Niki de Saint Phalle's "Queen Califia's Magical Circle"
Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Queen Califia’s Magical Circle” sculpture park turns 15. Photo courtesy of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido
Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Queen Califia’s Magical Circle” sculpture park turns 15. Photo courtesy of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido

Niki de Saint Phalle’s “Queen Califia’s Magical Circle” sculptural garden is the most high-profile piece of public art in San Diego County. 

Elected leaders in Escondido are rightfully stoked that the iconic large-scale mosaic work — which turns 15 this year — is located there.


“It gives us a sense of notoriety,” said Jay Petrek, the city’s assistant city manager. “We get visitors from all over the world who sign the login book, so we know it’s frequented far and wide. And they shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants, so it’s an important part of our visitor attractions.”

But the piece comes with a price. Temperature changes have resulted in cracks. Birds and vandals have caused dings and have stolen materials from the sculpture garden over the years. In the past, the city’s maintenance of the park was not up to snuff, and the wear and tear forced the city to close the garden for nearly a year in 2013 while a backlog of repair work was done.

The sculpture, which was once open to the public from sunrise to sundown every day except Monday and during bad weather, eventually reopened to the public, but entry was limited to just a few days a month when volunteer docents could be onsite to answer questions and watch over the work.

Petrek said the city pays about $25,000 in annual maintenance to keep up the sculpture garden and has teamed up with the Niki Charitable Art Foundation to refurbish it the way the artist, who died in 2002, would have wanted. Most of the park is in good shape now — there’s just one last mosaic totem that’s still being repaired.

The city has built up its docent program and slowly expanded the hours and days that “Queen Califia’s Magical Circle” is open to the public. The city also recently dipped into its public art funds and added interpretive signage about the artist and the sculpture.

With the sculpture garden’s maintenance issues mostly squared away, the city is celebrating the works’ 15th anniversary this year.

On Jan. 12, the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, is holding an opening for its new exhibition “Niki de Saint Phalle: Mythical California.” Visitors  to the show will see obscure sketches, photographs, models, blueprints and film documenting the creation of “Queen Califa’s Magical Circle.” The show also includes mosaic work by local artists, including Wick Alexander, Doris Bittar, Robin Brailsford, Cheryl Tall and others who cite Saint Phalle as an inspiration.

The Escondido Arts Partnership’s Municipal Gallery is also showing a large, gold-painted triptych by Saint Phalle. 

Wendy Wilson-Gibson, the curator of the show at the California Center for the Arts, said people who see the exhibition and read its accompanying catalogue will walk away with a better understanding of Saint Phalle’s diverse body of work, her strong will, and the time she spent living in our region.

“Most people don’t really know Niki lived off Princess Street in La Jolla,” Wilson-Gibson said. “They don’t know about all the work she made while she was here in San Diego.”

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

La Jolla Music Society Loses Leaders, It’s ‘Hamilton’ Time, and More

The La Jolla Music Society has two key vacancies to fill. Both Kristin Lancino, president and artistic director, and Cho-Liang Lin, the longtime music director of the Music Society’s SummerFest, are resigning. (Union-Tribune)

• Voice of San Diego’s Lisa Halverstadt has the latest on the proposed overhaul of Balboa Park’s central plaza.

• San Diego artists Wick Alexander and Ana Stump will be exhibiting work at The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in new exhibitions opening this week.

wick alexander san diego artist
An installation shot of Wick Alexander’s “On the Money” series. / Photo courtesy of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library
An installation shot of Wick Alexander’s “On the Money” series. / Photo courtesy of the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library

• The San Diego Symphony wants to build a new 10,000-seat permanent stage at the bayfront park where it performs its annual outdoor concert series. The Port of San Diego is inching closer to approving the project. (10News)

• The San Diego Symphony’s “It’s About time” festival that explores the world of rhythm gets under way this week.

• The Lonely Planet highlights Tijuana artist Enrique Chiu’s ongoing project attempting to paint the world’s longest mural on the international border wall.

