UC San Diego’s University Art Gallery made headlines last year when the space lost its funding and only full-time staffer. CityBeat reported that some UCSD professors thought the space would ultimately close while others held out hope.

In recent weeks, though, all remaining hopes were squashed when it became clear that the gallery would become a classroom in order to accommodate a swelling student population.

“Proposals to fund the gallery have been put forward recently, but the university must evaluate these options in the context of other pressing needs,” according to a university statement. “Since 2014-15 the undergraduate population has grown by almost 1,700. We will add approximately 1,300 students in 2016-17, and UC San Diego has a mandate to further increase enrollments in the two years that follow.”

A report released earlier this year called out the UC system for its increased enrollment of higher-paying nonresidents, making it more difficult for California residents – some more qualified than their out-of-state counterparts – to gain admission to the schools.

Ricardo Dominguez, an associate professor in the arts department, said when he and fellow staffers found out that the gallery was being turned over for use as a classroom, they were left scrambling to find new space for exhibitions that had already been scheduled.

Luckily, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego agreed to host an exhibition of graduate students’ work in its downtown location, something Dominguez said UCSD officials tried to spin as an example of the school strategically “turning its lens to the greater San Diego community” by “taking our students and their work to the public.”

“They tried to say the masters of fine arts exhibition at MCASD was somehow the product of administration,” he said. “But that was specifically developed by faculty.”

Dominguez said he knows the university is in dire need of more classrooms, but he pointed to vacant basement space at the campus’ Mandeville Center as a better option. He said he sees the administration’s move to close the gallery as part of a larger trend of devaluing arts and culture on campus.

“I do feel that the University of California San Diego is creating an atmosphere of cultural deletion,” he said. “Or cultural erasure of the communities that function within the wider arena of arts and humanities.”

University officials have pointed to other gallery spaces on campus as options for continuing some of the programming previously held at the University Art Gallery, but Dominguez said those are more limited in who can show there and what kind of work can be presented. He said the University Art Gallery was the only space open to graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and visiting artists — performance artist Marina Abramović set up shop in the gallery just last year.

In attempt to bring attention to the decision to close the gallery, Tae Hwang and MR Barnadas, who work together under the pseudonym Collective Magpie, are staging a protest and asking the community to participate.

“With the closure of the University Art Gallery the University of California, San Diego is devaluing the arts and disavowing, disrupting and obscuring its rich artistic legacy,” Collective Magpie wrote in a statement. “The loss of the University Art Gallery in 2016 is a loss for all of us and a stain on the University of California, San Diego’s artistic legacy and reputation as the cultural center of San Diego.”

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

When Clowns Go Viral

Earlier this month, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform conducted a hearing on the management of the Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency that runs airport security. Despite agent shortages that were causing increasingly long lines at airports across the country, top officials were enjoying big bonuses. The congressional scrutiny led to the TSA head’s ouster this week.

As the TSA drama was unfolding, the San Diego International Airport held an unrelated press event announcing the new residency of Fern Street Circus, a local performing arts troupe.


The residency is part of the airport’s arts program, an effort to improve traveler experience and reduce stress. But national media linked the local airport’s new circus residency to the national story about long lines and TSA mismanagement, often reporting that the San Diego airport was trying to distract passengers from their frustrating waits by parading clowns in front of them.

Inevitably, the creepy clown trope surfaced and cheap jokes abounded, making their way in to Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue of “The Late Show,” an act in NPR’s “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” a strange segment on Fox News and more.

“The story sort of kept morphing and got more and more conflated with the TSA delays,” said Fern Street Circus co-director John Highkin. “But we’ll take the renown.”

Highkin said it was interesting to watch the story unravel. He and his wife, Cindy Zimmerman, who helps run the circus, said some media folks like Colbert actually helped by explaining how airports can be thought of as community centers that deserve public programming and art.

“The residency is in line with airport programs everywhere, which are recognizing that public life often now is conducted in regulated spaces, and that (like libraries, county administration buildings, university campuses) airports can be a location for art, culture and other pursuits that help manifest what it means to be human in the 21st Century,” Zimmerman wrote on Facebook.

Highkin said they’re used to the whole fear-of-clowns thing at this point.

“Yeah, that comes out,” he said. “We just try to clown in a way that’s gentle and connects with people.”

• The San Diego International Airport, by the way, is looking for someone to run its performing arts program.

