A dirt lot at the intersection of 15th and F streets downtown buzzed last night as a few hundred VOSD members gathered to learn more about San Diego’s cultural identity at our sixth “Meeting of the Minds.”

The space has been dubbed “SILO at Makers Quarter.” I thought the silo provided a nice image for what the night was about – a chance to break down some walls and routines between local niches and neighborhoods.

Here are some highlights from our six speakers, who displayed 20 slides for 20 seconds each as they whirled us through topics from mutant punk to craft beer to art healing a neighborhood.

Mike Rosenberg

Mike Rosenberg, La Jolla Playhouse’s managing director, was first up. He tied the eclecticism, multiculturalism and technology that Robert Brill uses to design theater sets to Brill’s experiences growing up as an artist in San Diego.

Brill, a UC San Diego theater grad, co-founded the edgy local company Sledgehammer Theatre. “Anything that was the norm, anything that was expected or status quo, they worked against those ideas,” Rosenberg said.

But Brill married that perspective with high-profile projects at places like the Playhouse and The Old Globe. Now he’s busy on Broadway and other major national theaters and opera houses. He’s the Playhouse’s first artist-in-residence.

“Any time I talk to him about how his aesthetic grew out of living in San Diego, it makes me really proud to live here,” Rosenberg said. “It makes me really proud to be a part of a cultural community that creates an artist like that.”

Peter Holslin

Next up was Peter Holslin, a music writer for CityBeat, Rolling Stone and others. Every time I read one of Holslin’s stories, I learn something new about the threads of San Diego’s musical identity that show up in music locally and beyond.

Last night, Holslin traced the origins of the “mutant punk” musical movement in San Diego back to two bands, The Beautiful Mutants and Hide and Go Freak. The Beautiful Mutants took classic punk and infused it with a futuristic sound for their short-lived – three or four years – time on the scene.

“They basically just came and went in this incredible, creative flash,” Holslin said. “They never sold any records, and they probably only had like 50 fans – tops – but they were so dangerous, and so cathartic, that for me they truly embody what it is to be punk.”

But there was a problem with their approach. “While it was incredibly awesome, it was also completely unsustainable,” Holslin said, “because they wanted to destroy the system but they didn’t really know what to build in its place.”

Kate Hatmaker

Continuing in the vein of adventurous music, Kate Hatmaker highlighted the acclaimed musicians in the lineup for this weekend’s Carlsbad Music Festival. Hatmaker is a violinist in the San Diego Symphony and the cofounder of Art of Elan, a chamber music ensemble that itself plays classical music written by contemporary composers.

Hatmaker described the festival’s growth over the last 10 years since Carlsbad native Matt McBane started it with his college friends, the Calder Quartet.

“You can basically drive to Carlsbad and just follow your ears,” Hatmaker said of the festival, which features concerts in churches, the train station and the city’s Magee Park.

“To have artists come in and perform in Carlsbad and go back to New York and L.A. and say, ‘Wow, I was part of this super-cool fest in San Diego last week,’ I think that’s great for us,” Hatmaker said.

Melissa Adao

Hip-hop choreographer and instructor Melissa Adao taught us about the way San Diego County’s hip-hop scene has grown and changed over the last couple of decades  since local institution Culture Shock kicked off a local hip-hop sensibility. Now the community puts a lot of emphasis on training young dancers to compete and to turn their art into something that can help other people, she said.

“We do this art because we love it, not because people tell us, ‘You’re dope, you’re dope, here’s some money,’” she said.

Adao’s colleague Julio Velasquez hopped up at the end of her presentation to demonstrate a melding of hip-hop and modern dance styles, kicking up an impressive cloud of dust in the process.

Peter Rowe

U-T San Diego reporter Peter Rowe traced San Diego’s craft brewing history, its roots in the science community and its chance to grow here because of San Diegans’ willingness to experiment.

