Homelessness is spiking in San Diego.

When the arts nonprofit The Aja Project set out to address one of the city’s biggest hot-button issues, it briefly considered tackling sex trafficking or the drought, but ultimately decided it had to focus on the people living on the streets.

“Homelessness definitely rose to the top as the loudest social conversation happening in San Diego right now,” said Melinda Chiment, executive director of The AjA Project.

The arts group, known for its public art that addresses social issues and enrolls community members in the creative process, kicked off the homelessness project with a discussion between various stakeholders, including service providers, advocates, activists, business owners and people who’ve been homelessness in the past.

Aja held more workshops and conversations and eventually found nine community participants who were photographed, filmed and asked to offer their takes on homelessness. The resulting project is called “(Un)Sheltered + Conversations,” and it includes a large photo mural mounted at Sixth Avenue and Pennsylvania Street in Hillcrest, plus an online media gallery where folks can listen to the interviews and upload their own stories, photos and videos about homelessness in San Diego.

Maria Ríos-Mathioudakis, Aja’s program and artistic coordinator who took the lead on the project, said the goal of the mural and website is to keep pushing the conversation about homelessness forward.

“We’re definitely trying to share the different perspectives people have and the different solution proposed by participants, but a big part of what we’re trying to do is get inside people’s brain and get them to look at the issue of homelessness differently,” she said.

In the videos, Aja had a community participant ask one another a question, essentially passing the mic as they address various aspects of homelessness.

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell, for example, is asked by another participant about what’s keeping business owners and homeless people from talking to one another to come up with better solutions.

McConnell answers by addressing the common myths that homelessness is not solvable or that most people living on the streets want to be there.

Both the mural and the website will be up indefinitely. Chiment said she expects the project to continue with perhaps more workshops, discussions and art installations.

“For now, I feel like this is the first iteration,” she said. “I’d say stay tuned.”

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Dancing Around the Issues

Live Arts Fest is a nine-day dance festival happening April 12-23 at San Diego Dance Theater’s White Box Live Arts space at Arts District Liberty Station.

Both local and international dancers and choreographers will be presenting works that don’t shy away from today’s biggest political issues.

Photo by Manny  Rotenberg
Photo by Manny Rotenberg

Dance may not be able to present straightforward discussions about political topics, but many of the pieces in this year’s Live Arts Fest have clear messages communicated through movement, emotion, music and art installations. The lineup includes a dance addressing climate change by choreographer Jean Isaacs and a dance by Erica Buechner and Lara Segura that tackles gender identification.

“It’s not like we specifically went out and said we were going to create a festival based on current issues, it just happened this way, and this is what these artists wanted to create right now,” said San Diego Dance Theater Executive Director Matt Carney. “I think it’s so nice to be able to deal with some of this stuff without words for once.”

Just Saying No to Public Art Donations, the Symphony’s New Season and More Arts and Culture News

• The Port of San Diego’s art committee said no to the offer of a free piece of public art, reports the Union-Tribune. The committee’s explanation is similar to the one given by the San Diego International Airport’s art advisory committee, which last year said declined a donation of a bronze statue of Bill Walton. Basically, both organizations have solid public art plans and donations don’t typically follow the guidelines and ideals they have in place.

• The San Diego Symphony announced its 2017-2018 season with a video sampling of some of the highlights. The San Diego Union-Tribune talked to symphony CEO Martha Gilmer about the ongoing search for a music director and the combination of classics, new pieces and wide variety of artists in the coming season.

• Shinpei Takeda’s full-gallery art installation focused on phobias is on display at the San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery through Thursday. KPBS talked to the artist about his show, which involved interviewing 30 people about their fears.

• The U-T previewed The Old Globe’s coming play based on the Great Recession’s impact on Detroit.

• Artist Perry Vásquez has presented his “The Gates of Heck” multimedia performance art piece at a few different venues in San Diego. Those who missed the live version can pick up his new “The Gates of Heck” album. (U-T)

• This intimate annual desert music fest exists to boost the San Diego music scene and bring attention to the under-appreciated Desert View Tower.

• San Diego is a city of villages, and CityBeat has been doing a deep dive on what makes each one unique. The latest takes readers to Barrio Logan and highlights Chicano Park, Mexican food, galleries, a custom piñata shop and more.

• A local curator is bothered by people co-opting interest in the border right now and organizing art shows that don’t do border art justice. Read the comments, though, because some folks think the UCSD show she’s focusing her critique on is just fine.

• Speaking of border art, a new mural opposing the proposed border wall was unveiled at Chicano Park over the weekend.

• Rep. Darrell Issa is one of the authors of a new bill meant to bring U.S. copyright law in line with most other countries when it comes to terrestrial radio stations paying artists and record labels. (Complete Music Update)

• The San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition is meeting Wednesday to talk about public policy and funding issues at the local, state and national levels and to discuss the  region’s cultural tourism program.

• ICYMI (because I missed this U-T story somehow), El Cajon city leaders are in talks with LiveNation, which could end up managing the long-shuttered East County Performing Arts Center. The city had been talking to The Rock Church about becoming a part-time tenant, but those negotiations fell through.

KPBS featured two new mural programs in Lincoln Park and Oceanside.

• City Council approved a development project that would require the demolition of the old California Theatre building, reports KPBS. That means the murals on the outside of the building will be destroyed, too, but the developers say their project will include a replica of one of the murals and a depiction of the historic building.

• One critic mostly loves San Diego Repertory Theatre’s “Into the Beautiful North.” Another, not so much. (U-T, San Diego Story)

• San Diego State University is hosting a weeklong conversation about the future of design in education.

Food, Beer and Booze News

Karl Strauss joined the growing list of local restaurants adding surcharges in response to new state and local minimum wage increases.

• Here’s what the U-T thinks you should eat next time you go to Petco Park.

• North Park’s Waypoint Public just opened a new location in North County, reports Eater. The new restaurant will feature a few new art installations by artist Oscar Romo.

• San Diego Magazine has more on You & Yours Distilling Co., the new woman-owned East Village distillery.

Join a discussion Thursday about the future of San Diego Bay and its relationship to fishing harbors.

• CityBeat’s annual Beer Issue will make you LOL. It’ll also make you thirsty.

• A few Little Italy eateries got some outside press from The Mercury News.

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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