Eight new artistic displays of historical artifacts now sit on the first and second floors of the San Diego County Administration Center downtown.
The large new structures are essentially light boxes that include old postcards, official county letterhead, matchbooks depicting images of the iconic county building, old photographs and more historical objects that tell bits of history of San Diego. The displays were designed by Jay Johnson, a longtime San Diego artist and former downtown gallery owner.
County Supervisors Ron Roberts and Greg Cox were on hand for a press event Tuesday touting the new displays. Roberts said the idea for the project came from work Johnson did at the San Diego County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa. Inside the Registrar of Voters building there, the artist literally dug through dumpsters and combed through various county collections of ephemera to create a large wall-mounted assemblage of historical objects, most related to voting in San Diego.
“I was jealous when I saw how well that turned out,” Roberts said. “So I asked my good friend Jay Johnson, who really is an artist in every sense of the word, if he would work with us to make a very special display for this building.”
Johnson set up his office in an old bank vault in the basement of the County Administration Center and got to work. For months, he pored over old photographs, dug through closets and looked through other piles of county possessions that’ve been collecting dust, and pulled out the things he found most interesting.
I asked Johnson if he thought of the resulting eight pieces as art, artifacts or a hybrid of the two.
“‘Hybrid’ is good because I had artistic license to arrange these any way I wanted and I really got into the artifacts, or the objects in the cases and that’s where I get to do my own design,” he said. “But the bulk of the project really was finding the photographs and graphics and maps and objects.”
In some cases, Johnson said he’d spot objects in photographs, like an over-sized golden key held by Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1938 dedication of the County Admin Center, and commission a replica.
“I had a full-scale mock-up of the displays on my wall in my studio and I had a pile of stuff I wanted to use,” he said. “So it was just like making art; arranging, rearranging and trying to tell a story, but not being didactic, you know, mainly just making it visually interesting to engage people’s curiosity and get them thinking about the history of this building.”
In recent years, Roberts has been behind a handful of public-art projects throughout the county. He’s the guy, for example, who shoe-horned in public art elements to Waterfront Park.
I asked him how he feels being the new Pam Slater-Price, the former county supervisor known for her support for the arts.
Roberts, though, bristled at the comparison.
“No, there’s a real difference,” he said. “She was behind arts groups. I’m behind art, which is different. I’m trying to integrate art in a way. … Like, look at these displays, the space it creates and the stories they tell. I think you’ll see people coming in and really knowing more about the incredible history of the county. And to use an artistic flair in the way we’ve designed these. … I really feel pretty good today.”
You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.
Horton Plaza Park Opening Date, Pappalecco’s Pizza and Other Arts and Culture News
• City officials finally announced an opening date for Horton Plaza Park, the new public plaza in front of Westfield’s Horton Plaza mall downtown. If all goes according to plan, the construction fence that’s been surrounding the new park will come down on May 4. The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Roger Showley included this bit about the new park:
“Westfield spokeswoman Kim Brewer said a website, hortonplazapark.com, was launched Monday to let local groups and businesses sign up to perform, meet or hold receptions and events in the park,” Showley writes. “Nonprofits will be able to hold events on Tuesdays at no charge and at other times at 50 percent of the going rate for renting equipment and other setup expenses.”
I recently wrote about Horton Plaza Park and a high quote the San Diego Opera got when they inquired about renting the space for a free community concert. I emailed Nicoles Reveles, the education director at the opera, and he said he’s happy Westfield, the private company that manages the new public park, has launched a friendlier program for local nonprofits.
“We at San Diego Opera are delighted that Westfield has opened up the opportunity for nonprofit arts organizations to take advantage of the performing space in the new Horton Plaza Park free of charge, and we hope to use the amphitheater in the near future for one of our free public events,” Reveles wrote in an email. “This resource will not only offer a public space for community engagement with the arts, but will also help raise the identity of downtown San Diego as an arts-friendly place and an arts destination. Bravo, Westfield.”
