Artist Bhavna Mehta
Artist Bhavna Mehta has been working with community members to create wearable paper art. / Photo by Lynn Susholtz

Bhavna Mehta is not one to rest on her laurels. A former Nokia engineer who tried her hand at being an artist after she was unexpectedly laid off about a decade ago, Mehta found quick success in her new role.

Culture Report

Art collectors and galleries immediately liked her precise and detailed paper cuttings – intricate compositions that tell narrative tales, often drawing from her experience growing up in India and using a wheelchair to get around.

Two years ago, Mehta won the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst grant, money she used to host two dozen community workshops in which she taught Oceanside residents how to express themselves through art. The experience pushed her to also experiment with her own work, which became more sculptural and three-dimensional.

Now Mehta’s work is morphing yet again. She’s been the artist-in-residence at Art Produce gallery and community center in North Park since July. Funding from the California Arts Council’s new Artists Activating Communities grant has allowed her to again hosts a series of community workshops. This time, she asked participants to share a personal story, and helped them make art to represent it. She then turned their stories into wearable art.

Wearable art by Bahvna Mehta / Photos by Alanna Airitam

The workshop participants will model the creations Mehta made Saturday evening at “Once Upon A Body,” an exhibition and live performance that includes photographs of the wearable art by Alanna Airitam. Each piece in the show is coupled with a short paragraph explaining the story behind it. One woman, for example, had just cleaned out the home of her grandma who passed away. She found drawers filled with big, flashy cocktail jewelry, so she wanted to make something elaborate and feminine like her grandma would have worn.

Mehta didn’t go to art school. She said the community workshops she’s hosted have helped her refine her practice by teaching her how to better turn a complex concept into a work of art.

“How do you take a memory or experience and visualize it?” Mehta said. “That basic thing is becoming clearer to me through this process. … To engage people to be part of the art was kind of challenging, but exciting.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

The Artists Are Not All Right

Two warehouses in Barrio Logan where dozens of local artists rented studio space have been shut down this year.

glashaus barrio logan
The Glashaus in Barrio Logan was shut down by the city due to safety concerns and permitting problems. / Photo courtesy of Kathleen Mitchell

The closures startled artist and arts advocate Xavier Vasquez. He organized a panel discussion happening 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bread & Salt in Logan Heights on the region’s vanishing art spaces.

I’ll be moderating the talk, and the panel includes artist Kathleen Mitchell, who lost her studio when The Glashaus warehouse in Barrio Logan was shut down by the city due to safety concerns; Jennifer de Poyen of Space 4 Art, a nonprofit that’s working toward building permanent affordable housing, performance space and studios for artists; arts advocate Alan Ziter, who runs the nonprofit that operates spaces in Arts District Liberty Station; and others.

Ziter is executive director of the NTC Foundation, which operates the 26 city-owned buildings in Liberty Station that elected leaders set aside for use as cultural venues. Rent at Liberty Station is fairly high, he said, because the city decided not to fund the renovation and ongoing maintenance of the buildings, which has driven up costs.

He said if artists in San Diego are serious about finding a solution to the lack of affordable spaces for artists to live, work and perform, they should push elected leaders to re-evaluate existing city programs meant to support artists. In Balboa Park, for example, most of the organizations and artists there enjoy low rent subsidized by the city.

“I would require reviews of the organizations that have free and/or greatly reduced rent every five years to assess a set of criteria that demonstrates there’s community engagement and they’re meeting the needs of the community,” he said. “I just think it shouldn’t be free for life.”

He said the city should look at how some of the Balboa Park organizations are using their spaces. If, for instance, there’s space being used for storage, he said it could be cleared out and made available for other nonprofits and arts collectives.

Ziter also said there may be some opportunities in malls or other retail spaces, which have been closing as more and more shoppers buy things online.

“Malls are reinventing themselves as community centers,” he said.  “Maybe they can find a way to still somehow make the whole operation pencil out with some below-market rents for artists … artists would add a whole new dimension to a mall.”

Ziter said he hopes other solid solutions will be discussed at Wednesday’s event, which will be streamed live here.