“When your Brewers Guild is an actual medieval guild, it’s not a great place to innovate,” Rowe quipped. “Unlike Munich and other beer capitals, San Diego had no beer-related titans going back and back and back. We had no one who would stand up and say, ‘You know, we just don’t do it that way.’ … So no one hindered beer experimentation here.”

Rowe also noted a few brewery busts over the years. But those busts led to new opportunities and lessons for brewers. “It’s important to be able to fail. That’s one of the lessons here I think,” Rowe said.

Irma Esquivias

Finally, Irma Esquivias, an activist and artist, described the work the San Diego Museum of Art’s Open Spaces program is doing in Lincoln Park to identify an art project that can have an impact in the neighborhood.

Esquivias revealed that at the start of the project, she thought the community might choose to paint a new mural or create an art piece to beautify the neighborhood. But instead, the group of residents is choosing a weightier approach.

The hope is to try to push back against the reputation of the intersection at Euclid and Imperial avenues as the “Four Corners of Death.” A proposed project would outline the intersection with lights to create the “Four Corners of Life.”

“We know that this one project is not the one solution to ending violence in the neighborhood, but we do hope that it may set the tone for more change to come,” Esquivias said.


So, what will you check out? Sam Hodgson talked with a few audience members after the speakers wrapped.


Name: Candice Eley

What idea is sticking with you?

Tonight really reinforced for me the strength of the arts and culture in the individual neighborhoods and how much those neighborhoods really tell a story both individually and as part of a bigger picture of San Diego’s arts and culture community.

What might you go see?

I was really intrigued by the Open Spaces project with the San Diego Museum of Art. That was something I wasn’t familiar with, and I definitely want to look into the projects they were doing in the different neighborhoods.


Name: Stewart Witt

What idea is sticking with you?

I got a real idea of what’s going on in the county and how artsy and how modern and how ahead of the curve we are compared to a lot of counties in the U.S.

What might you go see?

The music festival up in Carlsbad sounds great. The beer festival sounds good. The festival over at the art museum. All that is great. Break-dancing sounds like fun to see. So, just all avenues for energy. Even though I’m older, I still enjoy doing all this stuff. I grew up in the ’60s when the Rolling Stones and The Beatles were still super hot, and this kind of reminds me when I show up in a spot like this. I’m kind of reliving the ’60s.


Name: Keith Groves

What idea is sticking with you?

Mutant punk was an important movement and I love to see these bright movements that just kind of flash by that nobody really pays attention to. And it’s nice to see them bringing that to the stage and bringing that back to life.


Name: Jana Holsenback

What idea is sticking with you?

Well right off the bat, the Carlsbad Music Festival, I wasn’t even aware of. And, I’ll definitely go check their schedule.

As well, I knew the Museum of Art had got an Irvine grant to do art but I didn’t know what had resulted from that, so it was nice to see some of that already coming to fruition.


Name: Ron Troyano

What idea is sticking with you?

Well, I really enjoyed the discussion about the beer, being that San Diego has become one of the leaders in craft beer and it’s somewhat of the economic driver that’s keeping this city moving forward.

Being a small business owner in San Diego – I own a restaurant – that is very exciting for me.


Name: Pamela Rosecrance

What idea is sticking with you?

I guess I never thought about dance in San Diego. It’s something I really enjoy. I’ve been to Culture Shock, which they talked about, but I never really thought about any of the history behind it. So, it’s just really neat to hear the story behind an experience that you’ve had.

What might you go see?

Yeah, the Carlsbad Music Festival. It’s something that even if somebody had just told me about, I wouldn’t have gone to. But hearing all the stories behind the performers who are going to be there, I wouldn’t mind going.


What about you?

Thanks to all of you for coming or joining in our conversation here (or under #mindsmeet on Twitter and Instagram) about the cultural side of San Diego.

Here’s where you can keep that conversation going, over in The Plaza.

All photos by Sam Hodgson.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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