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The San Diego Performing Arts League recently announced its first-ever San Diego Theatre Week. Set to take place Feb. 22-28, the event’s been making local headlines as dozens of theater, dance and music groups gear up for their first major collaborative effort meant to further brand San Diego as a cultural destination.

The league, a membership-based nonprofit that services performing arts groups through marketing campaigns and by operating as a ticket vendor, is also getting ready for the grand opening of its new ArtsTix Ticket Center inside Horton Plaza Park, which, after many delays, could open by the end of February or the beginning of March. The league’s also got its big annual awards show honoring performing arts volunteers on Feb. 1.

It’s a flurry of activity for the group that came to the brink of extinction in 2011. Back then, the nonprofit was unsure if its ArtsTix Ticket Center would be included in the plans for the new park, plus mismanagement led to unpaid taxes and unpaid unemployment insurance bills. Debt was piling up and the league sent an email to members in July 2011 with the the subject line, “Arts Tix may be in peril,” which was followed by an emergency meeting. At that meeting, the group considered folding for good.

The league’s current executive director, Gary Kramer, and its board president, D. Candis Paule, came in after the nonprofit had just re-emerged from its financial troubles. I met the two outside the construction gates of the soon-to-open ticket center inside Horton Plaza Park. Kramer said they’ve increased membership by about 25 percent in the last few years and recently hired their first full-time ticket manager since 2011. And when the new ticket center finally opens, they said they expect things to get even better. Even though about 85 percent of ticket sales happen online, Kramer and Paule said they expect the number of tickets sold through the new brick-and-mortar center to increase dramatically.

“Look at it, it’s the best location in the whole park,” Paule said. “Walk up Fourth Avenue and we will be what you see.”

The city owns Horton Plaza Park, but an agreement with the city’s former redevelopment agency puts the owners of Horton Plaza mall, Westfield, in charge of managing the park for the next 25 years. As part of the agreement, Westfield is required to hold a minimum of 208 events per year (that’s four events per week). Kramer said the league’s already been in touch with Westfield about ensuring that a few of the events at the park showcase the city’s performing arts groups.

“Imagine how many people will be walking around in the new Horton Plaza Park,” Kramer said. “Imagine how busy this area is going to be and to be able to have our new ticket center right in front of everyone and to be able to say, ‘Look at all the performing arts going on in San Diego,’ that’s incredibly important.”

In its heyday, the San Diego Performing Arts League had a staff of about a dozen and was regarded as one of the most important arts organizations in town. Kramer, who doesn’t take a salary for his work as executive director, said the new ticket center, paired with San Diego Theatre Week, which will be an annual event, means the league could be gaining that sort of momentum again.

Alan Ziter, who helped found the league and served as its executive director for almost 20 years before becoming the executive director of the NTC Foundation, agreed.

“It’s definitely headed in the right direction,” Ziter said.

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

No More Room Reserved for the Arts in the East Village

Thanks to a unique loan agreement between a developer and the city’s former redevelopment agency, Sushi Contemporary Performance and Visual Arts’ former East Village digs were reserved for rental to an arts organization for a reduced rate through 2027.  The deal was meant to keep the artsy vibe alive in the East Village.

Sushi folded in 2011, though, and except for a few one-off events, the space has been sitting empty since.

I wrote about how city officials recently approved a request from the owners of the building to end the arts-friendly loan agreement, 11 years before it was set to expire. Some say the owners haven’t tried hard enough to fill the space with an arts group and that the city’s letting them off the hook too easily. The owners said the city should take a payout instead and let them rent the space at a market price to anyone who wants it.

Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Here are a few questions that’ve come through phone calls, email, Facebook and Twitter since the story ran:

I’m just learning about this space and I run an arts organization, can I still rent it? 

Probably not. Yes, the owner’s request to end the loan agreement still has to be solidified by the Oversight Board, the only entity that can legally enforce changes on past redevelopment deals, but getting rid of it is in line with Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to end redevelopment in 2011.

“In the spirit of the redevelopment dissolution clause, we’re unwinding enforceable obligations,” said Eli Sanchez, a senior project manager with Civic San Diego, the city’s successor redevelopment agency.

