You hear it all the time: One of the best things disgraced former Mayor Bob Filner did was to transform Balboa Park’s Plaza de Panama back into a pedestrian promenade.

Most of the park’s institutions had originally supported the Balboa Park bypass plan championed by philanthropist Irwin Jacobs and a nonprofit group called the Plaza de Panama Committee. That plan was much more complex and involved than Filner’s, and at $45 million was much pricier too.

The so-called Jacobs Plan, though, was thrown out by a Superior Court judge. This summer, an appellate court overturned that decision and the state Supreme Court refused to consider another appeal. So the city can legally proceed, but it remains unclear whether Jacobs and city leaders will resurrect it.

While the politics behind the plaza continue to unfurl, the park’s been left with Filner’s version. When the parking spots were first painted over, the newly minted pedestrian promenade sat nearly empty for weeks. Someone drove through the wide, open space and did donuts in the plaza. Those black skid marks served as a good reminder that something more needed to be done.

A city spokesperson said plaza design was always meant to be a slow process that came only after officials studied the way people were actually using the space. Over the years, the city and the Balboa Park Conservancy have added furniture and other aesthetic improvements to the plaza, as well as new parking spaces to make up for those taken away.

And now there’s an effort by the San Diego Museum of Art to improve the space further.

Last week, SDMA launched a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign to help get eight large modern sculptures out of storage and into the plaza by January. The sculptures, including Tony Rosenthal’s “Odyssey III” and Joan Miró’s “Solar Bird,” are set to be installed  for two years. Money raised will help fund things like restoration, installation, security and lighting. The museum has so far raised about $3,500, plus a matching grant of $20,000 from board trustee Buzz Kinnaird and his wife, Helen.

“It has become kind of the plaza of the people and we think it has great potential to continue to grow and become more of a gathering place,” said Dieter Fenkart-Froeschl, the museum’s chief operating officer. “And the art will be free. That’s the best part.”

The museum hasn’t always embraced the redesigned plaza.

While it was on board with Jacobs’ bypass plan and the proposed new parking, the museum has heard from many patrons who continue to struggle with accessibility issues now that the nearby parking in front of the museum is gone. SDMA told Voice of San Diego it saw an uptick in traffic to what was then its Sculpture Garden cafe (now Panama 66) shortly after the redo, but when I talked to Fenkart-Froeschl in early 2014 about staffing cuts made to help balance the budget, he stopped just short of blaming the reconfiguration of the Plaza de Panama for causing a notable decline in revenue.

“Part of it could be, and we’re not 100 percent convinced, but we do have an older membership and accessibly issues regarding the Plaza de Panama could be something that’s affecting our revenue,” he said at the time.

The museum made more cuts this summer, but Fenkart-Froeschl said the job eliminations were about further balancing the budget and had nothing to do with the plaza. He said SDMA has learned to embrace the change. He also said the museum continues to support the idea of increasing parking and accessibility to the plaza.

Anita Feldman, SDMA’s deputy director of curatorial affairs, said she can’t wait to get the sculptures out so the museum can help further transform Plaza de Panama into a more interesting pedestrian space.

“My personal view is that I never cared for the parking lot there anyway,” she said. “I think the plaza is so much nicer without cars right in the heart of it. … I think the sculptures will really make the space even more dynamic and colorful. It’s a really nice variety of work.”

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

Teralta Park Could Have Had Art, Too

I wrote about two transit plazas in City Heights and an arts group that’s working to add artful elements to the barren, cement-heavy projects. The original design of the plazas included artful elements like large-scale mosaics and historical photographs, but transportation officials lopped those off when construction bids came in over budget.

The transit plazas were an important piece of the reparation package the city and transportation officials offered to the community after Interstate 15 ripped City Heights in two. Another big consolation prize was Teralta Park, which is constructed on a large cap covering the freeway.

While reporting that story, I learned that Teralta Park could’ve housed a sizable piece of public art, too. Once she learned about City Heights being split in two, Niki de St. Phalle offered to donate one of her large mosaic sculptures, “La Cabeza,” an enormous Day of the Dead skull that kids could climb on, to the community. The piece was meant to go in Teralta Park, and the famed French artist also offered $25,000 for installation and maintenance.

According to an essay written by Nigel Brookes, who worked for the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture before becoming the new manager of the City Heights Performance Annex, community leaders at the time were grateful, but ultimately decided the piece would fall victim to vandals. De St. Phalle still donated the $25,000 and earmarked it for new public art in City Heights.

That money ended up funding Lynn Susholtz’s “Grandmother’s Kitchen/Grandfather’s Garden.” Described as a “cultural archive of the City Heights neighborhood and a visual poem tracing the rich history of immigration to this community,” Susholtz’s piece is installed on the third floor of the La Maestra Community Health Center on Fairmount Avenue.

Photo courtesy of  Commission for Arts and Culture
Photo courtesy of the Commission for Arts and Culture

I found this tidbit of San Diego art history interesting and obscure, so while it was too much of a stretch to include it in the piece about the Fairmount Corridor Arts Collaborative’s efforts to improve the transit plazas, I thought I’d share it here.

Do you have any mostly unknown bits of local art history in your head? Shoot me an email and fill me in.

David Adey’s Work to Adorn New County Parking Structure

On Friday, the county is scheduled to celebrate the opening of a new 10-level parking garage on the corner of Kettner and Cedar in Little Italy. The garage will provide parking for employees who work at the County Administration Center during the day, and it’ll be open to the public (for a price) on nights and weekends.

