Borre Winckel, head of the Building Industry Association of San Diego, a lobbyist group for developers, isn’t a fan of the public art fees many municipalities tack on to private development projects.

Cities, like San Diego, often have policies that require developers to set aside 2 percent of a public project’s construction costs for art. The policies often also require private developers to cut a check for 1 percent of construction costs of private projects that reach a certain threshold.

Winckel wrote a scathing blog post about the fees on private projects, in part because both Encinitas and Vista have recently considered adopting new percent-for-art programs. Here’s part of what Winckel had to say:

“Truthfully, these public art fee discussions really tell us about the state of mind of those in charge of, or fueling the debate. It rhymes with “duck” followed by the adverb “off” and is directed at all who aspire to having more affordable housing options.  The arrogance of some of these local government officials and their commissions is downright shocking.  It’s another example of careless indifference in play.”

Developers pay all sorts of permitting fees and taxes that end up funding city services, though, so I called Winckel to talk about why he holds so much vitriol toward this fee in particular.

“We are categorically opposed to any fees, in this very very screwed up market, going to public art,” he said. “I mean, for any public official to, with good conscience, think that it’s OK to siphon off money out of construction dollars that otherwise could have gone to affordable housing programs or toward lowering the cost of construction is just beyond us.”

He blamed not just the public art fee for the difficulty of building housing in the region, but all permitting costs. He made the case all developers make: That policymakers’ No. 1 priority should be reducing fees so developers can build enough housing to meet demand. Public art, he said, is simply a luxury the market can’t afford right now.

“We’re not taking a belligerent stance against cities that already have an adopted public art program, because that would require litigation,” he said. “But any time this fee at any city hall comes up for debate, we’ll point out that we’re only building three types of real estate these days: over-priced apartments, over-priced luxury housing and highly subsidized affordable housing, and we’re not building anything in between.”

Encinitas ultimately decided not to approve its arts commission’s request for a percent-for-art program, instead opting for a project-by-project approach. But Jim Gilliam, head of Encinitas’ art division, said he’s already working on a proposal to get art included in a soon-to-be constructed project and he’s hopeful the case-by-case approach will work.

“Yes, they did not approve an ordinance or a funding stream, but they have kept the door open to public art projects,” he said.

A representative from Vista said the city has been advised by a committee to consider adopting a percent-for-art program and the issue could be brought to city council by early next year.

National City, too, is working on a percent-for-art proposal that will head to city council in early 2016. Brad Raulston, National City’s executive director of planning and community development, said he’s still trying to figure out the percentages he wants to propose and is pinning down other details before taking the ordinance to the city council for approval.

Raulston said he’s yet to hear complaints from the Building Industry Association directly, but he’s familiar with the arguments against implementing fees for public art.

“I think there are all sorts of public amenities funded through development fees and if you start to try to prioritize parks and roads and schools then you’re really kind of on a slippery slope,” he said. “I think that public art is about doing things in a way that builds community character and creates value for neighborhoods, so it’s important. … But i’m certainly willing to sit down and have a debate about what’s reasonable on the private side of development. On the public side, though, that to me is kind of a no-brainer. That’s a perfect opportunity to integrate art.”

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

The Gold Leaf Project, Coming to an Oudoor Wall Near You

Developer Greg Strangman is known for integrating art into his projects, often by commissioning site-specific work or by literally mounting pieces of art on the buildings he revamps.

Strangman recently made an appearance in a VOSD story about adventurous small San Diego developers building projects in Tijuana and testing out the market there.

On this side of the border, Strangman just finished up the remodel of a building and back lot at 2630 National Ave. in Barrio Logan. The project, Community@ National, houses the new headquarters of his development firm, L.W.P. Group, plus a room he calls his One Bunk vacation rental and the Gold Leaf Project, a new art gallery that’ll soon be one-half of a public art project he’s gearing up to launch in coming months.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Strangman recently showed me around the new gallery and explained the concept behind Gold Leaf Project. He said the idea came to him while he was jogging along Sunset Cliffs and trying to figure out a way to persuade his friend, architect-developer Jonathan Segal, to hang art on the projects he designs and builds.

“But his work is very clean and polished,” Strangman said. “So I knew he wasn’t going to let me let an artist just go crazy on one of his buildings.”

