and recently ramped up, something called “Experiences.”

The new feature allows people to use the Airbnb website to book tours with local hosts. Folks can, for example, “swim like a mermaid” in Chicago, or meditate with a shaman in Bali.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky has said the purpose of the new feature is to “immerse in the local community” and experience places in a more authentic way.

In San Diego, experiences include hanging out with a local gallery owner in the Gaslamp or learning how to make boba tea in Mira Mesa.

In Barrio Logan, artist and musician Ramel Wallace invites guests to hang out with him and experience the grassroots renaissance happening there through art and food. He then takes his guests back to The Holyfield, his small recording studio on Logan Avenue in Barrio Logan (a space he also rents out via Airbnb Experiences) and shows them “The Last Black Man in Barrio Logan,” a short documentary he made to introduce people to some of the history of the black community in Barrio Logan, which is now known as a mostly Latino neighborhood.

Wallace said his great grandmother lived in a yellow house in Barrio Logan decades ago. Years later, he said, his dad unknowingly ended up in that same house, and Wallace spent some of his youth there. When he found out about the house, he started digging and learning about the black community that used to live in Barrio Logan, and why and when they left.

He’s still in research mode. But so far he’s pinned the exodus of the black community to the 1920s through 1960s. By the late 70s, Wallace said, most black people in San Diego steered clear of Barrio Logan, in part because of the emergence of gangs, but also because of racially discriminatory housing practices that put restrictions on who and where people could buy homes.

“I’m kind of using the whole Airbnb situation to funnel conversations about all that,” Wallace said.

The conversations following the film cover gentrification, racism and other hot-button issues related to socioeconomic inequality, he said.

Wallace used to live in an apartment in Barrio Logan. He rented out the apartment via Airbnb, too, but he said the landlord raised the rent to a price he couldn’t afford, so now he lives in a cheaper place in National City. He tells guests about that, too, and sometimes the conversation veers into the merits of Airbnb itself, and whether the website is fueling gentrification in low-income neighborhoods like Barrio Logan.

Brent Beltran, a community activist who lives in Barrio Logan, thinks Airbnb is causing problems in his neighborhood.

“I’m not opposed to Ramel doing this,” Beltran wrote in a Facebook message. “He’s a long time resident and it’s important to highlight Barrio Logan/Logan Heights’ African American history. But I’m opposed to businesses buying homes in this community for the sole purpose of renting them out as short term vacation rentals.”

Wallace’s Airbnb experience risks propping up black culture as something to sell to outsiders. Tourists are essentially paying to hang out with a black artist and experience an historically underserved community through his eyes. But Wallace said most of his guests so far have been people of color, and often the first thing black people ask is, “Where are all the black people in San Diego?”

Wallace said it opens up a conversation about black culture in San Diego, and where people can find it thriving.

“So ‘The Last Black Man,’ it resonates because, I mean, it fits for Barrio Logan, it fits for San Francisco, it fits for San Diego, it fits for the entire nation and what’s happening on a global scale,” Wallace said.

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego‘s weekly collection of the region’s arts and culture news.

Students Watching ‘Hamilton,’ Arguing About Artists’ Wages, and More

• Michael Andrew Currey is the new executive director of the California Ballet Company. (Times of San Diego)

• Tijuana artist Roberto Romero-Molina has built an immersive multimedia installation that’s on view at the San Diego Art Institute through March 17. Romero-Molina’s solo show opens Saturday and will include listening and coding workshops, concerts and more.

Roberto Romero-Molina
Tijuana artist Roberto Romero-Molina’s installation opens Saturday at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park. / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Art Institute

• I saw “Hamilton” over the weekend and the Broadway musical is as good as everyone says it is. It’s also super expensive, though, which is why programs like this one allowing thousands of local students to see and learn about the play are important. (KPBS)

• “Hamilton” is not the only thing happening in San Diego theater, of course. Union-Tribune theater critic James Hebert uses the wild popularity of “Hamilton” to examine the merits and history of San Diego’s local theater scene so that it matters to more people.

• There’s a conversation unfolding on a Facebook group for San Diego artists that I help moderate about the ethics of asking artists to work for free.

• The Union-Tribune is super excited about the San Diego Symphony’s “It’s About Time” festival taking place until Feb. 11, calling it an “ear-bending, eye-popping, borders-leaping music marathon.”

• San Diego Opera and San Diego State University’s School of Music and Dance have announced a new, shared position between the two organizations. (Opera Wire)

• CityBeat profiles Wick Alexander, a San Diego artist whose work is currently on view at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.

• Choreographer Jean Isaacs has created five dances inspired by five different personal family photos. She’s working toward choreographing a full-length performance based on her personal history.

• Encinitas is looking to put public art in all five of its neighborhoods. (Union-Tribune)

• Check out the cool balloon art being made at the New Children’s Museum right now. (Union-Tribune)

San Diego advocates are putting pressure on City Council members to devote hotel tax dollars, as promised, to the arts.

• Researchers are exploring whether music can be used to treat nursing home patients with brain injuries. (KPBS)

• This week’s Plays by Young Writers Festival features professional productions by the winners of the 2017 California Young Playwrights Contest.

• Every time I read one of CityBeat columnist Ryan Bradford’s pieces, I LOL. He’ll be among those local authors reading at a literary event in Barrio Logan on Saturday.

• Lots of people are expected to show up this weekend for the second annual Women’s March San Diego. (NBC 7)

• Patric Stillman runs a gallery in North Park. Here’s a good Q-and-A with him. (SDVoyager)

• Check out this event that turns Lucha Libre-style Mexican wrestling into performance art.

• See contemporary art by Tijuana artists in a new show opening in San Ysidro.

• This week, VOSD Podcast Network show Cura Caos is recording a live conversation with Nicole Capretz and Ismahan Abdullahi, two community activists who also host the podcast Flip the Script.

• A new skatepark is opening in City Heights this week. And another new skate park — one of the largest in the state — will open in Linda Vista this week, too. (10News)

• A new play in Point Loma explores what it might be like if President Donald Trump builds the new border wall.

Food, Beer, Weed and Booze News

• In a new episode of I Made it in San Diego, Lisa Halverstadt talks to local farmers market guru Brian Beevers.

brian beevers san diego
Entrepreneur Brian Beevers has built several farmer’s markets in the region and is the owner of Simply Local in North Park. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

• San Diego made it as No. 4 on this list of the country’s top 10 coffee cities. (Traveler)

• San Diego Restaurant Week is happening.

• Two new downtown beer bars are opening here and here. (Eater)

• A new vegan food truck is celebrating its grand opening this week.

• Meat lovers may want to take note of this new Argentinian restaurant downtown. (San Diego Magazine)

• Here’s a good explainer on what you need to know about legal weed. (DoSD)

• Folks from the local cannabis industry want folks to call it “cannabis” rather than pot, weed or anything else. It’s all part of an ongoing effort to normalize cannabis culture in San Diego. (Union-Tribune)

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

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