The concept of “creative placemaking” is a fast-growing trend, inside and outside the art world. Essentially, it means engaging the community by using arts, culture and design to quickly and creatively improve a public place.

Two recent acts of creative placemaking haven’t gone so well. A community group made some improvements to a public plaza at the intersection of Euclid and Imperial in Encanto, but did so without proper city permits and have been told they have to remove the planter boxes and other amenities they added.

In Barrio Logan, a Realtor group organized an event where volunteers were tasked with building benches and planter boxes on Logan Avenue. But when it came time to close the area to traffic for an evening to celebrate the upgrades, the people who live and work in the neighborhood protested the event, calling the effort misguided and an intrusion.

Matt D’Arrigo, founder and CEO of youth arts education center A Reason To Survive, or ARTS, said his organization is gearing up to embark on a large creative placemaking effort in National City, where it’s based. He said the two recent community improvement projects seemed well-intended, but believes both failed “due to not engaging in the right process.”

“We’re striving to show the correct process,” he said. “It’s interesting that one project didn’t include the government in the planning and the other didn’t include the community in the planning. You need both working together side by side through the whole process in order for this to work.”

Starting next year, D’Arrigo and ARTS  will launch an effort to create 30 public art projects within three square miles of its National City location over the next three years. D’Arrigo said his careful approach began with the creation of a group of government officials, local business owners, community leaders and others who’ll act in an advisory role helping ARTS navigate possible pitfalls. D’Arrigo said he also sends project leaders to trainings at the Pomegranate Center located outside of Seattle. (The Pomegranate Center has been practicing creative placemaking for decades – before creative placemaking was cool.)

“It’s ambitious, but we are deep in the planning phase and starting to implement some pilot projects, like the back parking lot,” he wrote in an email. “We recently hired a community arts manager to help implement and oversee the projects. We’re hoping to attract more artists and arts orgs to National City, if not on a permanent basis at least on a project basis.”

The ARTS crew will be sprucing up its parking lot this weekend, transforming it into a community gathering place. D’Arrigo said starting with pilot projects will help iron out any kinks before the initiative launches in full next year. When the project does get going, though, he said he thinks folks in National City will embrace it.

“Place and environment is extremely important, they can change peoples’ mood and emotions,” he said. “In National City, people know the city has a perception problem, but they want to change that. And we can help change it through arts and design.”

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

First Come Artists, Then Comes Wild Gentrification?

“There goes the neighborhood.”

That was one of the first comments I got when I shared my story this week on the southeastern San Diego community plan update and the two arts organizations that have been waiting on the plan’s approval before building new arts-friendly projects in the region.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

The new blueprint for future development was met with unanimous approval by the City Council Monday, which means the two arts groups, Bread & Salt and Space 4 Art, can move ahead with their respective projects in Logan Heights and Sherman Heights.

But of course, the new zoning rules open up development opportunities not only to arts-friendly projects, but to all kinds of developers that likely have their eyes neighborhoods like Grant Hill, Emerald Hills and Lincoln Park.

The “there goes the neighborhood” sentiment is shared by many who often blame artists for going into under-served urban neighborhoods, prettying things up and making the ‘hoods seem cool, thereby attracting developers who suddenly see potential and build expensive projects that drive up prices and push longtime residents out.

Whether artist-led gentrification is actually more of an urban legend is still up for debate. But the effects of gentrification is something Lara Gates, the city planner I talked to in the story, said was addressed in the updated community plan. Here’s a bit from the plan’s section on gentrification:

“Continued compliance with state and local affordability requirements will help to ensure that affordable housing will continue to represent a portion of overall housing production. By allowing for a variety of housing densities and types, the community plan, in part, facilitates continued affordable housing production in compliance with applicable policies and regulations.”

Gates said she thinks the community’s new blueprint will be more attractive to smaller developers who’ll build “organic” projects that’ll be good fits for the neighborhoods.

“We’ll probably see more of the MSArch RED (Master of Science in Architecture Real Estate Development) developers from Woodbury School of Architecture,” Gates said. “The Mike Burnetts and Lloyd Russells of the world will be more willing and interested because it will be more streamlined and easier and quicker to develop property there now.”

Yellow Is the New Blue

Artist David White teaches classes at Woodbury School of Architecture in Barrio Logan and NewSchool of Architecture and Design in the East Village. He often walks to work, so he’s familiar with both neighborhoods and the homeless populations that live there.