So, perhaps short of a city leader stepping in and taking on the cause, it looks like the loan agreement will indeed be ended.

What did Sushi end up doing with the $222,659 loan from Laconia, the owners of the building? 

According to the two former Sushi board members I talked to in the story, the loan went toward improving the space. Both said the facility was inadequate.

“The space sucked,” said Vernon Franck, one of the former board members. “Instead of giving us a similar space, the shell they gave us wasn’t capable or ready to go and they started to charge us for some of the basic infrastructure stuff.”

Steve Silverman, the other former board member I spoke with, took issue with the amount, saying the loan was closer to $100,000. He also said the owners should have done the sound-proofing and other infrastructure improvements in the first place.

“They were to have installed adequate soundproofing,” Silverman wrote in an email. “When they tried to lease the space to another arts organization, apparently they were trying to get someone else to underwrite what they never adequately achieved.”

But Paul Menzies, CEO of Laconia, said they gave Sushi money to fix the sound problems and it simply wasn’t done.

“They didn’t do it because it’s not done today,” he said.

Can the $1 million Laconia’s paying to end the loan agreement be earmarked for the arts in order to keep the spirit of the original deal alive? 

I don’t think so, but perhaps it’s worth contacting city officials to see if it’s an option. In accordance with the redevelopment dissolution law, the money must go back to “affected taxing entities,” like the water and school districts, Sanchez said.

Zines, Fake Museums, National Cheese Day and Other San Diego Arts and Culture News

• The San Diego Symphony is one step closer to realizing its new waterfront concert venue on the bay. (U-T)

• The San Diego International Airport is opening its new rental car center this week. Thanks to its percent-for-art program, the project includes three new public artworks. (NBC San Diego)

• New breweries are battling one another to get their beers into bars. The Washington Post looks at the brewery boom and interviews the president of the San Diego Brewers Guild.

• Artist Mario Torero’s trademark “Eyes of Picasso” mural has popped up yet again, this time at San Diego State University. (U-T)

I wrote about Torero’s SDSU mural a few months ago. My predecessor, Kelly Bennett, has written about some of the history behind Torero’s “Eyes of Picasso” mural, too. In short, if you see the eyes, there’s a good chance there’s some artistic energy nearby.

Photo by Marianne Luna Peterson
Photo by Marianne Luna Peterson

•  The founders of Grrrl Zines A Go-Go stopped by the Central Library over the weekend to talk about the history of zines, or handmade DIY magazines, in San Diego. They also hosted a zine-making workshop. The library, by the way, has a collection of local zines. San Diego CityBeat has the story.

• Did anyone not go to the David Bowie tribute concert at at Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park on Sunday? Here’s a video from the show and a Reddit thread with a few photos. There’s also a rumor that organist Carol Williams will be playing more Bowie songs this Sunday if a big crowd shows up again.

Check out this Facebook photo of the banners artist Peter Whitley’s made for San Diego’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. parade on Sunday. One of the faces depicted is Friddon Rawshan Nehad, who was shot and killed last April by a San Diego police officer who thought Nehad had a knife. Speaking of MLK, did you know this local bit of history in relation to the civil rights leader and San Diego’s failed attempts to name a city street after him? And here’s some more obscure history related to the MLK mural on a retaining wall alongside State Route 94.

• The Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History doesn’t exist, but pretending it could has led to some interesting and educational art experiences. (U-T)

• Monday’s tribute to surfing legend Larry Gordon was something to see. (U-T)

• Kindred, the new vegan restaurant in South Park, is kicking off its four-day grand opening party this week, plus other local food and beer news from San Diego Eater’s Candice Woo.

• San Diego’s food scene made an appearance on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” (U-T)

• San Diego Rep opens “Outside Mullingar,” the first production of the theater company’s 40th anniversary. (U-T)

• Augmented reality hits Little Italy. (U-T)

• KPBS gives folks a closer look at Matt de la Peña, the National City native who recently won the prestigious Newbery Medal.

• Alex Zaragoza’s latest column for CityBeat is causing quite a stir. The piece is about white privilege and the comments are what you might expect.

