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The Struggle for San Diego Artists Is Real, But Worth It

The reality is that opportunities for artists in San Diego have never been more abundant.

I applaud John Raymond Mireles for making the bold move to relocate to New York City, where he believes he will find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow as an artist. He’s right that it’s tough to make a living as an artist in San Diego. The struggle is real.

As a visual artist and gallery owner, I differ from Mireles significantly in that I believe San Diego already has the ecosystem to support contemporary artists. Calling San Diego a cultural desert is a great exit line as you drop the mic and leave everyone behind in the dirt.

lettertoeditorThe reality is that opportunities for artists have never been more abundant in the region.

San Diego has traditional galleries servicing patrons’ specific tastes, like Whitebox Contemporary, La Jolla Gallery and Distinction Gallery. It’s home to institutional gallery spaces attempting to define contemporary art, like the San Diego Art Institute. And it has cultural spaces that work to preserve nearly lost arts, like the Mingei International Museum.

There are also many community galleries across the region creating exhibitions that give emerging artists entry-level opportunities, like The Studio Door, the North Park gallery I run and the city-backed Escondido Arts Partnership.

Let’s not forget about the warehouse galleries showcasing installations and conceptual art, like Art Produce and Space 4 Art, and the art producers creating nightclub exhibits in unexpected places, like Kami Farokhi and Johnny Tran.

And I haven’t even got started on all of the region’s many art walks, art fairs, open studio events, or government-funded public art projects.

In addition to all of these hardworking entities that are a part of our local arts ecosystem, there is always the opportunity to make something happen on your own by using your own ingenuity. We are creative people, after all.

In any endeavor, one has to be focused, know what they want and take action from there. The most successful artists in San Diego that I’ve met – those who are trying or making a living at their art – are doing so by working around the clock to get their foot in the door, making art that resonates with the public and saying yes to any opportunity that fits their personal trajectory.

The foundation of success comes down to relationships between real people who make things happen. It takes the artist, the gallery and the patron to bring together this ecosystem. If you are not actively participating, I suspect that you’ll find that things are really not that much different no matter where you go. Becoming a career artist doesn’t happen in the studio alone.

Instead of shaming San Diego’s art scene and taking off for greener pastures, I prefer to engage in it to make it better for artists, art galleries, art lovers and patrons. I’m sure if you talk to most gallery owners like those at La Bodega, Blue Azul or myself, you’ll find that we are all believers in San Diego’s art scene. We didn’t wait for cultural institutions or anyone else up the food chain to give us a break, we put our money where our mouths are, rolled up our sleeves and starting creating opportunities. It’s all about the love of art.

By the way, have you seen the desert in full bloom in the spring? There are tiny flowers that fill the endless stretches of sands with color. It is just as vibrant as any other ecosystem, you just need to know how to see what’s right in front of you.

Patric Stillman is director of The Studio Door, an art gallery in North Park. Stillman’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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