As the towering Pinnacle on the Park apartment building was being constructed, he started noticing more and more little yellow “Impounded Property” signs warning homeless people that their belongings would be confiscated if they weren’t removed from the area. The phenomenon was documented by the U-T in a story that quoted folks who said the increased security around the Pinnacle building was causing the homeless population to migrate east, to Barrio Logan and Logan Heights.

White was teaching color theory at the time, so he started thinking about the color yellow. It’s used to get attention.

The Pinnacle building itself includes bright yellow elements that have been grabbing people’s attention – even if it isn’t always positive (some folks think the yellow color looks like some kind of construction material that makes the building look perpetually unfinished).

A few months ago, White decided to start handing yellow tarps out to homeless people. Most folks are familiar with the blue tarps used as makeshift shelter and to help keep homeless people’s belongings dry, but he thought yellow tarps would awaken people’s senses to the existence of San Diego’s homeless population. He said he’s handed out over 100 tarps so far and he’s been documenting the movement of the tarps by going out and scouting with his camera.

Photo courtesy of David White
Photo courtesy of David White

“When you called me just now, I was in the middle of photographing some,” he said last week. “I’m over at 10th and Commercial. … At this point, the encampment that was immediately adjacent to Pinnacle is completely broken up. And I’ve talked to people as far away as Golden Hill who are saying homeless people are being pushed into their neighborhood. It’s the effect of the ‘Pinnacle Bubble’ that was brought up in a recent article.”

White’s “TARP Reform” project, which includes photos of the yellow tarps, images of the yellow impounded property signs and a video, is on view in “Common Space,” an exhibition at the City College art gallery through Dec. 17. The show includes works by White, Lynn Susholtz, David Krimmel and Omar Pimienta that address local issues of a global scope.

“I’m trying to draw attention to the dynamics of what’s happening in that neighborhood,” White said. “The project makes the invisible more visible.”

The Fate of Little Italy’s Beloved Tuna Mural

A 20-by-20-foot mural by artist Catherine Becker celebrating the tuna and sardine industry of Little Italy now sits in storage, damaged beyond repair. The mural went up in 2006 at the southbound ramp to I-5 at Grape and State streets and was one of first public art projects in Little Italy.

“It was originally painted on plywood,” said Christopher Gomez, district manager of the Little Italy Association, which heads up revitalization and beautification efforts in the neighborhood. “We should have used a plastic board that holds up better over time.”

Gomez said the mural was rotting and disintegrating, so they took it down and put it in storage, where it’ll remain indefinitely. Becker has since passed away, so rather than restore the piece, the association’s begun plans to replace it.

“We realized that’s a main focal point for our community as people leave Little Italy or the airport,” he said.

A collaborative mural piece by students at Washington Elementary School is in the works, but now Gomez said they need funds to help pay for it. The Little Italy Association will host a fundraising art show opening Saturday and on view through the end of December featuring the works of San Diego artist Randy Crawford. Half the money raised through art sales will pay for the new mural and other arts and culture efforts in Little Italy.

Photo courtesy of Randy Crawford
Photo courtesy of Randy Crawford

San Diego’s Ties to Justin Bieber and More Artsy Bits

• Goodbye TNT, hello Downtown at Sundown. CityBeat reports on the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s new after-hours event, which kicks off on Thursday.

• A local couple was featured in Justin Bieber’s new “Love Yourself” music video. Fans have been wanting to know more about the cute pair of professional dancers. (ELLE)

• San Diego Opera announced a student essay contest offering free subscriptions to its upcoming season as the prize. (KPBS)

• Alex Zaragoza went to see Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” at the San Diego International Airport and wrote about it for KCET.

• Speaking of the airport, the U-T’s James Chute dug into the public art pieces that’ll be included in the airport’s new Rental Car Center that I mentioned briefly in last week’s Culture Report.

• The impending closure of Albie’s Beef Inn inspired these great television and radio portraits of the old place by KPBS.

• Look at this adorable mascot San Diego artist Terri Beth Mitchell designed for a local advertising agency.

• Art critic Robert L. Pincus schools us on the fun and funky art of Wayne Thiebaud. (KCET)

• Is lithography a dying art form? SDSU announced it won’t be offering courses in it next semester.