• Say it ain’t so. Shawn Rohlf ‘s 7th Day Buskers band is calling it quits. (San Diego Troubadour)

• The local music scene lost one of its most intimate live venues. (SoundDiego)

• It’s a big week for classical music in San Diego. (The Reader)

• This is one of those annoying photo slideshows I can actually get behind. Apparently, it’s National Cheese Day on Wednesday and DiscoverSD has rounded up a few cheesy places where you can celebrate.

The art that’s been appearing on the east wall of Señor Grubby’s restaurant in Carlsbad is the result of a public-art campaign led by artist Bryan Snyder. (Seaside Courier)

The curator of “The History and the Hair Story: 400 Years Without a Comb” exhibition at the Museum at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido said she hopes the show gives people “a deeper understanding of how important hair has been to black culture and public perception.” (U-T)

Get Cultured: Things to Do in San Diego This Week

• The Human Rights Watch Film Festival returns to the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park this week.

• Combat Arts is hosting a Veteran Arts Symposium Saturday evening. Five combat veterans will discuss how art-making has helped them and proceeds benefit Combat Art’s Veteran Mural public art project.

I’ll be part of a panel discussing local arts coverage at the Mingei International Museum at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.

• UCSD’s Helen Edison Lecture Series brings together environmentalist Barry Lopez with percussionist Steven Schick for a talk about the intersections of music, words and the natural world.

• Chicks for Beer is heading to The Lost Abbey in San Marcos this week.

• Photographer Joe Simanello is showing his music and “dark humanist” photography Tuesday night.

• Coffee fiends take note: The ​Caffeine Crawl event is coming to town, offering tours of craft coffee spots in both North County and central San Diego.

• Thursday is #MuseumSelfie Day.

• Artist Aren Skalman will be activating his current show at the Athenaeum in La Jolla. He’ll be joined by musician Naveen Basavanhally for the concert Thursday night.

• The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego new after-hours event, Downtown at Sundown, is Thursday.

Photo by  Alex Devereaux
Photo by Alex Devereaux

• Local author Ben Johnson’s got a new book, “Blood Silver.” He’ll be signing it at Station in South Park at 4 p.m. Thursday.

• Kensington Brewing Company’s tasting room is open. It’s not quite in Kensington, but pretty close.

The San Diego Tap and Jazz Festival is happening this week.

• Well-known artist Vanessa Beecroft will be speaking at SDSU Saturday at 6 p.m.

Artists Spencer Rabin and Joshua Moreno open a show at Space 4 Art Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m.

• At 5 p.m. Sunday, glass artist Kathleen Mitchell will talk about her recent work, some of it a result of a tragic accident she suffered last year in her glass studio in Barrio Logan.

Folks at the Convoy District are hosting a community meeting to discuss the Time Warner Cable Equipment Facility building proposed for Convoy Street, an emerging cultural and dinging hub in the city.

San Diego Chorus is hosting an open house Wednesday evening.

• La Jolla Music Society presents violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Emanuel Ax in a performance featuring works by Mozart, Fauré and Richard Strauss.

• The Calder Quartet will be at UCSD’s Conrad Prebys Concert Hall Saturday night.

• At its new location in La Jolla, Madison Gallery presents “Dynamics/Confluence,” a new collection from artists Lori Cozen-Geller and Jeff Kah.

• Malashock Dance opens a new dance performance this week.

• San Diego Restaurant Week is in full swing.

• Next Tuesday, editorial cartoonists Leigh Rubin and Steve Breen will give a talk at the Central Library.

• Riverdance is still a thing and it’s making a tour stop in San Diego Wednesday night.

• Author Janice Y.K. Lee will be in La Jolla to talk about her latest book, “The Expatriates.”

Kids Corner

• Go ahead and turn up your nose at the Monster Jam event happening at Petco Park Saturday and the first Saturday in February, but those who show up will be filled with delight. Because monster trucks.

• Disney on Ice will be bringing the “Frozen” characters to life in San Diego this week.

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at kinsee@vosd.org. 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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