How San Diego Became a Cultural Institution Graveyard - Voice of San Diego

Arts/Culture

How San Diego Became a Cultural Institution Graveyard

The Ken Cinema is set to close its doors at the end of the month, and the San Diego Opera’s fate is in question as well. And those groups aren’t outliers in what’s been a rough year for the cultural community.

Loss is an unfortunate part of life, whether it’s your granny, your puppy or your favorite band T-shirt gone in a nasty breakup. Lately, it seems like San Diego’s cultural scene has been losing some of its biggest institutions. While people were still ramping up their rallying to save the San Diego Opera, they got news that another icon was about to close down: the Ken Cinema.

But these two aren’t the first institutions we lost this year. There have been others dropped, and in many cases it was for financial reasons. For some, there’s still hope. But others are total losses for our local cultural landscape.

San Diego Opera

The opera’s Board of Directors originally voted to close on April 13 after its last performance of “Don Quixote,” citing financial struggles and a loss of support from members of the community. But after an outcry rivaling that of “Turandot,” the board voted to postpone the closure of the 49-year-old institution until April 29 while they re-examine the opera’s finances.

Things were looking pretty bleak. The opera’s artistic and general director, Ian Campbell, came under fire for the loss of 300-400 jobs, his own hefty salary and for blaming a lack of interest in opera as the closure was announced.

People were — and still are — freaking out at the thought of losing such a major cultural institution. A Save San Diego Opera Facebook page emerged, giving people a chance to voice support and stay up to date on the latest developments.

On Friday, supporters got a sliver of hope. The board met yet again and pushed back the closure date to May 19, hoping to give organizers more time to raise funds for one more season. Supporters could take heart with the words of the Monty Python crew: “Not dead yet.”

It might not be curtains just yet, and many are hard at work to save the opera. We’ll have to wait and see if the fat lady will sing come May 19.

Ken Cinema

Unlike the San Diego Opera, which still has hope for at least another season, there doesn’t seem to be a positive end in sight for the iconic Ken Theater. After Landmark Theatres, which owns and operates the Ken, wasn’t able to come to a lease agreement with the building’s landlord, the company decided to give its 30-day notice. The loss of the Ken Cinema really stung me, and the cries heard across social media show many feel the same. I got tons of responses from a post I wrote on Facebook regarding the Ken’s closing.

Some were very poignant and sentimental:

Facebook reaction

Others were simple, but resonated nonetheless:

Facebook reactions

Still, some hope that San Diego’s last remaining single-screen theater will live on outside of the umbrella of Landmark Theatres. There’s been talk about the Ken’s owners seeking new stewardship, but nothing concrete has been announced. On April 27, the Ken Cinema will screen quite possibly its final film, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Here is the schedule for its final week.

The Ken final showings San Diego Film Commission

Let’s be real here. San Diego is no Hollywood, churning out big-budget flicks off a conveyor belt. So the loss of the San Diego Film Commission was pretty major. Filmmakers who relied on the commission for guidance, funding and help to get their projects made were left out in the cold.

Back in August, the commission was a casualty of a standoff over the organization’s funding. Necessary budget cuts from the San Diego Tourism Authority, which absorbed the film commission in 2012, meant that the commission could no longer operate.

While this loss wasn’t as sentimental for locals, San Diego was hit hard. The organization reportedly brought in $100 million in production company spending each year. And the filmmakers who had been relying on the commission’s support suddenly found their projects in limbo.

Voz Alta

In the last few years, Barrio Logan has become a destination for exciting art and culture in San Diego. Voz Alta was a big part of that transformation.

The gallery and performance space opened in the area in October 2008, bringing weekly Latin jazz nights, art exhibitions and other events. Owner Carlos Beltran told CityBeat that the move came about from a desire for change as well as the difficulties in making rent. It’s well known that Barrio Logan is dealing with the growing pains that stem from gentrification. The predominately Chicano and Latino neighborhood has watched condo developments dwarf its small, locally owned restaurants and markets. While landlords are capitalizing from a newfound hipness, longtime residents are finding it increasingly difficult to pay rent with so many changes in the area. Ultimately, Voz Alta’s became a casualty.

Barrio Logan residents, and those who frequent the neighborhood, felt the pangs of a lost beloved hangout. But this wasn’t the first time the gallery had to pack up and move, and it could still find another home in the future.

Civic Innovation Lab

Many people were excited by the potential of the Civic Innovation Lab, a small group whose main mission was to improve the quality of life in San Diego neighborhoods. As Howard Blackson, a strategist for the lab, explained in February, the lab wanted to “make your neighborhood fun and interesting.” It set out to champion civic projects like building parklets to beautify unattractive areas, hosting community events and other elements that build civic pride.

But just three months later, it’s basically already dead. Mayor Kevin Faulconer first budget, if approved, would eliminate the lab and reallocate its $700,000 budget to the city’s planning department.

It was over before it had a chance to really get its hands dirty, so we can never know how much improvement it could’ve brought.

Let’s hope these losses are the last for a long while. San Diego needs a break.

Show Comments
Loading