It’s no surprise that downtown’s Horton Plaza Park has become a hub for some of the neighborhood’s booming homeless population. Just about every urban park in San Diego serves as a resting place for people living on the streets.
But Horton Plaza Park was supposed to come with a built-in solution – the plaza was designed to be programmed with lots of events meant to keep the space busy and alive while also keeping the homeless at bay.
That idea, though, hasn’t worked out as planned.
Homeless people have the right to hang out in public parks as long as they’re not breaking any laws, but when a park starts looking like a full-time homeless encampment, that’s when the rest of the public tend to stay away.
One popular solution to balancing an urban park’s population is programming it with public events that draw crowds. That’s why the city struck a private-public partnership deal with Westfield, the company that owns Horton Plaza mall.
The city owns the property, but Westfield is required to pay for the park’s operations, maintenance and programming for the next 25 years. In turn, Westfield is allowed to recoup costs by leasing out three kiosks on the space and charging for some of the events held at the park.
The deal requires Westfield to eventually hold 208 events a year at the park (the company was only required to host 75 events last year, and 150 this year).
Westfield hosted 204 events in its first year, but most were “Plaza Play” events that simply put things like hula-hoops, cornhole and other games in the park, plus small performances by musicians who play music for free in exchange for “exposure.”
“A guy with a hula-hoop is not programming,” said Gary Kramer, executive director of the San Diego Performing Arts League, a nonprofit that runs a ticket kiosk in Horton Plaza Park. “And as a performer myself, I’m not a fan of asking artists to perform for free.”
Kramer said he hopes Westfield works harder in its second year to bring in better events that draw bigger crowds. He said he doesn’t think the game days should count as events at all.
Westfield has a staffer whose full-time job is coordinating events in the park. Kramer said he has offered to help connect that employee with local arts groups but that he’s never been taken up on that offer.
After Westfield initially quoted local nonprofits steep prices to use Horton Plaza Park as a venue, the company then introduced a program that allows nonprofits to use the park for free on Tuesdays and at a 50 percent discount other days.
Kramer said Westfield never told him about that program. And while the La Jolla Playhouse has booked Horton Plaza Park as one of its venues for its Without Walls Festival this fall, few other nonprofits have taken Westfield up on its discount offer.
Westfield plans to continue working with the city to “enhance the visitor experience with even more special events in the second year, while ensuring that facility is well-maintained and safe for all San Diegans,” a spokesman said in a statement.
The city did not respond by deadline.
Kramer said city and Westfield officials have told him that steps are being taken to improve the park. Plus, he said things will be more active once businesses move into the two vacant buildings in the park. But even then, he said more focus needs to be put on bringing in interesting events.
“The events are everything,” he said. “It’s frustrating that the park is not what we expected to be.”
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Changemaker at San Diego Chinese Historical Museum Is Out
The board of the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum has fired Executive Director Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres.
Li-Ann Wong, board secretary at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, cited employee privacy rights and said the board could not provide any information about the dismissal, which happened earlier this month.
Beres was hired in 2016, and in a short time she’s made big changes that have resulted in increased attendance and membership, new donors and more programming, according to the museum’s annual report.
In an email obtained by Voice of San Diego, Tom Hom, one of the museum’s original founders, said the board met in closed session when it voted to fire Beres. He said the move violated the museum’s bylaws and raised concerns. In the email to museum supporters and members, he said he and others are working to get Beres reinstated.
“We are all very proud of this museum’s history and its recent success under the new director, who has helped revitalize and grow the museum’s local impact with more events, exhibitions and education programming,” the email said.
At a public board meeting last Saturday, Sarah Schneewind, a professor at UC San Diego who’s on the museum’s advisory board, and dozens of other community members showed up to voice support for Beres and ask the board for more information.
Schneewind said no reasons for Beres’ dismissal were given at the meeting, other than that Beres was causing “disharmony among the board.”
“By every measure, Tiffany has succeeded dramatically in the short course of a year and a half,” Schneewind said. “We need a reasonable explanation for why she was fired.”
