An affordable housing developer is using dance and exercise classes as a community-building tool in southeastern San Diego.

Seattle-based Vitus Group recently renovated Meadowbrook, an apartment complex in Skyline that was known as being a rundown, high-crime area that nearby residents avoided.

“It had a really bad reputation before the remodel,” said Courtney Lewis, who lives nearby. “People were like, ‘Oh, I’m not going there.’ But it’s so nice now. The difference is like night and day.”

Now Lewis, whose sister lives at Meadowbrook, finds herself frequenting the apartment complex. Over the past several weeks, she and her sister have been taking advantage of a free, 40-day dance, exercise and nutrition program led by modern dancer Elia Mrak.

Stephen Whyte, the CEO of Vitus Group, which specializes in affordable housing, had taken a similar 40-day program with Mrak before. He wanted to provide it for tenants of some of the company’s low-income developments. Whyte said he saw it as similar to building a community garden or computer lab – another amenity that could help neighbors meet and build a sense of community, which would ultimately contribute to a project’s success. But first both Whyte and Mrak wanted to see if it would work, so they launched an experimental pilot program at Meadowbrook a few weeks ago.

“The classes definitely led people to meet each other and end up being friends and caring about one another,” said Mrak, who just wrapped up his 40-day residency at Meadowbrook. “I think Vitus Group wants to build and facilitate communities that really are that – a community. It’s not just bout remodeling the hardware, but including software, or services and programming, in the project that really can empower people and give people opportunity and access to things – health, movement and art being some of them.”

Over the past few weeks, dozens of adults and kids who live at Meadowbrook have been taking classes with Mrak. Over the weekend, some of the kids did a live dance performance at a festival hosted at Meadowbrook.

Lewis says she and the other women who took Mrak’s classes, which use deconstructed dance moves meant to make moving and exercising more fun and less daunting, want to continue getting together even though the program is over.

“We’re going to continue to get together several times a week so we can keep doing everything Elia has taught us,” she said. “It’s been really a life changing thing because we weren’t taking the time for us – most of us are busy moms with young kids and we’re always doing things for them and nothing for ourselves. So this was a reminder that we need to take care of ourselves in order to be better moms.”

Mrak said he thinks the pilot program achieved its goals, and he hopes Vitus Group will start rolling it out at other affordable housing projects across the country.

“The human body is the most powerful agent of change,” Mrak said. “And if you invest in it in a sustainable way, by doing dance and movement practices, the payback is huge.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news. Sign up here to get the weekly report delivered to your inbox. 

No Public Art on Seven City Buildings

The city of San Diego has a policy requiring 2 percent of the cost of city construction projects be spent on public art. But back in 2011, former Mayor Jerry Sanders suspended the public art policy for roughly 13 months, and now there are seven city construction projects in the pipeline that won’t have any art integrated in them.

I talked to folks who think art should be added back in to the artless city projects. I also talked to the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, which manages the public art program, but didn’t get any specifics in terms of plans to do something about the fire stations and other city buildings that won’t have public art.

The Big Louis Kahn Show at SDMA, Chicano Park’s Status Update and Other Arts and Culture News

The Los Angeles Times’ architectural critic stopped by the San Diego Museum of Art’s Louis Kahn retrospective and called it a densely packed “pleasure to walk through” before going on to fill in some of the context and connections the critic says are missing from the exhibition.

• A painting of LeBron James was stolen during a hip-hop festival in San Diego over the weekend. (Fox 5 San Diego)

• Thanksgiving is just about here, which means it’s an appropriate time to start thinking about “The Nutcracker” and other holiday traditions. KPBS put out its annual guide to where you can see the show in San Diego.

• Chicano Park is one step closer to getting its status as a National Historic Landmark. (U-T)

ICYMI, one of my past podcast episodes focuses on Chicano Park and the effort to build a museum to better communicate the park’s historic importance.

• Local artist and arts educator Virgil Sales Yalong Jr. passed away and friends and family are raising money to pay for his funeral services and related costs.