San Diego artist David Adey will have a piece of art installed on the garage near the structure’s pedestrian entrance. The wall-mounted sculpture, titled “Inspiration Expiration,” is made up of over 3,300 handmade clay tiles. The tiles feature impressions of vehicles’ tire treads and each one is unique.

Courtesy of the County of San Diego
Courtesy of San Diego County

“The tire tread references the individual,” Adey told me. “There’s a diversity element to the piece, since each is a unique color and literally no two are alike, but there’s also this idea of the commute, that all of us get into our cars and go to this place of work and then go home and then get up and do it all over again. The daily commute is something that unites us but also shows our individuality.”

This will be Adey’s first-ever piece of public art. Unlike the city’s public-art process, which is extremely complicated and often favors experienced public artists, county supervisors have a policy, which they can adhere to or not, that .5 percent of the estimated costs for a new building project can fund an original work of art. A three-member committee is then charged with selecting the artist and siting the work.

The latest public art piece will be added to the county’s growing catalog, which includes several impressive works at the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa and sculptures and fine-art prints at Waterfront Park and the County Administration Center.

More Murals in La Jolla

Two new murals have recently gone up in La Jolla, one by Terry Allen and another by Tijuana artist Marcos Ramirez Erre.

Part of the ongoing Murals of La Jolla project that launched in 2010, there are currently 15 large-scale, billboard-style murals hanging throughout the coastal neighborhood’s downtown region.

Photo courtesy of Murals of La Jolla
Photo courtesy of Murals of La Jolla

The ease at which new murals go up in La Jolla is impressive. Project curator Lynda Forsha, who’s worked in the notoriously slow-moving public-art realm in the past, said the secret is that Murals of La Jolla is a private project with a public benefit.

“All of the funds are raised privately and the art is mounted on private property,” she said.

The work is also temporary, she said, which makes property owners more comfortable with the idea.

Folks can take a self-guided tour of the murals, or they can join Forsha on the last Wednesday of the month for a guided walking tour. This month’s free tour starts at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.

Attracting Attendance, the Library’s Innovative Art and More Artsy Bits

• The San Diego Union-Tribune’s James Chute looked at San Diego’s major cultural institutions’ recent financial records and found a “potentially troubling trend with attendance.”

• Albie’s Beef Inn is closing, or possibly relocating, and everyone wants to know what will happen to the restaurant and bar’s collection of nude paintings. (Eater)

Those paintings, by the way, are by artist Larry “Vincent” Garrison. (CityBeat)

• KPBS just made it a lot easier to navigate the San Diego Museum of Art’s big “The Art of Music” exhibition.

• I can’t stop looking at this picture of Tijuana artist Denisse Wolf’s contribution to La Bodega Gallery’s Day of the Dead exhibition.

• Art critic Robert L. Pincus turned his attention to the city library’s visual-arts program. (KCET)

• New York City Ballet is coming to San Diego this week. KPBS sat down with the resident curator, who used to live in San Diego, and asked five questions submitted by local ballet students.

• A 24-year-old fashion designer from Chula Vista made it onto the latest season of reality TV series “Project Runway.” (U-T)

• Sean Brannan is an abstract artist and a certified cognitive behavioral hypnotherapist. Artist and writer Mark Murphy did a Q-and-A with Brannan and asked about the intersection of his art and career.

• Tijuana artist Alejandro Zacarías turns discarded items into artsy organisms. (KCET)

• Roman de Salvo talks to the U-T about his installation at the New Children’s Museum.

Get Cultured: Where to Be This Week

• Kelly Eginton and Anya Gallaccio are turning their mid-century modern home in La Mesa into an alternative art gallery. The inaugural exhibition, “La Mesa Charmer,” will be the first of a series of installations by artist-in-residence Joe Yorty and guests. It opens from 7 p.m. to midnight Halloween night, Oct. 31.

Courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of Joe Yorty
Photo courtesy of Joe Yorty

 Art of Élan’s first concert collaboration with the San Diego Symphony will focus on New York City composers affiliated with the Brooklyn upstart New Amsterdam Records. It’s happening next Tuesday night at the Jacobs Music Center.

• The Oceanside Museum of Art’s “Art After Dark” event on Friday takes on a carnival theme.

• People are invited to read poetry at Border X Brewing in Barrio Logan on Thursday.

• A renowned slide guitarist from India will perform at the Museum of Making music this week.

• The Fresh Sound music series continues this Thursday with piano virtuoso Vicky Chow.

•  SDSU School of Art and Design graduate students will showcase their work in an exhibition opening Friday.

• The Sherman Heights Day of the Dead festival is happening from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

• The Spreckels Organ Society presents a Halloween night screening of the Lon Chaney classic “Phantom of the Opera” in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

• The annual Chef Showdown event is happening at the Port Pavilion on Thursday.

• Experimental music will be played in an intimate concert at Low Gallery in Barrio Logan this week.

• The Halloween version of the ongoing VAMP live storytelling event is one of the best.

• The Lot, La Jolla’s new luxury cinema, restaurant and cafe, just launched a new film series.

• Have a hoppy Halloween at Silo Saturday night.

Here’s your chance to dress up like a zombie and run through Tijuana.

• And here’s your chance to ride your bike in your underwear.

Kids Corner: Because Let’s Face It, Little People Run Your Life

• The San Diego Botanic Garden is surprisingly kid-friendly. The garden will be especially so during its Fall Family Festival on Saturday.

 Trick-or-Treat on India Street is Friday.

 Balboa Park Halloween Family Day is Saturday.

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.