Another board meeting is scheduled at the museum July 7. Schneewind said a petition to rehire Beres is being circulated.
No Neighborly Love for North Park Venue, Reviews from the Fringe and Other Arts and Culture News
• A brawl earlier this month at the Observatory North Park has roused nearby neighbors who are venting their frustrations with the venue on the social media site Nextdoor, reports the Reader. City Councilman Chris Ward is holding a community meeting July 13 at the North Park Christian Fellowship Church to discuss the issue.
• The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture is looking for an artist or a team of artists to create a new piece of public art for Presidio Park. This project is an example of the commission using a new funding stream that isn’t attached to a city project. I’ve written about how public art funded through the city’s percent-for-art policy can end up in strange, not-so-public places.
• Danah Fayman, a local philanthropist who “gave an estimated $1.3 million in the last two years alone to an array of area arts organizations and artists,” has died. (Union-Tribune)
• The new “Songs from an Unmade Bed” is a genre-blurring work of art that sits somewhere between a musical and cabaret. (BroadwayWorld)
• CityBeat’s Seth Combs calls Melissa Walter “one of the most fascinating and prolific artists currently working in the local art scene.”
• An exhibition looking into the history of two La Jolla murals by 1930s artist Belle Baranceanu is showing at the La Jolla Historical Society.
• The U-T profiled artist and playwright Dea Hurston.
• The Art San Diego contemporary art fair is relocating from the Balboa Park Activity Center to the Del Mar Fairgrounds. (CityBeat)
• Several new sculptures are on view in the San Diego Botanic Garden. (NBC Los Angeles)
• The San Diego International Fringe Festival continues through July 2. The U-T reviewed a few of this year’s offerings and San Diego Jewish World said at least two shows are worth seeing.
• Student musicians from the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory’s Community Opus Project are being recognized at a national education policy forum this week.
• Helmuth Projects gallery in Bankers Hill has been closed for a few months, but on July 1 it’s relaunching with a group show.
• San Diego State University’s Downtown Gallery is opening a photography show focused on the the U.S.-Mexico border.
• Two staffers from the San Diego Art Institute have been filling the leadership hole left when Executive Director Ginger Shulick Porcella left for a new museum gig in Arizona. They’re wondering if their collective approach to interim leadership could become more permanent. (CityBeat)
• San Diego International Airport’s new “MetroGnomes” public art piece won a national award.
• How do you keep a vinyl record store going in Ocean Beach for nearly three decades? This guy shares his secrets to success. Speaking of vinyl records, this new store in La Mesa sells ’em alongside cassettes, VHS, DVDs, movie posters and other quirky collector-type things. (U-T, La Mesa Courier)
• The San Diego Symphony’s famed outdoor concert series kicks off this weekend.
• If you’ve ever noticed the rock posters advertising the shows at the Belly Up, now’s your chance to get to know more about Scrojo, the artist who’s been making them for decades. (CityBeat)
• There’s a new artist collective in the South Bay.
• The Fleet Science Center is opening a new exhibit based on some of the world’s most popular video games.
• There are always a lot of arts and culture events I wish I could mention in the Culture Report, but this thing is already super long. You’re welcome to bookmark this page, which I update weekly to include local events that sound interesting to me.
Food, Beer and Booze News
• Suzie’s Farm is calling it quits. One of the farm’s founders made the announcement via an online video and said they just couldn’t make it profitable.
• City leaders in Lemon Grove are considering changing zoning laws to be more friendly to breweries and distilleries. (U-T)
• What are certified biodynamic coffee beans? The Reader’s got the scoop.
• Y’all are gonna have to submit an application in order to attend this fancy food event. (U-T)
• These local Instagram feeds will make you thirsty. (San Diego Magazine)
• A new cocktail at Madison on Park offers up a less-than-subtle opinion of President Donald Trump.
• There’s a new craft soda company in town. (CityBeat)
Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.