He thought if he put the art in nice, gold leaf frames then Segal would be more likely to say yes. He was right – he said Segal was more receptive. Things snowballed from there and Strangman decided to get several frames and find lots of different locations, both in San Diego and Tijuana, where he could mount the work outside.

“We’re trying to make it look almost like it was in a museum but it’s out in the streets,” he said.

Strangman’s already up to 14 frames, and is working on finding seven locations on each side of the border that will allow him to bolt framed art on the outside of their buildings. He had designer Paul Basile retrofit the frames so it’ll be easy to leave them on the wall, but switch out the art inside, which he plans to do every six months or so. He knows there’s potential for artwork being damaged or even stolen (although the bolts will make that difficult), but he said that’s a risk he’s willing to take. He hopes artists will be willing to take the risk, too.

To get people excited about the project, he mounted one framed artwork in an alleyway in Barrio Logan, on the backside of a fruteria on Logan Avenue.

The project’s still evolving, but for now Strangman’s funding it out of his own pocket and hopes it’ll eventually sustain itself. One revenue source he’s identified is selling the work that goes on public view and splitting the proceeds with the artists (his half would go toward funding the next round of artists). And as far as the Gold Leaf Project gallery goes, he said he’ll be showing artists’ works without taking any commission at all.

“This is kind of like my give-back moment,” he said. “And I’m just winging it but the goal is have a program or initiative that directly benefits artists.”

American in Baghdad

When Ron Najor was filming a music video for local rapper TIMZ, whose song “Refugee” is about some of the difficulties faced by Iraqi refugees, he spent a lot of time in El Cajon amid the many refugees who live there.

“After shooting that video, I thought, man, someone should do a documentary about what’s going on here,” Najor said.

In the back of his head, Najor, himself a Chaldean of Iraqi descent, knew it should be him, but he didn’t take it seriously until he submitted the idea to the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst grant program and won one of 10 $20,000 grants to help realize his project.

Najor just finished up his “American Baghdad” documentary, which he’ll show at a private screening on Thursday (email if you’re interested in attending). The 18-minute film profiles a handful of Iraqi refugees young and old living in El Cajon.

Photo by Andrew Cormier
Photo by Andrew Cormier

“I wanted to show who these people are and what their struggle has been,” Najor said. “That was always the intention but it’s become more important with Paris, the Syrian refugee crisis and everything else that’s happened in the last few months. The hope was to humanize them and put a face to the people who others are coming out and saying, ‘We don’t want them in our country.’”

SDSU’s Missing Color

Last week, I talked to famed Chicano muralist Mario Torero about his recent gig at San Diego State University. As a guest artist, he just finished up teaching a class called Artivism: Understanding Street Art. He told me about how he used the class to eventually persuade SDSU administration to sign off on a new mural on one of the school’s art buildings. He said the school badly needed some outdoor art.

“Most of the art is hidden indoors at SDSU,” he said. “Outdoors, there’s nothing. The school’s spending millions of dollars building buildings, but where’s the sculpture? Where’s the murals? Where’s the color? Nowhere. It’s a sterile space.”

Photo courtesy of Mario Torero
Photo courtesy of Mario Torero

Torero also told me about the mural he painted for SDSU in the ’80s, which was destroyed along with the building it was in a few years ago. He said he’s close to getting SDSU to commission an updated version of the mural.

Goodbye to U-T’s Longtime Music and Art Critic and Other Artsy Bits

• Check out the dream team behind the design of the coming-soon North Park Beer Co.

• The rumors are true: Longtime Union-Tribune music and art critic James Chute is taking the paper’s buyout offer. After 25 years on the job, his last day will be Dec. 24. I’ll miss his insightful work.

• The Muramid Mural Museum and Art Center will celebrate its soft opening at the monthly Oceanside Artwalk happening from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. Located in the Artists Alley at 212 North Coast Highway, the folks behind the new center call it the “first real mural museum in the world.” (press release)

• Charles Moxon puts an extraordinary amount of detail into his painted portraits. He’s the current artist-in-residence at Lux Art Institute in Encinitas. (U-T)

• The movie “Hugo” is based on a book by a writer who lives in La Jolla. KPBS checks in with the famous author to discuss his new book and a few of the quirky and fascinating things that fill his home.

