San Diego Art Institute Executive Director Ginger Shulick Porcella recently got yet another piece of hate mail. Typically, she shares the letters publicly – most are written by former SDAI members unhappy with the changes she’s made to the 75-year-old Balboa Park institution – because of how silly and small-minded they seem.

This time, though, the letter was so nasty she didn’t feel comfortable spreading its message of hate.

Voice of the Year

In just over a year, Porcella has successfully turned SDAI into a place everyone in the local art scene is talking about. Formerly an institution often criticized as an incestuous, pay-to-play vanity gallery that only showed its local members’ work in a formulaic way, Porcella has changed the very core of how the museum functions.

She’s upset SDAI members in the process – a former board member even led the charge in a campaign to get city officials to recognize some of her changes as a violation of SDAI’s lease with the city. But mostly she’s elicited praise for reinvigorating the space and attracting higher-caliber artists from San Diego and beyond.

By completely transforming SDAI so quickly, Porcella has effectively upped the ante for San Diego’s entire art scene. She’s shown the rest of the city that it’s OK to disrupt the status quo. She’s demonstrated that we can and should expect more out of even our oldest local arts institutions.

The 34-year-old, fast-talking former New Yorker’s biggest impact, however, has been her refusal to accept San Diego’s standing as a second-class city when it comes to art. She’s forced a conversation about why we’re seen that way and presented a solution that includes collaborating more with neighbors in Tijuana and Los Angeles, which has challenged San Diego artists to raise the bar.

Change can be hard and might piss people off, but Porcella’s proved that it’s worth it.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego this year.

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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