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My six-month-old baby has a clogged tear duct. If it doesn’t open up on its own by the time he turns 1, he’ll need surgery. The procedure itself is quick and painless, but the idea of anesthetizing a child so small fills me with terror. Dr. Google tells me there are rare genetic disorders that can be provoked with anesthesia, and most people don’t find about them until it’s too late.

Jay Flatley isn’t most people. As CEO of Illumina, a San Diego-based company that was founded on the principle of figuring out how to unlock the power of the genome and eventually make it an affordable health care standard, he’s had his entire genome – every single strand of his DNA – sequenced. The data showed that he has malignant hyperthermia, a rare condition that can cause patients to die under anesthesia.

Talk about valuable information.

Suddenly, I find myself obsessed with the important discoveries being made through genome sequencing. My son’s clogged tear duct is nothing, of course, compared with the children with rare, previously undiagnosed, life-altering diseases who are now getting the answers – and sometimes treatments – they need through this technology.

“Genome sequencing can and will vastly improve human health from a lot of different angles,” Karen Possemato told me. As the chief of staff at Illumina, she’s even more stoked on genome sequencing than I am.

“Being able to extract an entire genome’s worth of sequence essentially gives you a blueprint of an individual,” she said. “We don’t fully understand that blueprint yet, but that’s the promise of genomics.”

In other words, genome sequencing is a game-changer, but Possemato reminded me that the health care industry moves like molasses. So, for now anyway, only those in the know are really reaping its rewards.

Possemato is one of five people who’ll be sharing her knowledge at Voice of San Diego’s next Meeting of the Minds event, where the theme is discovery.

Happening at 6 p.m. Thursday at Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park, the night of fast-paced, image-driven presentations will also include Alexis Miller, chief conservator of paintings at the Balboa Art Conservation Center, sharing the sleuthing that can happen when you use an X-ray machine on a painting; Claire Wathen, program manager of the San Diego Zoo’s Tech to Reconnect initiative, talking about some of the animal-power-inspired devices they’ve created; Tom Deméré, curator of paleontology at the San Diego Natural History Museum, highlighting some of his recent findings; and Larry Goldstein, scientific director at the Sanford Consortium of Regenerative Medicine, catching us up on the latest and greatest in stem cell research.

One cocktail is included with your ticket, which you can reserve here if you’re not a member (members get in free, so if you haven’t come on board yet, consider joining for $5 a month here).

While some of the topics might seem dense, the speakers have promised to make the information entertaining and easy to follow.

Possemato, for example, will put a human face on genome sequencing by telling two stories of kids with undiagnosed illnesses whose lives were changed after they had their genomes sequenced.

“They’re very heart-wrenching stories because it’s the parents whose drive toward finding the solution is what makes the difference,” she said. “The health care industry is not yet well-versed on genomics. … But for lots of undiagnosed cases out there, genome sequencing is often the last promise of hope.”

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

Meet Your Makers

A giant electronic giraffe who talks, homemade drones, fire-breathing robots, cupcake-shaped cars that actually drive and other techy inventions will be the main attraction at the upcoming Makers Faire this weekend in Balboa Park. One of the event’s organizers, Katie Rast, director of San Diego’s Fab Lab, calls those type of creations the “big spectaculars,” but she said there’ll be a variety of other handmade items for people to peruse.

“There will be plenty of things on the tech and engineering side,” she said. “But we had a surprisingly large turnout of crafters, so that will be one of our larger areas, and there’s also an entire area dedicated to costuming and cosplay, so you’ll see a lot that … We like to say that ‘maker’ is a broad term meant to really apply to as many people who self-identify as being makers. You could be a craft beer brewer or you could be really great at crocheting or you could be building robots or making amazing origami.”

Part of the city’s official centennial celebration, the event will draw makers from Tijuana, San Diego and other parts of California to Balboa Park, where they’ll set up exposition-style throughout the entire park. Rast said the event reminds her of the same spirit of the original 1915 Panama-California Exposition, which, in part, was meant to celebrate the progress and possibility of the human race.

Photo courtesy of San Diego Maker Faire
Photo courtesy of San Diego Maker Faire

“The fair is really all about that; it’s a celebration of creation and invention,” she said. “It’s pretty cool, because there are only about a handful of these big maker fairs around the world.”

Make Good Better and Bad Less So

The San Diego Architectural Foundation is gearing up for their annual Orchids & Onions awards show Thursday. A jury composed of local architects and designers will be crowning the best and worst of the local built landscape.