• Craving some short fiction? CityBeat invites local scribes to jam stories into 101 words in their annual Fiction 101 contest.

• CityBeat’s Seth Combs really thinks you need to see Robert Irwin’s installation at MCASD’s downtown location.

• The NTC Foundation commissioned its first piece of public art. It’s called “Ice” and it’s by San Diego artist Smadar Samson. The piece is on view near the Fantasy on Ice rink at Liberty Station. Liberty Station is also home to a new Free Little Library, compliments of the literary nonprofit San Diego Writers, Ink. (press releases)

• San Diego Musical Theatre’s “White Christmas” is getting good reviews. (U-T)

Get Cultured: Where You Need to Be This Week

• Overspray III: A Stencil Art Show” is Tuesday night in the East Village.

• Oceanside’s First Tuesday Bike Ride is this week.

• Drinking About Museums’ monthly gathering is at Panama 66 in Balboa Park on Wednesday.

• An emoji-inspired art show opens Wednesday at Mike Hess Brewery in North Park.

• S&M, or Sausage & Meat, is having a trunk show on Thursday night featuring hand-crafted jewelry and leather goods.

• The recently opened Teros Magazine Gallery will be showing works by Susana Echevarría on Thursday evening.

Local vendors will be selling jewelry and small goods at this week’s Sparks Gallery’s Holiday Bazaar.

• The Balboa Theatre will be screening the 1986 classic “Labyrinth” on Thursday.

• Chef Chad White is leaving San Diego, but not without a party first. Drop by Carnitas Snack Shack on Thursday to say goodbye.

• Balboa Park’s 38th December Nights event is this Friday and Saturday.

• Paintings by Dan Adams and Anna Zappoli Jenkins will be on view at the Martha Pace Swift Gallery beginning this week.

• The Bravo School of Art’s Member and Faculty Holiday Art Show and Sale is Friday.

• Drummer Kendrick Scott Oracle will play at UC San Diego’s The Loft Friday night.

• The San Diego Pottery Tour is happening this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Richard Burkett
Photo courtesy of Richard Burkett

• The Makers Arcade Holiday Fair is Saturday and will feature food trucks, live music and more than 95 makers.

• Cabrillo Artist In Residence Jason Rogalski is having an open house on Saturday.

• Get a photo of your dog with Santa.

• See new works by painter Richard Salcido and others at TPG2 gallery.

• Listening to a live performance of Handel’s “Messiah” is up there with watching “The Nutcracker” when it comes to holiday traditions.

• You can feel good about eating massive amounts of chili at the annual SoNo Fest and Chili Cook-Off since it raises money for an elementary school.

Hey, vegans, check this out.

 Get to know Lux Art Institute’s current artist-in-residence, Charles Moxon.

• This Saturday’s South Park Walkabout includes an art show featuring works by the children of local creatives.

• Artist Bill Mosley celebrates the release of his new book about the transformation of downtown San Diego.

• “Peanuts” director and animator Larry Leichliter makes a stop in San Diego on Saturday.

• Learn more about California cocktails.

• MayStar’s been organizing fashion shows at local bars for a decade. She’s putting on her last show ever this Saturday.

• Architecture fans will want to check out this lecture by Keith York.

• In a show opening this week, glass artist Kathleen Mitchell explores childhood trauma suffered by students she helps teach in a prison art program. She also shows work inspired by a recent horrific glass-working accident she suffered earlier this year.

• This Hanukkah party sounds awesome.

• Local photographer Tim Mantoani’s “Behind Photographs” exhibition opens at MCASD on Friday.

• The San Diego Symphony performs a concert of contrasts.

• San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas is transformed into a winter wonderland starting this week.

Kids Corner

• Hotel del Coronado’s Holiday Festival is Wednesday.

• Petco Park’s 12-day Holiday Wonderland kicks off Friday.

• There’s a scuba-diving Santa at Birch Aquarium.

• Lemon Grove’s annual holiday bonfire holiday event includes free hot chocolate.

• Holiday parades are happening in North Park, Ocean Beach and Chula Vista.

• Santa is making an appearance at Santee Lakes. He’ll also be in Eastlake.

• Little Italy’s lighting its neighborhood tree.

• Kidz Bop is coming to town.

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

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