• Y’all can expect to see 10 new murals go up in downtown Oceanside over the next three years thanks to the efforts of MainStreet Oceanside, which hopes to attract people to the city to see the new public art project. (The Coast News Group)

• See the works of a longtime La Jollan architect-turned-artist at a retrospective on view at the Oceanside Museum of Art through Feb. 5. (La Jolla Light)

• Over the weekend, the Port of San Diego opened a new temporary outdoor art exhibit, “Bench Party,” at the north end of Bayside Park in Chula Vista. Artist team Jose Parral and Tasia Paulson installed more than 30 sculptures that function as benches on a piece of tidal land that has been neglected and widely unknown to the public in an effort to attract more people to the place.

Photojournalist Gordon Parks’ work focused on civil rights, poverty and African-Americans. The U-T covers an exhibition of Parks’ photos showing now at the Veterans Museum of Balboa Park.

• SoundDiego says these eight new San Diego bands are the best.

• The U-T’s Karla Peterson continues her experiential series “Test Drive” by dropping by one of the monthly Downtown at Sundown events at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

• A local quilter immortalized San Diego jazz pianist Joshua White in fabric. (U-T)

• The saga of the yard art in La Jolla continues, this week with what art lovers will consider a positive turn. The sculpture, which was deemed an illegal structure by the city, has been relocated to another area in the artist’s yard and it’s OK to remain there.

Nine new buildings will be added to Balboa park’s collection of international cottages. (City News Service)

• CityBeat arts editor Seth Combs thinks you should see a creative feminist exhibition currently showing at the Women’s Museum of California in Liberty Station.

Check out this C-span clip featuring San Diego musician and activist Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, who recently passed away.

• Here’s the backstory on Sonya Sparks and her Gaslamp gallery that shows work made by San Diego artists.

• Producing plays that have never been produced before isn’t easy, but La Jolla Playhouse isn’t about to slow its roll when it comes to bringing world-premiere productions to San Diego. The theater company just announced its 2017/2018 season and it includes lots of new plays like the highly anticipated “Escape to Margaritaville,” a musical based on songs by Jimmy Buffett. (U-T)

I love this new bench wrap created by graphic design students at San Diego State University.

• Local female artists unhappy about the election of Donald Trump are getting together and staging an art exhibition next Tuesday.

• Moxie Theatre’s current production about lesbian parenting is getting good reviews. (Reader)

• A UC San Diego student urges fellow students to use art to voice their resistance and engage in civil discourse. (San Diego Free Press)

• The San Diego Museum of Art dug out over 300 works from storage to stage “Visible Vaults,”an interactive exhibition showing through next November.

• Black Friday is, of course, a big-time shopping thing, but Small Business Saturday events are on the rise, hoping to encourage folks to spend their money locally.

• Check out this new mural by teens served by Father Joe‘s Villages’ Toussaint program.

• Verbatim Books in North Park just put up a display of zines, hard-to-find, DIY-style magazines often made by artists and poets.

• For some folks, heading up to the Glass Ranch sale in Escondido is a Thanksgiving Day tradition.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• I was literally just talking to a coworker about how I was giving up my annual tradition of making artisanal cranberry sauce this Thanksgiving because my father-in-law and other family members demand on having the canned stuff at the table anyway. San Diego Magazine’s Troy Johnson says go ahead and give it up because everyone secretly loves the canned stuff anyway. I’m glad to learn my family is not alone on this. Johnson’s got a few other helpful tips on how to handle the holiday this year.

The annual Eater Awards winners have been announced.

A new sushi and raw fish joint by San Diego State University is hosting a grand opening party this week.

The Vegan Thanksgiving Feast is a thing that happens every year in San Diego.

The Reader’s Ian Anderson says the Midway District has grown into a coffee-roasting hub.

Here’s a rundown of a few restaurants that will impress your date. (ThereSanDiego)

Strange San Diego dishes will be featured on tonight’s episode of The Travel Channel’s “Bizarre Foods: Delicious Destinations.” (Eater San Diego)

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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