Troubles at the Chinese Historical Museum Continue, Art Protesting the Border and More Culture News

• The Union-Tribune has an update on the Chinese Historical Museum’s legal battles I’ve been following. Former executive director Tiffany Wai-Ying Beres has filed a lawsuit against the museum, alleging she was wrongly fired after she brought up questions about some of the nonprofit’s practices. The museum denies the allegations. The U-T also noticed some plaques outside the museum that violate county rules barring nonprofits from thanking individual county supervisors for funding them. The museum said it would remove them. The museum announced Tuesday it had hired a new executive director, Yen Tu, a “lifelong San Diegan deeply involved in the local and Asian-American community.”

• A new mural by local students and artist Alicia Maria Siu is going up in Chicano Park.

• The San Diego Natural History Museum dug through its vast collection of specimens and pulled the coolest stuff out of storage for a new exhibition opening this week. (Fox 5)

nshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage
One of the specimens on view in the “Unshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage” exhibition at The Nat in Balboa Park / Photo courtesy of the San Diego Natural History Museum

• Voice of San Diego’s Border Report takes a look at artwork expressing anger and defiance over the border wall.

• It’s an extraordinarily busy week for art openings in San Diego. Don’t miss the show at ADGY Art featuring three UC San Diego grad students, a solo exhibition at Meyer Fine Art by local artist John Asaro, an exhibition made through a collaboration between a San Francisco artist and incarcerated artists from San Quentin State Prison opening at SDSU Downtown Gallery, a solo show by artist Clayton Llewellyn in Oceanside, a sound art show at The Front gallery in San Ysidro, an exhibition by Lux Art Institute’s new resident artist Andy Harper, and an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego showing how Cog•nate Collective has been collaborating with local students.

• San Diego artist Tom Liguori opened a new eponymous gallery

• In a new episode of I Made it in San Diego, VOSD’s podcasts about the people behind the region’s businesses, y’all can learn about how three Santee kids turned their internet videos into Mega64, a successful online business with thousands of fans worldwide.

• Los Angeles artist Pae White used public art commission funds from the Port of San Diego to transform a restroom and vendor shops planned as part of a redevelopment project on the waterfront into functional works of art, but the Union-Tribune thinks the Port spent too much money on the bathroom.

• Airbnb recently launched “Experiences,” excursions and tours designed and led by local hosts. One of the San Diego experiences is called “The Last Black Man in Barrio Logan,” and includes a short film screening and tour of Barrio Logan with Ramel Wallace, a musician and community activist who’s been active in the neighborhood’s art scene.

• San Diego Museum of Art director Roxana Velásquez picked out six must-see paintings in the museum’s current “Modern Masters From Latin America” exhibition. (Union-Tribune)

The UC San Diego department of visual arts launched a new residency program named in honor of Martha Longenecker Roth, the founder of the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park. Artist Anna Sew Hoy has been selected as the inaugural resident artist.

• Four brand-new plays will be part of the 2018-19 La Jolla Playhouse season. (Union-Tribune)

• Fans of mid-century art and design will want to check this out.

The Friends of San Diego Architecture have put together a new lecture series focused on the San Diego architects who have had the most influence on our region. Next up is Hal Sadler.

• The Lemon Grove community is invited to help paint a new mural.

• City Farmers nursery in City Heights is turning 45 and throwing a party.

• Holiday shopping season has officially begun (or so I hear; I don’t actually start shopping until the week before Christmas), so CityBeat rounded up some cool shopping events where you can buy stuff made by locals.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• In Barrio Logan, you can buy gourmet hot dogs from the back of a modified Impala — at a place that is being called one of the best restaurants of 2017. (Reader, Thrillist)

• Beer brings San Diego money, according to a new economic impact report.

• The San Diego Bay Wine + Food Festival is happening Nov. 12-19.

• Food folks are convening to talk about the challenges of farming, including attracting a younger generation to the trade.

The Ocean Beach Restaurant Walk is Tuesday night.

Fancy dining courts are a trend that hasn’t bypassed San Diego. (Union-Tribune)

The folks behind the East Village’s Cafe Chloe have opened Minou, a little French creperie. (Eater)

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at with arts and culture news and tips. 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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