El Cajon Boulevard isn’t just a place where you can get a cheesy gordita crunch and pay a visit to a lady of the night. In the last few years, the row of the boulevard that runs through North Park has had an amazing revitalization thanks to numerous new business and services.

Among those businesses transforming the neighborhood are the Media Arts Center’s Digital Gym, Coffee & Tea Collective and Gym Standard, an apparel shop that hosts regular art exhibitions, poetry readings and other cool cultural happenings. Often, those three businesses team up for special events. The Boulevard has definitely become a cool-evard!

“With 30th and El Cajon, there’s just that energy you can’t explain,” Edwin Negado, owner of Gym Standard, tells ArtPulse. “You know when you just feel something and know it’s right? I feel like there’s that creative energy on this block that I didn’t feel anywhere else. There isn’t as much foot traffic as Downtown or 30th and University, but we wanted to get in early and help build the community from the ground up, instead of moving into one that was already set — from a retail perspective and an art perspective.”

The energy is definitely palpable when you hang on El Cajon Boulevard. Some of the most interesting things happening in local art and culture are in the area, ushering the opportunity for turning the boulevard into a veritable arts and culture district. Can’t wait to see what else pops up in the ‘hood!

If you haven’t made your way to these locations, make a plan to do so soon.

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Awesome Design, a Museum Re-opening and More Art News

• I’m sure you’ve seen the quirky Michael Jackson and Bubbles the monkey mural that takes up a wall at Modern Times Beer tasting room. If not in person while sipping on a frosty brew, you’ve seen it on Instagram. It’s very popular. Get to know the talented artist who created it, Amy Krone, in San Diego CityBeat’s special Design Issue (Krone is also a frequent contributor to Voice of San Diego). Krone as well as other local designers got a hat-tip for their cool work that’s making a splash locally and internationally. Among them are jewelry design (and my friend) Michelle Galindo, SDSU’s School of Art and Design and architect Hector Perez.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

• I’ve heard it said many times while discussing local art with artists, culture vultures and opinionated liberals: The San Diego art scene lacks diversity. Even with a large Latino community active in the art scene, many minorities are often overlooked in our galleries and museums. Well, that’s about to change a bit with the re-opening of the San Diego African-American Museum of Fine Arts.

The museum is being revived thanks to Gaidi Finnie, chief operating officer for Bayview Baptist Church (which will house the museum) who previously worked with North Repertory Theater, Museum of Photographic Arts and the Port of San Diego Public Art Committee.

“Right now, we’re a museum without walls,” Finnie told the U-T.

That’ll change once their first exhibition, “In Our Lifetime,” opens. It will feature photographs that celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

• Artist Carrie Anne Hudson is doing her damndest to get to Transylvania. That’s right; Transylvania. The Dacia Gallery in the Romanian city most notable for giving us Dracula and, possibly, his cousin Count Chocula, offered the talented lady the chance to do a four-week residency and she needs help funding her way there. A benefit will be held on Thursday at The Office to get her there. Give her your money, or she’ll get you when she inevitably returns as a vampire.

• Get to know Balboa Park’s West End. I really hope that name was even slightly chosen as a nod to the Pet Shop Boys. (Reader)

• Amy Galpin, former associate curator for the San Diego Museum of Art and now curator at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College in Florida, gets some love from the L.A. Times for curating an upcoming exhibition of works by Mexican artist Alfredo Ramon Marinez at the Pasadena Museum of Art.

• A Ship in the Woods’ Helm series is making like a McRib – it’s back! (That joke worked better in my head.) The sixth installment of the experimental, installation-based exhibition series is “Dreamlands,” curated by Zoë Williams. She brings eight artists to the Del Mar residence to share work that melds nature and psychology. If you see penises in every piece on view, you might be a serial killer. Or me.

• Would you give up part of your tax return if it meant more arts education in schools? (L.A. Times)

• The latest episode of ArtPulse TV is up for your viewing pleasure. Meet performance artist Claudia Cano, street artist Sake and artist Hugo Crosthwaite.

• How would you improve your neighborhood with $5,000? The San Diego Foundation is curious to know, and awarding grants to those with awesome ideas. Here’s my idea in one word: hammocks. OK, that’s a terrible idea. Back to the drawing board.

Strange Sounds, Human Rights Film Fest and More Culture Goodness

• The Fresh Sound music series comes to Bread & Salt Friday. This time around Australian experimental musicians Clocked Out Duo bring their “warped grooves” to your ear holes. Get ‘em ready!

• Speaking of experimental sounds, Stay Strange presents Slow Death, a “beyond extreme music festival featuring a veritable smorgasbord of crazy noise makers ready to push the boundaries of music.” Drone, doom, noise and other genres that sound like comic book villains will be represented. It goes down Saturday at Che Café.

• Much like celebrity deaths, experimental concerts come in threes, and this next one is actually five. Yes, five concerts. Starting Sunday, get your fill of avant-garde jazz from Nathan Hubbard’s Nevertheless Quintet as part of the first Encinitas and Everything After concert. Then enjoy four more every last Sunday from then until May. Neato!

• The Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns to MoPA, bringing exceptional films that expose violations against human beings the world over. The films presented are often poignant, heartbreaking and powerful.

Paolo Zuniga, film programs and digital media coordinator at MOPA, tells ArtPulse that he believes that films can affect change, even in just a few individuals watching.

“It’s all a matter of degree as to what that ‘difference’ actually is,” Zuniga says. “In this case, it’s difficult for us to gauge what each audience member takes away from the films, but what’s observable is the resonating effect that it has on those audience members that partake in the Q-and-A discussions. I remember last year after a screening of ‘The Invisible War’ several men and woman in military service would sorrowfully declare, ‘I had no idea,’ while another woman raised her hand and declared that she had been a victim of rape during her past military service; something she had never told anyone before. That is the power that some of these films can have.”

• The Old Globe is getting a Golden Globe winner on its stage. (U-T)

• I don’t know if you guys heard but San Diego just celebrated Casbah Day, a new city holiday honoring the legendary music venue. To celebrate the Casbah’s 25th anniversary, they’re throwing a huge concert this Thursday featuring Rob Crowe, John Reis, Pall Jenkins, Mario Escovedo and many more of San Diego’s hardest shredding musicians. Get your tickets soon!

• UCSD MFA Dance Theatre candidate Paul Laurey will screen his new dance film, “RESERVATIONS O.K.,” at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23-26, at the Wagner Dance Studio on campus. Each screening will be followed by a talk with Laurey, who is a choreographer, multimedia dance artist and cognitive neuroscientist. Impressive, right?

• Get to know the members of the San Diego Opera chorus. (U-T)

• Now that I mention the San Diego Opera, the 2014 season kicks off on Jan. 25 with Pagliacci, which is the story of a crazed clown who murders his wife in front of a live audience. What the whaaaaaat?? Way to capture my nightmares, San Diego Opera.

Alex Zaragoza is a freelance writer covering arts and culture in San Diego and Tijuana. She also writes the column "There...

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