The San Diego Opera relied on media coverage to help stop it from shutting down last year. The story had a villain: an overpaid leader who wanted to cease operations rather than do anything but the highest-quality grand opera it had produced in the past. It also had a hero: folks inside the company who fought hard to keep it alive, arguing that opera could survive by raising enough money, making big cuts and changing up offerings to include more affordable and accessible shows.

The public listened and many reacted by showing their support through a successful crowdfunding campaign, sending a message that opera is important in this city and they wanted it to stay.

San Diego Opera is again making headlines, but the new narrative is likely one the company wishes would go away.

Its new leader, David Bennett, is being blamed for playing a major role in the death of Gotham Chamber Opera, which announced it would be closing after discovering a big debt that had been kept off the books during Bennett’s time as its director.

I recently spent hours with Bennett as he scouted alternative venues in Barrio Logan that might make for interesting backdrops to a much more experimental 2016/2017 season. He proved to be a gutsy, idea-filled risk-taker when it comes to creating opera that might attract a wider, younger audience, and that’s partly why the San Diego Opera board president said they stand behind their man no matter what’s happened in his past.

Adding to the opera’s unwanted spotlight, the Union-Tribune dived deeper into Bennett’s past and found that he was managing director of Dance New Amsterdam, which closed in 2013 due to financial issues that started during Bennett’s tenure.

“It’s an awkward resume for the leader of San Diego’s opera, which narrowly avoided dissolving amid financial pressures itself last year,” wrote U-T reporter Morgan Cook.

Again, representatives of the San Diego Opera affirmed their support, in part because they have a chief financial officer and other internal financial controls that might prevent bad things from happening. Plus, as the story pointed out, finding money to run an arts organization ain’t all that easy.

It remains to be seen whether the public — particularly philanthropists —  are following the latest San Diego Opera story as closely as they did the last.

Meanwhile, a new opera company has officially launched and U-T’s James Chute said its inaugural show was surprisingly good.

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

Downtown and Barrio Logan Buildings Open Up

At first, Susanne Friestedt didn’t know how, exactly, she wanted to give back to the city, she only knew that as a third-generation San Diegan, she wanted to do something big and memorable. Her research and brainstorming led her to Open House Worldwide, a concept that asks cities to showcase the best and brightest of the built environment with free architectural tours to the public. Friestedt flew to London, where the event was founded, and convinced organizers that she alone could piece together an event in San Diego good and interesting enough to bear the Open House Worldwide name.

After years of work getting downtown and Barrio Logan sites lined up, she eventually shared the workload with the San Diego Architectural Foundation. Together, they crafted the first-ever Open House San Diego event, which launches Saturday, and made it the centerpiece of this year’s Archtoberfest, an annual celebration of architecture and design in San Diego.

More than 40 buildings and design and architectural studios have agreed to open their doors to the public. Volunteers will be onsite at most every location from around 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. offering tours and other educational insights into some of the city’s most significant structures, both old and new.

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

Friestedt said the event, which includes hot-spots like the the Central Library, Bread & Salt, Faultline Park and Smarts Farm, was “highly curated.” She said she was only interested in highlighting buildings and other sites that have positively impacted the region.

“The point of the event is to educate and engage the public about the best in architecture and urban design and all the issues associated with those subjects, such as rapid population growth, urban density, transportation issues, the environment and how people live and work within spaces,” she said.  “Anything in the built environment that has significance and contributes in some meaningful way to the fabric of our city was fair game.”

Art in Unexpected Places

Head east on G Street and just past 15th Street on your left you’ll see a billboard picturing a colorful elk drinking from a pond. The billboard features a painting by the late Ernest Silva, and it isn’t advertising anything save for the Open Walls Project, an attempt to inject art into everyday life by the people behind the upcoming Art San Diego contemporary art fair.

This is the second year in a row Art San Diego has printed large-scale versions of local artists’ works and mounted the images across billboards throughout the city. Officially kicking off Thursday and remaining on view through Nov. 15, there are 10 art-filled billboards centered in downtown, North Park and South Park. The billboards include works by San Diego Art Prize winners like Gail Roberts, Bhavna Mehta, Larry and Debbie Kline, Marianela de la Hoz, Yvonne Venegas and others.