Interesting nominations this year include the controversial Kensington Commons project by architect-developer Allard Jansen, which was bogged down with lawsuits for years before construction finally began. The project was actually nominated for both an Orchid and and Onion, but the jury agreed more with the Onion side of things, so here’s what the anonymous nominator said in the write-up:

“This project replaces a gas station and burned out shell of a house. It is unfortunate that Kensington Commons, which had such potential, does not improve on the previous structures. While our new neighbors inside this structure have views of a lovely community, the rest of us have views of this. Let’s hope that any future developments in Kensington and the rest of San Diego learn from this misfire and result in projects that will actually enhance communities for generations to come.”

Photo courtesy of San Diego Architectural Foundation
Photo courtesy of San Diego Architectural Foundation

Craig Howard, SDAF vice president, said the jury decided to do something different with Kensington Commons. They talked to Jansen, who Howard described as the “most responsive Onion nominee” they’d ever seen, and spent a lot of time researching the project. Rather than award it either an Orchid or an Onion, the jury opted to use it as a demonstration project. At Thursday’s show, engineer and San Diego City Council candidate Joe LaCava will talk about the details and history of the project and ultimately encourage people to get more heavily engaged in the development process.

While there was opposition to Kensington Commons from community advocacy group The Heart of Kensington, Howard said the involvement came too late in the process – after it was approved by the city and community planning group. He hopes one of the takeaways from LaCava’s talk is that more people join their community planning groups or otherwise keep better tabs on projects from early design to final construction.

“The most vocal concern and opposition to projects always seems to come after the fact, after something is built,” Howard said. “We’re using this project and a few others as a conversation piece – something we can use in a way to get people more involved in their architectural communities.”

Orchids & Onions, by the way, kicks off Archtoberfest, a month filled with architecture and design-related events.

Welcome Home, Fern Street Circus

For 20 years beginning in 1991, Fern Street Circus put on popular public performances in local parks and became well known for its after-school program, which offered free circus-arts education to kids. Financial challenges led the circus’ board to vote to officially shut down operations in 2011. Last year, the original founders of Fern Street, John Highkin and Cindy Zimmerman’, announced they’d be bringing the circus back.

“Our old ring curb was given back to us,” Highkin told me. “In fact, a whole bunch of stuff was given back to us when we announced we were coming back. A guy had bought it and other things when Fern Street closed was very kind. He donated all kinds of circus performance stuff back to us.”

Photo by H.P. Hart / Good Eye Image
Photo by H.P. Hart / Good Eye Image

While Fern Street has done several one-off performances around town since making its come-back announcement, this week marks the first time it’ll be doing a full-scale, free show in a local public park. Happening Saturday in Teralta Park in City Heights and Sunday in Gompers Park in Chollas View, the show, “The Adventures of Heartman,” is based on a drawing Zimmerman’s son did of a heart-shaped superhero when he was a kid. The original narrative includes clowns, aerial acts, juggling, tightrope walking and more. Highkin said the centerpiece of the show is a 10-foot Heartman puppet made by local puppeteer Iain Gunn.

“It takes four people to man it,” he said. “One person on each arm and one person who controls the head and the body and one person controlling both legs. It’s a really cool puppet – just amazing.”

Library Lets Go of Longtime ‘Film Forum’ Curator

Ralph DeLauro has been the man behind the San Diego Public Library’s Film Forum programming for 31 years. Last week, the library announced it’d be making changes to its film programming and DeLauro’s reign would come to an end in November. (Reader).

Photo by Ashley Fincham / A Global Walk Photography
Photo courtesy of Ralph DeLauro

I talked to DeLauro, who said as an independent contractor he never got to talk directly to any of the library’s decision-makers. He said the news that his “outlier film program” would be coming to an end came as a surprise, one that will leave him and his wife scrambling to figure out how to make ends meet.

“I’d like to continue doing film programming, but this will have a major financial impact on us,” he said. “Cue the violins, right? But my wife is disabled so I’m the sole financial support of the family. This leaves a major hole in our finances.”

The library released an official response from director Misty Jones.

“The San Diego Public Library has had a long-term relationship with Ralph DeLauro and we appreciate what he has done on the Film Forum through the years,” Jones said in the written statement. “Films at the library will not be going away. We have received requests from the community to branch out. We are exploring new opportunities to reach more people and be more inclusive as well as ways to stretch out programming dollars. This exploration will include rotating among film experts in the community and developing new community partnerships.”

