As I met and talked with people during some recent travels abroad, I found myself explaining some pretty far-flung examples of things that are made here. These ideas, concepts and actual products underpin San Diego’s identity beyond the postcards. What local garages are discovering new ways to make things? What stories of ingenuity from our history have changed the way the world does something? A related question I posed recently blew up as readers replied with fabulous examples.

I’m quite happy to announce that these questions will be at the center of Voice of San Diego’s seventh cultural discovery event, Meeting of the Minds, coming up on March 19. I hope you’ll join us.

Since June 2011, these events have taken several hundred of us to the rooftop of Horton Plaza and into the bowels of a historic bakery in Barrio Logan, all the while piquing our interest and connecting members of disparate niches and neighborhoods in San Diego County. Our most recent event, last September, took us to East Village to learn about the origins of mutant punk, among other cultural highlights.

Now, we have a chance to go deeper into some pieces of San Diego’s creative identity.

Join us March 19 at Building 32 in Liberty Station, 2863 Historic Decatur Rd. You can RSVP here. Current Voice of San Diego members may attend for free. All others will be asked to make a $20 donation to enter, which includes a year’s membership to VOSD and two drink tickets. Don’t worry if you’ll be coming hungry — the Farm. Fish. Fork. food truck will be parked onsite so you can pick up some local fare.

VOSD’s next “Meeting of the Minds” takes place March 19, 2014. Graphic by Amy Krone
VOSD’s next “Meeting of the Minds” takes place March 19, 2014. Graphic by Amy Krone

Here’s a bit more about our speakers — savvy idea-philes, each one:

Mary Beebe is full of stories about the way San Diego does (or doesn’t do) public art. She runs the Stuart Collection for UC San Diego and has for years commissioned and sought out great artists from all over the world to leave their mark on San Diego. Often the ideas they come up with require teams of engineers to pull them off. Sometimes their inspiration gets stymied by political controversies. Beebe will take us behind the scenes of some of the pieces you can see throughout the county today, and some that never materialized.

The origins of WhiteLabs, a yeast company that caters to beer brewers, sound like a San Diego stereotype: Guy goes to grad school at UCSD, starts homebrewing, gets an idea. But the overlap between science, startups and the business of beer reveals a lot about the landscape for innovation here. Neva Parker, herself a scientist who directs laboratory operations at the company, will outline the role quality control plays in the brewing process.

Steven Cohen, a plastic surgeon in La Jolla, is also an artist. His paintings and drawings hang all over his clinic in UTC. As this U-T profile points out, he also donates his time to perform complicated cleft lip and palate surgeries on young children at the Fresh Start Surgical Gifts clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital. Years ago, he was unhappy with the industry-standard technology for young patients after certain brain and face surgeries to fix abnormalities. He felt the intimidating headgear they were sent home with would worry parents too much and potentially be dangerous. Cohen came up with an idea one day, and worked on a prototype with a buddy in his garage. At Meeting of the Minds, he’ll show us the solution they came up with.

Did you know WD-40 was honed here, a byproduct of San Diego’s huge involvement in the aerospace industry after World War II? The product perhaps best known for silencing squeaks everywhere was named for a rust-preventative water displacement (WD) formula, perfected on the 40th attempt. Iris Engstrand is a historian at the University of San Diego who will tell us the story of its founding, and how it rose to household-name status.

Artist Margaret Noble has explored using sound to create art for years, including a season as an underground DJ in Chicago. We visited her class at High Tech High Media Arts a few years ago as her students prepared offbeat audio and visual projects based on math concepts they were learning. But if sound art is an intimidating realm for you, as it often is for me, Noble has just the antidote: She’ll show us how she finds and weaves and tinkers with sound to make her pieces, which she’s installed in museums and galleries locally and around the country.

Let us know you’re coming, and tell your friends and neighbors. It’s going to be a special night.

Update: I’m excited to announce two more speakers to our lineup.

There’s much more to building a guitar than the sum of the wood and glue and strings. Andy Powers is a luthier who joined the local guitar-making powerhouse Taylor Guitars a few years ago and has been working on big changes to one of Taylor’s signature lines. He’ll take us into the guitar-building process. (Check out this U-T story about Taylor’s 40th anniversary for more on Powers’ changes, and revisit our profile of the guy who monitors the neck and body construction at the factory.)

And from an interplanetary angle: I’m among the thousands of people fascinated by the photographs that show us what the Mars Curiosity rover is finding on our neighboring planet. In putting together this event, I learned that the cameras that actually take those photos are built here, by a company called Malin Space Science SystemsDaniel Krysak from Malin will join us as a presenter, talking about some of the challenges and joys of being among the first Earthlings to see the photos from Mars before they’re published by NASA.

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

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