• It’s true. I was lurking around at this interview with CityBeat arts writer Seth Combs and developer Greg Strangman. The two were talking about Barrio Logan gentrification and a recent project Strangman opened in the neighborhood. The interview will be part of a piece I’m producing for the first episode of a new Voice of San Diego podcast called “San Diego Culturecast.” For the first season, I’ll be focusing soley on Barrio Logan. Email me your tips, story ideas and advice.
• Local drummer and writer Anders M. Larsson’s blog post about his artist friends and their work is fun to look through.
• Michael “Mick” Hager has been at the helm of the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park for 25 years. The U-T highlights his tenure.
• This well-known Carlsbad artist really didn’t want Measure A to pass (turns out he is on the winning side of the debate). The artist hand-painted dozens of signs urging people to vote no on the initiative, which would’ve green-lighted a big new mall development.
• There’s a late-night-style local television show called “Tonight in San Diego.” The show recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money to renovate the Raw Space Theatre, where they shoot the show. According to the campaign, the space was formally used as a storage space in the Spreckels’ building downtown.
• The craft coffee scene continues to grow. I recently wrote about some of San Diego’s craft coffee purveyors and the culture swirling around them.
• Dancer and choreographer Blythe Barton gets accolades for her most recent show. (San Diego Story)
• Meet a few of San Diego’s video artists. (CityBeat)
• This new cookbook by San Diego immigrants sounds like it could help make my kitchen smell delicious. (KPBS)
• An Encinitas school’s innovative food program makes an appearance in a documentary film.
• Pacific Gate, an under-construction luxury tower downtown, is officially selling units. They’ll cost you somewhere between $1.4 million and $20 million. (U-T). I wrote about the artsy marketing campaign behind the towers.
• San Diego’s Don Norman shot into the national spotlight this week when the podcast 99 Percent Invisible and Vox talked about his ideas behind designing things that make common sense.
• San Diego artist Nan Coffey launched a public-participation art project. (Facebook)
• Cathy Breslaw reviews “East Coast, West Coast, and In-Between: Harry Sternberg and America,” a show on view at the San Diego Museum of Art through May 8.
• I’m digging Vanguard Culture’s new “Poetic License” series on art studio visits.
• The U-T writes about all the cool new things happening at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. I wrote about one of those things, an installation by San Diego artist Dave Ghilarducci’s, in a recent Culture Report. I’m putting Ghilarducci on notice, though, because my 3-year-old threw a huge fit when my hubby tried to peel him away from the kid-friendly, hands-on maze of tape the artist created.
• USD’s new showcase of screen prints by pop artist Sister Corita Kent gets some love. (U-T)
• Mmmm. Cured meats.
• The East Village will be hugely impacted by the proposal to build a new downtown stadium for the Chargers. These folks want to talk about it.
• The Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation is working on a public art project to help beautify Chollas Creek (I wrote a bit about the project in a past Culture Report). Three proposed design concepts for the art will be on view this weekend, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., on the first floor of the Joe & Vi Jacobs Center at 404 Euclid Ave.
Get Cultured: Things to Do in San Diego This Week
• It’s a big week for visual arts at UC San Diego. The annual open studios and the Ph.D. symposium, both happening Saturday, are the main events, but there are several other exhibition openings and talks happening on campus this week.
• The Museum of Man in Balboa Park is opening an exhibit on cannibalism that includes a few hands-on experiences, including a video game that allows you to find out whether you’d do what the Donner Party did to survive.
• Eat, drink and be mutinously merry at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s annual Spring Thing fundraiser this Friday night.
• San Diego fine art photographer Philipp Scholz Rittermann’s large-scale photographs of China and its coal-powered pollution are showing in an exhibition opening at a La Jolla gallery Thursday.
• Explore craft beer bars in Kearny Mesa.
• Artist Don Porcella talks about his sometimes quirky approach to art-making.
• Museum nerds take note.
• This is not the first David Bowie art tribute and it won’t be the last.
• How is this talk with Sarah Koenig, host of the addictive podcast “Serial,” not sold out already?