Image courtesy of Art San Diego
Image courtesy of Art San Diego

“It’s meant to be kind of subtle,” said Ann Berchtold, founder and executive director of Art San Diego. “You’re driving down the street and all of the sudden you see a piece by Raul Guerrero that’s totally random and out of place and you do a little bit of a double take. It’s not meant to be more than that. It’s just taking what’s typically very commercial and putting something that’s interesting there that makes you pause for a minute.”

Fifty Shades of San Diego

There’s more to San Diego than what’s pictured on postcards. San Diego City Works Press’ annual anthology, “Sunshine/Noir II: Writings from San Diego and Tijuana” zeroes in on the less-than-picture-perfect reality of the border region by rounding up offbeat poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, photography and experimental literary works by mostly local writers and creators.

I have a piece in the book; a story I wrote for CityBeat about a local grassroots movement to try to get young black people to stop using the N-word.

“What we feature in the book is the complexity of San Diego,” said City Works managing editor Kelly Mayhew. “Our city is full of grit and transcendence and the book itself is a gorgeous hybrid monster that looks at all of it.”

Image courtesy of City Works Press
Image courtesy of City Works Press

This year’s “Sunshine/Noir II” is the 10th anniversary edition and is dedicated to the late local poet Steve Kowit, whose work appears in the anthology alongside pieces by Jimmy Santiago Baca, Anna Daniels, Brent Beltran, Arthur Salm and others. Many of the book’s contributors will be reading from their selections at the book release party happening at 6 p.m. Friday at the Glashaus in Barrio Logan.

“We’re committed to San Diego and Tijuana’s literary voice,” Mayhew said. “The book is an attempt to make us be seen as so much more than just a tourist destination.”

The Art World’s Favorite Buzz Words

Immersive, site-specific, participatory: the words come up a lot these days in conversations about the edgiest and most innovative art being produced. The concept of redefining the audience relationship to art by making it interactive or creating work specifically inspired by a unique surrounding isn’t new, but it’s certainly being done more often as those who experience the work continue to rave about how totally rad it can be.

Image courtesy of Bricolage Production Company
Image courtesy of Bricolage Production Company

La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls, or WoW, Festival is all about using the world as its stage and getting people up and out of their chairs to experience experimental theater, dance and performance. The Wall Street Journal swooped in over the weekend to experience WoW and further endorsed the art world’s latest obsession:

“One of the more innovative works at this year’s festival was “OjO,” by the Pittsburgh-based Bricolage. As audience members arrived at the venue, they handed over ‘boarding passes’ at what appeared to be an airline counter. They were then blindfolded and taken for a sensory walk through streets where the air smelled of curry, chickens pecked at their legs and fabric peddlers aggressively sold their wares.”

I asked my Facebook friends and followers to weigh in with their thoughts about immersive, site-specific and/or participatory art. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

“That’s pretty much all of my work,” wrote artist Andrea Chung. “I think actively getting the audience involved always adds an interesting dynamic to the work. It often times leads to chance occurrences that the artist doesn’t expect, making it a learning experience for all involved.”

“To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of modern dance, but Trolley Dances changed that,” wrote Lizz Morrison about the annual series featuring site-specific choreography. “I’ve been going to Trolley Dances for several years now and I’m always moved and delighted by the performances because of the venues chosen. I was particularly moved by a performance at the Monarch School a couple years back. And I love seeing dancers using urban sites in ways that make them more interesting or memorable — stairs at City College, the fountains at the County building, by the murals in Chicano Park, etc. It’s accessible art anyone can enjoy.”

“I attended Marina Abramović’s ‘The Artist is Present‘ at MOMA, completely changed my opinion on participatory art experiences,” wrote Jon Hall. “Powerful stuff.”

Read the rest of the comments here.

And if you’d like to see a stellar site-specific work of visual art in San Diego, be sure to schedule a visit to Ice Gallery to see Michael James Armstrong’s installation made of 3,450 threads. Armstrong, who works with artist Robert Irwin, actually uses the term “site-conditional” to describe his work.

