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Thanks for the excellent coverage of this sad cultural defeat. I would like to comment on the “smoother edges” concept and on Eli Sanchez’s comments.

For more than 30 years, Sushi Performance and Visual Art persisted in San Diego as a nationally recognized vanguard of contemporary art in a culturally challenged city. Make no mistake: Sushi was a cultural asset whose absence diminishes this city’s intelligence and reputation. The voices and activities fostered by Sushi over three decades surely added a cosmopolitan sheen to an otherwise (culturally) dull metropolis. Sushi was (and remains) well-known far from the sunny confines of Southern California. In distant cities and abroad, Sushi is one of the things San Diego is known for (beyond the zoo).

The suggestion that the beneficiary of Sushi’s lease and vacant space have “smoother edges” is problematic and short-sighted. Furthermore, Eli Sanchez’s suggestion that …”Sushi could’ve tempered its productions to a more general audience” is downright absurd. The art that Sushi presented was certainly progressive and provocative, that’s the essence of fostering alternative voices — a key component of Sushi’s mission and also an important part of cultural examination and discourse.

But to accuse Sushi’s “edginess” of creating tension in the neighborhood is an insult. According to Mr. Sanchez, “Maybe if Sushi could’ve tempered its productions to a more general audience…They have to be able to coexist.” Is Mr. Sanchez accusing Sushi patrons of bad behavior? Is he suggesting that a more general audience is composed of…more desirable people? Sushi’s audiences are culturally inclined folks that are generally well educated, open minded and urbane, the kind of people you would expect to find in a mature, cultivated city. Sushi’s art was presented in a gallery and a theater, behind closed doors. I fail to see how the content of the art affects relations with those outside.

Compare the art, performances and audiences generated by Sushi in the Icon space to the general scene in this part of town, The Ball Park District. In the evening (when art performances generally occur) bars and spirited bar-goers, and/or spirited sports fans tend to dominate the streets. Many of these folks commute to this district to entertain and enjoy themselves. Given the theme-park atmosphere and lack of personal responsibility, it does not occur to some of these people respect the environs or residents. Behavior deteriorates and residents suffer. These are not Sushi patrons.

The Icon Project developers that displaced Sushi were contractually obligated to provide a performance space (at least) equal to the space that existed prior to the demolition of the Carnation Building. The space eventually provided is fraught with compromises, shortcomings and poor choices by the developers. Designing residential units directly above a performance space seems a dubious choice, no? Also weak: the burden to acoustically insulating the residential units from the performance venue fell to…Sushi, a volunteer-driven non-profit community arts organization struggling to stay afloat. Needless to say the acoustic isolation is inadequate.

Consider this: The now-vacant performance space in the Icon Project was really designed to be three street-level commercial/retail units. The price of this real estate is upwards of 10 times the fee that Sushi was obligated to pay. Do the math. It is expensive to host an arts organization here. But the developer agreed to do so, in order to secure permission to build more than 300 residential units.

Sushi was a pioneer here, at this location, many years ago. It is well understood that artists and arts organizations play a key role in the gentrification that ultimately consumes them. If a city can be measured by its cultural offerings, San Diego was surely a benefactor of the sophisticated, urbane content presented by Sushi. CCDC, as steward of the East Village, is obliged better serve its citizens by raising the cultural bar higher than “more general.”

Vernon Franck was a board member for Sushi from 2003 to 2009 and a past president.

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Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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