A Changing of Guards at MCASD, Oceanside Museum Lets Leader Go and Other Arts and Culture News

Hugh M. Davies has led the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego for decades. Come October, he’ll hand over the reins to deputy director Kathryn Kanjo. Davies, meanwhile, will stick around for a few years to head the major renovation and expansion of MCASD’s La Jolla location. (Los Angeles Times)

Courtesy of MCASD / Photo by Stacy Keck
Photo by Stacy Keck, courtesy of MCASD

Kanjo detailed the expansion project and talked more about the future of MCASD on KPBS’s “Midday Edition” last week.

A number of folks in the Twittersphere praised the museum for appointing a woman to its lead role.

The art world has increasingly been called out for its gender gap. A 2014 study, for example, found that women held  about 42 percent of art museum directorships and, on average, female directors earned about 79 cents for every dollar that male directors earned.

In the past few years, though, the number of women running arts museums in the country has been growing.

• James F. Peck is no longer leading the Oceanside Museum of Art. The museum announced last week that it was parting ways with its executive director, who held the post for just five months. Here’s the museum’s full announcement, which is vague on details.

 KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando wrote an impassioned Facebook post about the importance of arts journalism and shared the news that the station will not replace Angela Carone, another arts reporter who recently left for a new job. The news comes on the heels of the U-T’s decision not to replace longtime arts and music critic James Chute, who retired late last year. Instead, the paper’s turned to freelancers and staffers who cover other beats.

Check out these photos from one of the improvement projects from the annual Take Back the Alley event last weekend. Students from High Tech High Chula Vista, City Heights artist Vicki Leon and nonprofits like the City Heights Community Development Corporation, El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association and LISC San Diego joined forces to turn a thrift store parking lot into a community gathering space. The project is the latest in an ongoing effort to continue building the Fairmount Arts Corridor in City Heights.

Just down the street from Fairmount Avenue, the two barren transit plazas running over State Route 15 at University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard are getting closer to seeing some improvements thanks to an effort led by the City Heights CDC, El Cajon Boulevard BIA and the Urban Land Institute San Diego-Tijuana District Council.

The story behind 12-year-old Nolan Cooley’s art is worth a read. (DiscoverSD)

Michael James Armstrong has again used thousands of threads to create an art installation that simply has to be seen in person at the right time of day to fully appreciate. The show opened over the weekend at the new Quint Projects gallery in Bay Ho but can be still be seen by appointment. (CityBeat)

The Design Kids talk to local designer, artist and San Diego State professor Arzu Ozkal about all kinds of things, including her upcoming residency in Europe, where a collective she’s part of will work with mothers and children in refugee camps.

The Museum of Photographic Arts announced the creation of a new department.

The Padres and the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ national anthem saga continues.

Kristen Fogle, executive director of San Diego Writers, Ink, tells the U-T about the nonprofit’s literary programs and goals.

Here’s a list of the San Diego County arts and culture organizations that got some of the latest grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. (U-T)

• San Diego Repertory Theatre’s annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival kicks off May 27. (Broadway World)

Circulate San Diego followed up on the city’s lack of parklets by comparing our city’s program to San Francisco’s.

Check out the trailer for the new Fox series being filmed in San Diego.

Lots of Balboa Park institutions are staying open late on Fridays starting this week.

Here’s the naked truth about Balboa Park’s history (warning: both simulated and real nudity ahead).

Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Hollywood,” “Camp David” and “Tokyo Fish Story” are all plays you might want to consider seeing, all for very different reasons. (U-T)

Food, Beer and Booze News

• Not all monthly subscription services are lame or annoying. This one sends you craft cocktails in a box. (San Diego Magazine)

• I could eat raw fish all day, every day. So I’m stoked about the uptick in poke (a raw fish salad dish) restaurants in San Diego. I’m not alone. There’s an I Love Poke Festival happening Tuesday night. (U-T)

Farming just got a lot easier in Encinitas. (Encinitas Advocate)

Pairing mug shots with cocktails and food – why not?

There’s more beer in Liberty Station. (West Coaster)

• The annual San Diego County Fair media party happened, which means there’s a bunch of stories about cray-cray deep-fried food. (KPBS)

Stone Brewing is giving wine country a try. (bizjournals.com)

There’s a new all-outdoor eatery in La Jolla. (San Diego Eater)

The annual Tijuana Craft Beer Expo is happening this weekend. (DiscoverSD)

• This National City native is taking full advantage of her recent “MasterChef” win. (San Diego Magazine)

• San Diego Magazine’s Troy Johnson gives folks a look at the newest Carnitas Snack Shack set to open at downtown’s embarcadero. The piece, though, might lead you to believe that the local design firm Tecture is responsible for some of the space’s most noticeable artsy elements. In fact, the building Carnitas Snack Shack is in is actually a part of the Port of San Diego’s public art collection and the unique design of the building is by Los Angeles artist Pae White.

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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