• Feast on Swedish-inspired food in a Bankers Hill home-turned-contemporary-art gallery.
• The theme of this open-mic storytelling event in Golden Hill this month is women.
• Local art students made work in response to MCASD’s “Ed Ruscha Then & Now: Paintings from the 1960s and 2000s” exhibition. See the results on Friday.
• The Artist Odyssey, a team of artists and filmmakers, is releasing its fifth artist documentary with a public screening this Friday. The film features metalworking artist Anne Wolf.
• A trio of artists known as La Dubla will show work at Subtext Gallery. The show opens Friday.
• Peter Geise is a prolific local artist who sells his work at prices most folks can actually afford.
• Bach Collegium San Diego performs a concert Saturday that includes works by notable composers from the Iberian Peninsula.
• Burlesque dancers dress up as pop culture icons.
• Visual artists use fashion as their muse in this show opening in North Park.
• Celebrate the blooming of Japanese Friendship Garden’s cherry trees at an annual festival featuring cultural performances, Japanese street food, local vendors, kids’ activities, tea and beer.
• Folks will re-enact the Civil War at the Antique Gas and Steam Engine Museum in Vista.
• Modern Times Beer’s Festival of Funk is a your chance to sip sours, saisons and other funky brews.
• Latitude 33 Brewing Co.’s turning 4 and throwing a party.
• Street performers take center stage at Seaport Village’s annual Busker Festival happening this weekend.
• Barrio Logan’s La Bodega Gallery opens an exhibition featuring works by all female artists.
• Slow Food Urban San Diego is hosting a Slow Sips event at Tiger!Tiger!
• Surprise! Another beer festival. This one’s happening at Silo at Makers Quarter.
• Barrio Logan’s HB Punto Experimental gallery hosts a closing reception for a solo show by Beth King.
• The San Diego Vintage Flea Market sets up in the back lot of the North Park Observatory on Sunday.
• San Diego State University is hosting a TEDx rapid-fire speaking event.
• Gallery 21 in Balboa Park’s Spanish Villages is hosting a group show featuring paintings, pastels, sculpture, photography and more.
• Non-Standard Lit is an edgy reading series held at Gym Standard in North Park. It’s happening this week.
• Drink beer and talk about science.
• Fresh Sound presents an intimate concert in Logan Heights next Tuesday with Ashley Bathgate, the cellist for New York’s Bang on a Can All-Stars.
• The recently opened Muramid Mural Museum and Art Center in Oceanside opens an art exhibit this week.
• St. Madeleine’s Sophie’s Center, a nonprofit that provides services to people with disabilities, operates a gallery in Kensington. There’s a group art show opening this week.
• The Congress of History of San Diego and Imperial Counties will focus on past transgressions in local history at its annual conference.
• Storytellers of San Diego are doing their thing in South Park this week.
• Mexico-based journalist Marcela Turati will speak at this year’s International Women’s Day Breakfast.
• Debut novelist Mo Daviau talks about and signs her new book in La Jolla.
• Hear Noura Mint Seymali play a nine-string harp reserved only for women.
• Artist and SDSU professor Matthew Hebert won one of this year’s Creative Catalyst grants. The installation he created is on view at California Center for the Arts in Escondido. The show closes with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 5.
• This tattoo in South Park hosts art exhibitions. There’s one opening this week.
• Women who have positively impacted San Diego County are getting acknowledged.
• Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of “The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America,” is giving a talk at UCSD.
• Photographer David Fokos will discuss his process and inspiration for his artwork showing now at Sparks Gallery.
• SDSU’s theater department opens “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
• San Diego Opera presents a concert with Italian bass, Ferruccio Furlanetto.
• La Jolla galleries and other small businesses offer specials Friday for the La Jolla Nights event.
• The San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering kicks off Saturday.
• KPBS and the San Diego Children’s Discovery Museum team up for this series of workshops for kids ages 3 and up.
• The San Diego Bird Festival sounds educational and fun.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Philipp Scholz Rittermann’s name.