• This San Diego mom-son duo is making fashion that’s lit, literally. (Union-Tribune)

• Matt Morrow, the executive artistic director of Diversionary Theatre, makes an appearance in this American Theatre story about a new generation of defiantly queer theater.

• Read about how local music therapy company MusicWorx is working with the Parkinson’s Association of San Diego on a new treatment for patients with the degenerative disease. (Rancho Santa Fe Review)

• Speaking of music therapy, Veronica May, a former music therapist, tells CityBeat about how living with bipolar disorder has led her to use the music she makes to help reach others with mental illness.

• “Hamilton” just opened its three-week run at the San Diego Civic Theatre, prompting City Council President Myrtle Cole to proclaim Wednesday “Broadway Musical Hamilton” day in San Diego. My husband bought me tickets for my birthday. But for those of you who’ve yet to get your hands on some, there’s a digital lottery system that will grant a lucky few with great seats for just $10. (Union-Tribune)

Hamilton San Diego
A scene from “Hamilton,” the smash Broadway hit that’s playing in San Diego for the next few weeks. / Photo by Joan Marcus
A scene from “Hamilton,” the smash Broadway hit that’s playing in San Diego for the next few weeks. / Photo by Joan Marcus

• Do you think President Donald Trump’s border wall prototypes look like conceptual art that should be left standing and designated as a national monument? Or do they serve as more of an odd open-air architecture gallery? (New York Times, Los Angeles Times)

• CityBeat explains why the Old Globe Theatre’s Powers New Voices Festival is something y’all should want to see.

• It’s official. Raúl Prieto Ramírez is San Diego’s new civic organist. He made his debut Sunday. (Union-Tribune)

• Mike Birbiglia is a big deal in the comedy and storytelling world. He’s gaining traction in the world of acting and writing movies, too. The U-T’s theater critic asked Birbiglia about “The New One,” his new one-man show that’s running at the La Jolla Playhouse through Jan. 14.

• This old mural in Barrio Logan could soon be painted over with a new one, and some community members are upset about it.

“Fresh Sound” is a series of experimental, electronic, contemporary classical and improvised concerts at Bread & Salt in Logan Heights. The new season kicks off this week.

• Kids are invited to hear compositions written specifically for toy pianos and played by professionals.

• A new music festival meant to help aspiring musicians is launching this week in Ocean Beach.

• A doctor in Del Mar is behind a new podcast called “A Life and Death Conversation.” 

• The city of Carlsbad this week is kicking off its new program designed to introduce audiences to local performing artists.

• La Bodega Gallery in Barrio Logan is turning 4.

• Jeffrey Parish is the guy behind the JUNC boutique in South Park. He just announced that he’s closing the shop to pursue his career as a fashion designer. Before the shop closes its doors for good, he’ll be showing some of his designs. 

• Bodhi Tree Concerts, a nonprofit that stages concerts and donates the profits to charitable causes, announced its new season.

• Casbah owner Tim Mays is one of the new owners behind Soda Bar in City Heights. (CityBeat)

• The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego announced its 2018 exhibition schedule.

Food, Beer, Weed and Booze News

• National City is now more beer-friendly than it used to be. (Reader)

• The new president of the San Diego Brewers Guild says the group will work this year to help consumers distinguish small craft beer from beer owned by big companies. (Union-Tribune)

• Only permitted dispensaries can legally deliver marijuana to peoples’ homes. Voice of San Diego’s Jesse Marx talked to some folks in the industry who say the mom and pop delivery businesses have been unfairly cut off, and others who say the city’s system is fine. Marx also updates us on San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate’s memo to the city attorney asking local law enforcement to step up efforts against illegal marijuana deliverers.

Who’s tried these San Diego-made canned cocktails? Are they good? Please advise.

• These restaurants sure are purty. (Eater)

• An old Wienerschnitzel building in Hillcrest is now a drive-through serving doughnuts and craft coffee. (Eater)

• Kevin Templeton, a chef at Barleymash and The Smoking Gun in the Gaslamp, makes the case for farm-to-table food in an op-ed for the Times of San Diego.

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

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture...

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