DeLauro does have other gigs, including curating films for Cinema Under the Stars and teaching adult-education classes around town, but he said he will miss educating the masses on film history and culture by showing free movies at area libraries.

“I’ve always seen myself as a cheerleader for cinema,” he said. “It’s what I do. I understand that it doesn’t heal the sick or raise the dead, but it’s my passion, it’s my calling and I want to keep doing it.”  

KPBS Launches New Arts Calendar, the U-T’s Fall Arts Preview and More Artsy Bits

• KPBS celebrated the soft launch of its new KPBS Arts calendar over the weekend. The new resource for the culture crowd will launch in full Thursday. It includes a curated list of local arts events, plus previews and reviews. Former U-T staffer Nina Garin is at the helm of the calendar. Alongside searching out local arts events to include, she’ll be adding to KPBS’ arts coverage by doing arts-events-centered pieces like this detailed guide to this year’s Trolley Dances, which happen again this weekend.

The San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum just opened a new Outdoor Art Studio.

La Jolla Music Society announced the appointment of Kristin Lancino as president and artistic director, effective Oct. 15. (U-T)

• I took my kids to the New Children’s Museum recently and got to see the construction of this magnificent towering fortress by artist Alison Pepworth. The climbable piece is just one of the new works going up as part of “Eureka!” the museum’s California-themed exhibition that opens Oct. 17. Stay tuned for more on this show.

• The film “The Room” has repeatedly been called the worst film ever made. It’s so bad, it’s garnered a cult following since its release in 2003. CityBeat columnist Ryan Bradford went to a midnight screening, which includes an interactive, call-and-response-type experience much like the “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Unsurprisingly, he found out that the film’s fans are as bad as the movie.

• I’m kicking myself for not going to the free La Jolla Symphony & Chorus performance of John Luther Adams’ “Sila: The Breath of the World.” The U-T’s review makes the experience sound like a beautiful blend of music and environment.

• KPBS looks into the just-opened “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Legacy in San Diego: The Taliesin Apprentices” exhibition at the La Jolla Historical Society.

Local author and poet Igor Goldkind’s latest creation took him 15 years to make. (CityBeat)

• The U-T is out with its Fall Arts Preview, giving us a glimpse of some of the best visual art, music, theater and dance.

 Get Cultured: Where to Be This Week

• The San Diego Film Festival kicks off Wednesday with a series of social-justice films as part of the lineup this year. (Del Mar Times)

The Jewish Journal describes the experience of the Leichtag Foundation’s first Sukkot festival last year and gets people excited for this year’s Sukkot Harvest Festival happening Sunday. Fans of experimental architecture and design will want to check out this new event.

• The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation kicks off its 2015-2016 Jacobs Presents season with Michelle Coltrane performing Friday.

• Art of Élan’s season begins next Tuesday, Oct. 6, with works by female composers.

• Pop artist Wayne Thiebaud will talk about his work at the Thursday opening of “Wayne Thiebaud / By Hand: Works on Paper from 1965 – 2015,” which is on view at University of San Diego’s Robert and Karen Hoehn Family Galleries through Dec. 11.

Women’s Work: Masculinity and Gender in Contemporary Fiber Art” opens Friday at the San Diego Art Institute. There’s another show called “Women’s Work” showing at R.B. Stevenson Gallery in La Jolla through Oct. 17.

• This “Puppets & Jazz” show sounds strange and wonderful.

• Friday Night Liberty is happening this week.

• The first-ever San Diego Underground Film Festival happening Friday will feature 35 short films from 15 different countries.

• San Diego New Music and the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library are putting on an experimental song-meets-spoken-word show at Bread & Salt in Logan Heights Friday.

Handmade DIY magazines will be on display in the 2015 San Diego Zine Fest at Bread & Salt Saturday.

• Want to get to know more about arts spaces in Tijuana? Get the inside scoop in a tour happening Saturday.

• There’s an adult-only art show happening at La Bodega Gallery in Barrio Logan on Saturday.

• The Non-Standard Lit Reading Series reached out to include Mexican authors this season. I wrote about the series in CityBeat’s Fall Arts Issue.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified Allard Jansen and Claire Wathen.

Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. Contact her directly at

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Kinsee Morlan

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture...

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