Military Movies, Painting the Border Fence Away and More Artsy Bits

The GI Film Festival is bringing its military-centric dramas, documentaries and short films to San Diego this year. (KPBS)

• Construction has begun on the new Skyline Hills Library. The library will include new public art by arts collaborative Actual Sized Artworks.

• Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse won big grants from The James Irvine Foundation. The money is meant to help the arts organizations engage more San Diegans in the arts. (U-T)

• Looking for live jazz? Balboa Park’s Panama 66 is becoming the new epicenter of lively, improvisational jams (bonus: you can bring your kids). (Reader)

• Artist Ana Teresa Fernandez visited Tijuana in 2011 and made a memorable mark when she painted the border fence to match the natural surroundings. From a distance, the border fence looked like it disappeared. Fernandez is back at it, this time painting a stretch of fence in Nogales. (Fronteras) Here’s a photo from the artist’s Instagram feed where she says a border agent and and deported migrant are working side-by-side to give her a hand:

Photo courtesy of Ana Teresa Fernandez
Photo courtesy of Ana Teresa Fernandez

• Mingei International Museum continues its “Uncrated” behind-the-scenes video series with its executive director, Rob Sidner, discussing the objects he chose to represent the state of Kentucky in “Made in America,” the show he curated that’s on view in the museum through February.

• If you’re not reading Ryan Bradford’s column in CityBeat, your life is filled with fewer LOLs. This week, Bradford takes us along for an awkward press tour of the new Target in South Park.

BeautifulPB continues fulfilling its mission to add more murals to the beach community. (San Diego Community Newspaper Group)

• Imperial House crooner Rick Lyon is still the man. (DiscoverSD)

• Did anyone else drive by Waterfront Park over the weekend and wonder what was going on? Los Angeles Times can hip you to the jive that is CRSSD Festival .

• There’s an arts school in Orange County so promising it attracts kids from our neck of the woods. (U-T)

• Meet mosaic artist Kim Emerson, the artist behind the new San Diego Mosaic School. (U-T)

Get Cultured: Where to Be This Week

• The New Children’s Museum’s big new “Eurkea” exhibition opens Saturday. I’ll be at the preview Friday and I’ll have more on the show in next week’s Culture Report.

• Didn’t make it to Burning Man this year? The regional Burning Man event, Youtopia, is happening this week.

• Cinema @ The Balboa continues tomorrow with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

• Artist Jose Hugo Sanchez explores the relationship between Mexico and the United States in a show opening Thursday at Mesa College Art Gallery.

• Local literary group So Say We All explores what it’s like to be on the fringes in a live performance event at the Central Library Thursday.

• The Blvd Market celebrates its first year of existence Friday evening.

• Composer Braden Diotte, who once created music during a self-­imposed residency in Slab City in Salton Sea, will be performing at Space 4 Art Friday night.

• San Diego Ballet kicks off its season with “Romeo and Juliet” this week.

• Archipelago,” featuring the work of Michael Ashkin, Roxanne Yamins and Timothy Earl Neill, opens at Helmuth Projects Saturday night.

• It’s hard to keep track of all the new restaurants opening in North Park. Experience the foodsplosion at the Taste of North Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

• Celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, in Balboa Park on Saturday.

• MOPA’s annual photo auction is happening Wednesday and features more than 50 vintage and contemporary works.

• The Bollywood Masala Orchestra and Dancers of India will bring their colorful concert to Copley Symphony Hall on Sunday.

• Taiwanese dancer, choreographer and inventor Huang Yi will bring his robot to San Diego for a multimedia performance at UCSD on Wednesday.

• A new gallery in City Heights will launch on Saturday.

• The Creative Nights event at Lux on Friday will likely sell out soon. Get your tickets.

• “Orange is the New Black” author Piper Kerman will be in San Diego this week.

• This Wednesday, Southwestern College’s art gallery kicks off a new collaboration with CECUT, the art museum in Tijuana.

• You really have to force the feel of seasons in San Diego. You can do that by checking out local pumpkin patches popping up here, here, here and here.

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

(Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.)

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. She also managed VOSD’s podcasts and covered...

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.