San Diego artist and architectural designer James Hubbell is known for his whimsical, otherworldly buildings and sculptures that use nature as inspiration. His family home in Santa Ysabel is a magical place that the public is invited to tour once a year in June. The tours almost always sell out.

Lesser known, though, is Hubbell’s Pacific Rim Park Project, a nonprofit effort that has successfully built seven small public parks at international locations along the Pacific Ocean. The parks all include art designed by Hubbell, and are constructed by teams of students and volunteers.

So far, there are parks in Russia, Mexico, China, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States.

Touring the two small parks in Tijuana and San Diego and learning more about the Pacific Rim Park Project is on the bill as part of this weekend’s Gateway Conversations, a three-day event exploring the role of public art in international relations.

Marianne Gerdes, executive director of Ilan-Lael, the arts education foundation founded by Hubbell and his wife Anne, said with all the focus on building a border wall, the timing of the event couldn’t have been better.

“It’s a poignant and important counterpoint to the current rhetoric,” she said. “It’s important that we reaffirm the value of our friendships with other cultures and use art as a peaceful way to engage with them.”

The ticketed event will take attendees to locations in San Diego, Tijuana, Rosarito and Santa Ysabel. Gerdes said the talks and tours will hopefully lead people to take a more active role in cross-cultural collaborations.

“As a binational city, we need to rise and take our place,” she said. “There’s a lot going on between San Diego and Tijuana and we need to recognize that as an asset. The cultural exchange is a benefit to us … Some of us pretend it doesn’t exist, but it’s essential to who we are, and we should own it.”

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Less Money, More Visitors?

Last year, the San Diego History Center dropped its $10 admission fee and asked visitors to “pay-it-forward,” or consider offering a donation that covers the admission for the next visitor.

Bill Lawrence, executive director of the San Diego History Center, talked to KPBS about the shift, and shrugged off the drop in revenue it’s caused.

“The revenue aspects are less than 5 percent of our overall budget,” he said. “It’s still too soon to tell the true effect of this program, because really this is a long-term gain.”

Lawrence said dropping a set admission has resulted in a sizable uptick in visits. But more importantly, he said the new program was meant to build stronger relationships with attendees and connect more with the San Diego community.

“For us, it’s a cultural change,” he told KPBS. “It’s the long-term relationships that we build that will ultimately make the institution successful.”

The History Center is not alone in its endeavor to increase visitor engagement by experimenting with admission prices. It’s an international trend, and locally, the Museum of Photographic Arts has been its pioneer.

MOPA launched a donation-based admissions model as an experiment just a few days a week in 2015. The sharp increase in the number of people who visited the museum led it to go fully donation-based last year.

“We have eliminated one of the barriers to entry and as a result our attendance has increased by 20 percent,” wrote MOPA’s marketing an communications manager Danielle Lewis-Richardson.

She said under 10 percent of the budget has been affected by the new admissions model, and the increased attendance continues. Admission was $8, and she said the average donation now hovers around $5.

Other San Diego cultural institutions are watching MOPA and the History Center and considering making admission changes of their own. A spokesperson for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego said they’ve discussed moving toward a donations-based model, but have no plans to make any changes yet.

At the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, leaders there have launched a new program that offers free admission every third Tuesday of the month. A spokesperson said the first day of free admission brought in over 2,000 attendees – a number the museum they typically only sees during big events like December Nights.

Not all experts agree that free or donation-based admission is the best way to increase visitor engagement and reach people who’ve traditionally been underserved by cultural institutions. But Lewis-Richardson said she thinks it’s a no-brainer that removing one of the biggest barriers to entry – a set admission price – is an effective way to get more people through the door. She said she expects the trend to hit other San Diego institutions slowly since it’s a big shift from the traditional museum model.

“Moving away from it takes guts,” she said.

San Diego Opera’s New Season, an Artsy Airport and Other Arts and Culture News

• More San Diego cultural institutions are  joining the campaign to urge City Council members to resist the mayor’s proposed cuts to arts funding.

• The San Diego Museum of Art has moved 300 pieces of art out of its storage vaults that are now on public view. (San Diego Union-Tribune)

• The city selected artist Rob Ley to create a piece of public art for the new Chollas Water Operations Facility in Oak Park and community members are invited to talk to Ley one-on-one on Thursday. I’ve written about the accessibility problems that come with public art at water facilities.

• There’s a new gallery in Sherman Heights and it’s hosting a closing reception Thursday.

• The San Diego International Airport selected local dance troupe transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project for its performing arts residency. The airport launched its new performing arts program last year. It allows arts groups to “develop and perform new work over the course of one year that is inspired by, and enlivens, the airport environment.”

• What is really going on in Barrio Logan? That’s the question a panel will tackle Thursday morning. I asked that same question in my podcast series last year that looked at the artistic renaissance and gentrification happening there. I recently got an email from a grad student at San Diego State who said he used some of my podcasts and articles on the subject in researching his thesis on the subject, which he’ll be presenting at a public event Monday.

• Valencia Park residents can take music classes regardless of their ability to pay, thanks to a Villa Musica.

• Culture Shock Dance Troupe, So Say We All and The Roots Factory are among the recipients of a new grant from the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. The arts groups will work with community members to create projects and events meant to boost community pride and help raise the profile of neighborhoods in southeastern San Diego.

• On Saturday, folks can enjoy free acoustic music shows at venues spread out along a two-mile stretch of Adams Avenue.

• “San Diego Opera’s next season will be unlike any other in the company’s 52-year history,” writes the Union-Tribune’s Pam Kragen.

• KPBS talked to the author of a new book on the history of lowrider car culture in San Diego County.

• Muralist Mario Torero will be one of hundreds of artists showing their work at the Mission Federal ArtWalk in Little Italy Saturday and Sunday, April 29-30.

Cygnet Theatre is trying something new: an improvised musical based on a single audience suggestion. (Union-Tribune)

• Check out Haven Pizzeria’s big, beautiful piece of art by San Diego artist and designer Jason Xavier Lane.

• Artist David Peña splits his time between San Diego and Tijuana. Here’s a quick video of him painting a new mural in TJ.

• One of my fave local events is happening this weekend: The San Diego Museum of Art is hosting its annual “Art Alive” exhibition featuring more than 100 floral interpretations of its paintings and sculptures.

• The executive director of the San Diego Art Institute has officially left her post for Tucson and CityBeat has this fond farewell.

• Business owners in Paradise Hills are replacing street graffiti with art. (NBC7)

The annual “Big Exchange” program that gives members of participating cultural organizations reciprocal admission at 31 museums kicks off May 1.

• Julian Duval, CEO of the San Diego Botanic Gardens, sat down with the Union-Tribune for a Q-and-A.

• NBC’s SoundDiego blog praises ArtPower’s American Routes music series.

• The Old Globe’s summer Shakespeare shows made the Los Angeles Times’ California bucket list.

• San Diego State University will host its first-ever, all-day arts festival on Thursday.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• The Union-Tribune’s Peter Rowe checks in on the relationship between craft beer and Latinos. VOSD touched onthe same themes in March when we covered the mini craft beer boom happening in the South Bay.

• Mikkeller Brewing San Diego is turning 1 and throwing itself a party.

• Get in on this secretive, booze-packed speakeasy party happening at The US Grant Hotel this week.

• Breakfast Republic has opened yet another location, securing its place as the fastest-growing pancake-slinger in the west. (San Diego Entertainer)

• Here’s why Chinese investors are interested in Temecula’s wine region. (L.A. Times)

San Diego breweries are doing creative things to try to attract bigger crowds and differentiate themselves. (Reader)

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at 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...

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