Old Town is for tourists. That’s the general consensus anyway, but now a group of landlords and their tenants are working to create a place locals might actually like.

A collection of brightly colored, wooden, 1920s-era cottages stands at the corner of Congress and Twiggs streets. The building was purchased in December by three couples who now call the compound “Old Town Local.” In the few weeks they’ve owned it, the landlords have already filled it with San Diego artists, craftsmen and entrepreneurs.

“We wanted to create a symbiotic relationship between the tenants so they’re enhancing each other rather than competing against each other,” said Chris Bessenecker, one of the new owners. “All of the shops in the complex offer something unique. … We want it to be a cool destination for locals.”

So far, the building includes the new location of Jave Joe’s, a live music venue and coffee shop, a cigar and wine bar that relocated from Coronado, a fruit stand, a local jeweler, other craftspeople and Starbaby Studios, a new fine art gallery.

Ben Darby, a local artist and one of the five folks who runs Starbaby Studios, said the landlords lured them into the space by offering a price and terms they couldn’t refuse. They were all hesitant, because Old Town is where people buy trinkets, not locally made fine art, but he said they’ve slowly grown confident that they’ll be able to make it work.

“We’re taking the art scene into our own hands, trying to find a place to show stuff,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot of negative talk about the art scene lately and I wanted to make a positive spin and do it ourselves and see what comes.”

Starbaby Studios will host an art exhibition opening from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3. The first show will feature works by the artists who run the space: Darby, Chris Reilly, Michelle Haglund and Amy Pachowicz.

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. 

Spoken Word Opera Is Now a Thing, But Does it Have an Audience?

Gill Sotu has been tasked with solving a problem that’s long plagued performing arts groups: How do you get a younger, more diverse audience to show up?

Photo courtesy of Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation
Photo courtesy of the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation

As the current artist-in-residence at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, he’s been asked to engage southeastern San Diego and produce work the residents there might enjoy.

His latest creation is “Ordinary Magic,” a performance happening at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Joan Kroc Theatre in Rolando. Sotu describes the two-hour show as a spoken-word opera.

“We have the depth of spoken word poetry mixed with the coolness of soul music and the beauty of the operatic voice,” he said.

There’s hip-hop in it, too, and Sotu said he thinks black, Latino and other young people who might not normally attend the theater or opera will dig it. But he’s a little worried that they might not actually show up.

A billboard advertising the show stands near the Starbucks on Euclid Avenue, and Sotu and the Jacobs Center have otherwise focused marketing efforts toward the neighborhoods in southeastern San Diego that the nonprofit serves.

“But it’s difficult,” he said. “It’s not an easy task to get young minorities in a theater.”

He said part of the problem is the price of live theater (tickets to his show are about $20, much cheaper than most theater and opera productions). He said another issue is that mainstream theater has traditionally produced shows that don’t speak to people of color.

“Live theater, a lot of it is not catered to us – it’s really not our story,” Sotu said. “But I think this show is so unique and different, and the people who know about spoken word will definitely come out.”

The State of S.D. Art, the Local Impact of Federal Arts Funding and Other Culture News

• What are some concrete examples of things that could be done to make San Diego a better place for artists to live and work? That’s what Bread & Salt owner Jim Brown said he hopes comes from an upcoming panel discussion happening at 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11. I’ll be moderating the talk. It’s free, but RSVPs are required.

• President Donald Trump’s staff reportedly wants to make moves to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that funds arts groups across the country. inewsource talked to local arts groups that have received NEA grants about the impact they’d feel if Trump does end up gutting the institution.

• The artsy birdhouses at Tweet Street Park in Cortez Hill are gone. But don’t worry, the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture is doing some restoration/conservation work and the public art pieces will be returned soon.

• The U-T has the story on the first-ever AMT Festival, a three-day event put on by the San Diego Art Institute, Fleet Science Center and Southwestern College.

• Steve Martin’s 1993 play “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is being revived by the Old Globe Theatre. Here’s the conversation between Martin and the U-T’s James Hebert.

• Christopher Ashley reflects on his 10 years as artistic director at La Jolla Playhouse. (KPBS)

• San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre is the host of this year’s national Shakespeare in Prisons Conference. (U-T)

• We’ve all wondered about what goes on behind the intergalactic mural painted on the outside of the Unarius Academy of Science’s building in El Cajon. Thanks to CityBeat’s Ryan Bradford, we don’t have to wonder any longer.

• This new La Mesa business wants to make sure local art remains in the city that’s quickly changing and developing. (La Mesa Courier)

• A pile of junk has been turned into a new playground at the New Children’s Museum.

• The annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival is back at the Museum of Photographic Arts this week with six thought-provoking documentaries.

• Next Tuesday, art critic Robert Pincus will moderate a discussion with Ruth Berson, the deputy museum director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, about the recent expansion of the museum.

• This ambitious dance theater project sounds like something San Diego’s culture crowd should be excited about.

• I finally made it to see the Louis Kahn exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art last week. This weekend is your last chance, since it comes down Jan. 31.

The East Village is getting super close to having its own neighborhood landmark sign, and it’s nothing like the ones you see in North Park or Barrio Logan.

• People seem to either love or hate the modernist building that housed Macy’s at Westfield Mission Valley mall. KPBS talked to an architectural photographer who loves it and is worried about its future now that Macy’s is closing.

Some of the works in the “Dimensions of Black” exhibition showing at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego through the end of April take the issue of racism head on, but others are more abstract or focused on other concepts. (U-T)

• San Diego’s biggest Lunar New Year festival is happening this weekend.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• Anthony’s Fish Grotto’s longtime downtown waterfront location is closing.

 Fermenting food is a trend that has lasted. San Diego’s annual Fermentation Festival is Saturday.

• There’s a newly refashioned bar at George’s at the Cove in La Jolla and its Craft at the Cove cocktail series sounds delicious. (U-T)

Anyone who’s earned the nickname “ScoopDogg” automatically has my business. (U-T)

• Modern Luxury doesn’t want you to be cheap this Valentine’s Day.

The Reader thinks mead, the alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey, could be the next big craft boom in San Diego.

• Who doesn’t like to get in on a good secret? This local chef is hosting a pop-up event somewhere in Barrio Logan, but you have to pay for tickets before you find out exactly where. (Eater San Diego)

• Liberty Call Distilling in Spring Valley is releasing its latest batch of whiskey on Saturday.

Kinsee Morlan is the 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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