• Artist Paul William Koester shared this stunning photo of the “Convergence” art exhibition at Cabrillo National Monument last weekend and art maven Patricia Frischer wrote a glowing review of the show in her online column, describing it this way:

“There was a tree filled with wind chimes, a light installations, video projections on the lighthouse, interactive works, a rock garden installation, experimental sound pieces inside old military bunkers on the site, dance performances, garden enhancements, pottery breaking and butterfly surrealism.”

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

“Convergence” is on view at Cabrillo through Nov. 29.

• San Diego Eater doled out its annual restaurant awards.

• La Jolla Playhouse announced its new season, which features four world premieres. (U-T)

• There are some exciting sounds coming out of Tijuana. (Vice)

• The Carlsbad Art Wall got a paint job. (Carlsbad Crawl)

Get Cultured: Where You Need to Be This Week

• The San Diego Symphony’s “Jazz @ The Jacobs” series begins Saturday.

• The Arab Film Festival runs Friday through Sunday at the Museum of Photographic Arts.

Photo courtesy of the Arab Film Festival
Photo courtesy of the Arab Film Festival

• On Saturday morning, Friends of San Diego Architecture will host a lecture on regional planning with Alan Hoffman.

• The Lafayette Hotel will host dinner and a movie on Friday night.

• California’s American Indian and Indigenous Film Festival kicks off this Thursday at CSU San Marcos.

• On Thursday night, Sparks Gallery presents “After the Fact: Photographing People, Places, Things,” an artist talk with photographer David Wing.

• Expressive Arts is celebrating “Five Years of Changing Lives One Creative Moment at a Time” with an anniversary party and exhibit on Saturday night.

• Objects USA will exhibit its mid-century arts and crafts at Ronis Fine Art in Golden Hill Friday through Sunday.

• The Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve is hosting a Saturday morning talk on the rising sea level and how it will impact Southern California.

• The fourth annual Fish Taco TKO is Tuesday evening at downtown’s Quartyard pop-up park.

• The film “Raven’s Touch,” presented by FilmOut San Diego, premieres Wednesday night at the Landmark Theatre in Hillcrest.

• San Diego Mesa College’s Student Art Show is Thursday in the Mesa College Art Gallery.

• North Park’s Shop Hop event is Thursday night.

• SDSU’s Downtown Gallery is hosting an exhibit tour with Matthew Strauss on Thursday evening.

• A travel and documentary style photography workshop will be led by Stefan Falke this weekend in Tijuana.

• Medium Festival of Photography will host a closing reception on Friday for the “Size Matters” exhibition at Low Gallery in Barrio Logan.

• The San Francisco Opera’s production of “Show Boat” will be screened at the Balboa Theatre Saturday afternoon.

• “All You Can Eat,” an art show featuring works by Terri Mitchell and Matt Stallings, opens Saturday at 3rdSpace.

• San Diego Art Institute’s Affordable Art Fair is Saturday.

• So Say We All’s “Long Story Short: Cold Turkey” is happening Saturday at San Diego Writers, Ink.

• The Balboa Theatre is screening “Bladerunner: The Final Cut” on Sunday evening.

• The third annual “Cross City Art Show,” an event that brings together artists from San Diego and Tijuana, opens at 6 p.m. Saturday at La Bodega in Barrio Logan. See works by Buffalo the Man, Christy Pepper Dawson, David Peña, Dear, El Norteño, Jorge Gutierrez and more.

• Haymarket Books and Africa Is A Country are hosting a book launch for “Apartheid Israel” on Friday.

• The San Diego Museum of Art will feature Miya Masaoka Thursday evening as part of its ongoing concert series, “The Art of Music.”

• The Del Mar Antique Show and Sale is happening this weekend at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

• William D. Cannon Art Gallery’s annual invitational show opens Saturday.

Amanda Rhoades contributed to this event list 

Kids Corner

• Join a root beer crawl and hit up spots like Nate’s Garden Grill, where they make their own root beer.

• Take a self-guided tour of UCSD’s Stuart Collection.

• There’s an ice rink at Liberty Station.

• Enter your kid in the skateboard competition happening at the Kroc Center.

• Keep your kid creative during Thanksgiving break.

• Santee’s holiday lighting celebration is actually pretty rad. I went last  year and got to ride a sled.

• The big annual Mother Goose Parade is happening Saturday at 10 a.m. in El Cajon.

(Kinsee Morlan is the engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.)

Kinsee Morlan

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

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.