San Ysidro mural near border
A public art project in San Ysidro spearheaded by the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce’s
Border Public Art Committee / Photo courtesy of the Border Public Art Committee

Public art is hardly distributed equally throughout San Diego. Most of the city-owned art collection is concentrated in Balboa Park and downtown San Diego.

San Ysidro, the neighborhood that touches the U.S.-Mexico border, is home to just two pieces of public art. But that will soon change.

The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, which oversees arts funding for cultural nonprofits and manages the city’s public art program, has launched an initiative that will work to put public art in four neighborhoods that need it. The first to benefit from the program will be San Ysidro.

Up to three artists or artist teams will each receive  approximately $40,000 to create new art for a city-owned or city-approved site in the neighborhood.

The commission is using funds from a pool of money private developers pay to the city. The city’s public art policy requires developers of non-residential projects that meet certain requirements to use 1 percent of the total project budget to pay for public art on the project site, or to set aside space in the project for cultural use (an option that has never been chosen). If developers don’t want to do either, they pay an in-lieu fee that the city can use to build public art elsewhere.

That pot of public art money is important, since the art that’s required to be included when new city-owned developments are built always ends up on the project site, even when those city sites are far-flung water treatment centers that the public rarely visits.

Christine Jones, the chief of civic art strategies at the commission, said the initiative is meant to create different types of public art opportunities for regional artists. Most of the city’s public art opportunities are open to artists anywhere, but to qualify for the projects in San Ysidro, artists had to be from California or Baja California.

“We wanted to bring more San Diegans into the conversation about art in the public realm,” Jones said. “Really activate and connect San Diegans in a different way.”

Where the public art will end up in San Ysidro is yet to be determined. Jones said the artist will work with the community and city staff to determine the best spots that could benefit from public art – likely major medians, streetscapes, recreation centers or public parks. The projects are expected to be completed by 2020.

Longtime San Ysidro resident Chris Sanchez said he’s glad the city is finally giving his neighborhood some attention.

“It’s a community that someway, somehow, has always been ignored when it comes to public art and other city services,” said Sanchez. “It deserves the same opportunities as any other community.”

A few years ago, Sanchez launched the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce’s Border Public Art Committee. The volunteer group partners with businesses in the neighborhood to create public art projects. So far, the group’s biggest success has been a mural on the wall in front of the Jack in the Box near the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The group also installed new benches in front of the wall, since people often wait there to be picked up after crossing the border.

The new San Ysidro public library, which is scheduled to open by 2019, will also include a new public artwork by local artists and brothers Einar and Jamex De La Torre. Sanchez said all the art coming to the neighborhood could have a big impact.

“You can help stimulate the economy through art,” he said. “You put up murals, and people start showing up to look at them, and suddenly you have a coffee shop and then a barber shop.”

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

The Growing Military Arts Scene

San Diego is establishing itself as a hotbed for arts programs aimed at military members and veterans.

On Thursday, the California Arts Council is hosting an all-day arts and military summit at Liberty Station. Local nonprofits with arts programs for veterans, military leaders, psychologists and arts leaders are scheduled to attend.

The summit is part of an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and other agencies. The Creative Forces initiative recognizes the ability of arts programs to help veterans or military service members living with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The summit will include presentations, discussions and networking geared toward spurring more collaboration between arts groups, the military and the San Diego community at large.

Justin Hudnall, executive director of So Say We All, a literary education nonprofit that runs a popular program for veterans, will be at the summit. Adam Stone, a military veteran who’s gone through So Say We All’s writing and storytelling program, will also be doing a short performance at the event. So Say We All is one of eight nonprofits in San Diego County to receive the California Arts Council’s Veterans Initiative in the Arts grant last year.

adam stone san diego
Veteran Adam Stone performs at a live storytelling event hosted by So Say We All. / Photo by Matt Gismondi

Hudnall said one common misconception about the program his organization runs is that it’s strictly therapeutic. He said that’s not the goal.

“We’re looking at this as a career path that they’re embarking on,” Hudnall said.

“There’s plenty of room in our program for those who want to do this casually, but we’re treating them with all the respect and education of someone who wants to be a professional writer.”

Hudnall said he thinks the NEA’s commitment to hooking up veterans and active military members with arts programming is critical.
“They deserve to be a specially designated arts funding recipient group,” he said.

People in Tweed on Bikes, an Upgrade for an Ugly Corner of Balboa Park and More Arts and Culture News

• Artist James Hubbell has a new exhibition showing at Santa Ysabel Art Gallery. Hubbell is best known for his curvy, whimsical architectural designs and public art.

artist and architect James Hubbell
Artist and designer James Hubbell sits in a small sanctuary on his 40-acre property in Santa Ysabel. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Cura Caos, the VOSD Podcast Network show about movers and shakers on both sides of the border, is hosting another live episode, this one featuring an interview with Enrique Morones, director of the immigrant rights nonprofit Border Angels.

• The newest edition of the definitive guidebook to the Anza-Borrego Desert is out. (KPBS)

The Environmental Health Coalition and a group of volunteers and students are unveiling their design for a new mural and garden in Chicano Park.

• San Diego composer Joseph Waters wrote a new opera, and this week City Opera is putting on a free performance showcasing scenes from it.

Ion Theatre’s new revival of “Cabaret” sounds like a real riot. (Union-Tribune)

• CityBeat’s out with its annual collection of short fiction written by San Diegans.

• Meet Jamie Deering, the daughter of the founders of Deering Banjos, a couple I interviewed for our I Made it in San Diego podcast about the region’s businesses and the people behind them. (SDVoyager)

• Check out this trailer for an upcoming documentary about the Voices of our City Choir, made up of people experiencing homelessness.

• A venue in Barrio Logan is hosting an event featuring small businesses and creators from Tijuana on Thursday night.

• Speaking of Tijuana, I wrote about how the city has all the ingredients for a tech startup boom, but not a lot to show for it yet. I talked to members of Frontera Founders, a volunteer group that’s holding an event this week to stir up entrepreneurial interest in Tijuana.

• This event happening at Helmuth Projects in Bankers Hill sounds weird and worth experiencing.

• Every year, a bunch of San Diegans get dressed up in tweed and ride their bikes around town.

•  Michael James Armstrong, the artist behind Ice Gallery at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan, hosted an open-studio event over the weekend and his collection of older work will be on view in his studio at Bread & Salt for a while longer.

• The Parade of Lights is happening this weekend.

• Visual gallery in North Park is celebrating its eighth anniversary with a good-looking group exhibition.

• Balboa Park advocates have begun working to revitalize a corner of the park that’s in serious need of some TLC. (Union-Tribune)

• San Diego artist Ry Beloin has a solo show opening at 1805 Gallery in Little Italy this week.

• Nutcracker” season is upon us.

•  City Heights residents who took part in a creative writing workshop with Old Globe artists will be presenting their work this week at the Performance Annex in City Heights.

• Space 4 Art, one of the last vestiges of art in the quickly gentrifying East Village, is hosting an open-studios event this week.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• Food cart vendors in Tijuana are down with the distressed wood design trend. (Reader)

• 619 Distillery & Tasting Room is getting closer to its goal of raising at least $100,000 so it can open in North Park.

The brewer behind a Carlsbad brewery that was open for just six months blames the location. (Reader)

• These cold-weather cocktails sound like they’ll warm just about anyone up. (San Diego Magazine)

• A nonprofit coffee cart in City Heights that employs refugees, convicts and people without homes is hoping to expand into a nearby storefront. (KPBS)

• Wild Willow Farm & Education Center is raising money for its ambitious expansion plans.

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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