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“One thing I’ve heard from every single person I’ve talked to is ‘I can’t believe you’re interested in this,’” said San Diego History Center curator Kaytie Johnson. “They never thought that the History Center or any museum would be interested in telling these stories.”
At over 2.5 million photographs in the San Diego History Center’s library, the institution boasts not only the largest photography archive in San Diego but one of the largest in the country. (To compare, the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs archive contains 14 million items). And the Balboa Park museum wants you to know that it’s here to tell the under-told stories, too.
In the heels of last year’s LGBTQ+ SD project, the San Diego History Center will launch a new exhibition this Saturday, “I’m Not LIke You: Notes from the San Diego Underground.” It’s an exhibition focused specifically on three subcultures in a specific period of time in San Diego: punk, skate and hip-hop culture in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Last October we invited Margarat Nee, who is the founder of the San Diego Punk Archive to come and do a presentation about the history of punk in San Diego,” Johnson said. “It was one of the best attended free Tuesday events ever.” Johnson, who has her own history in punk scenes in the 1980s in Phoenix, then decided to build an installation on the subject to be exhibited in the museum, and “I’m Not Like You” was born.
Why punk, skate and hip-hop? Johnson pointed to the overlaps between those three underground scenes.
“I didn’t want to focus just on punk,” Johnson said. “I wanted to open it up, so I decided on hip-hop, punk and skate because they were all really flourishing in the ‘80s and there were interesting overlaps between the scenes.”
Each scene was made up of young people sharing similar interests and ideas. The differences between each scene was the ways the ideas were expressed. Johnson does not think the subcultures were formed of outsiders or pariahs, based on the evidence in the personal histories in the project.
“I think that these different subcultures and scenes gave them the space and permission to really express themselves,” Johnson said. “It’s like finding a chosen family. And even though they were groups, everybody was really able to express themselves. There’s a lot of self-expression and individuality. They weren’t doing all the same things, just shared interests.”
Johnson also said that ending the exhibition’s era after the 80s, specifically at 1991, was an intentional choice for one specific reason: the internet. With the advent of broader connectivity between subcultures in different cities, what was unique to an individual city or region began to be diluted.
“That changed everything,” Johnson said.
Installation artifacts and items include fliers for shows and bands, skateboard decks, music, breakdancing videos, zines and snapshots of graffiti work. One local graffiti writer from the 1980s, ESCAPE, was even commissioned to create a piece for the entrance to the exhibition.
The project’s vast scope, despite being housed in a relatively small area of the museum, lies in its longevity. Throughout its six-month run, visitors and community members will be encouraged to record their own stories and add artifacts, and repeat visitors will find new items as the exhibition grows.
“Like a living thing. It’s nice to not have it so static,” said Johnson.
The museum also hopes the exhibition will encourage multigenerational discourse, with the individuals who lived through those decades, their children and other young people.
“All three subcultures are still really resonant today. These weren’t one-off communities or subcultures; they had enormous impact,” she said.
Johnson also described the importance and timeless lure of subculture for young people: “It’s belonging but not belonging,” she said. “It’s a really important thing, especially when you’re young.”
So Much Local Talent, Pride + Baseball and More News for the Culture Crowd
- Convergence/Convergencia hits Escondido! The Center for the Arts in Escondido recently opened this exhibition of art from the San Diego-Tijuana region, and it runs through mid-May.
- The UCSD’s spring quarter New Writing Series looks amazing, and kicks off on Wednesday with a new professor, Kazin Ali’s first campus reading. Events are open to the public and run through the end of May. (UCSD News)
- “In Transit,” a new exhibition curated by Peggy Sue Amison at the SDSU Downtown Gallery, opens in conjunction with Thursday’s Downtown at Sundown event.
- Out at the Park is this Friday, presented by San Diego Pride, when the Padres play (i.e., will probably crush) the Reds, with a notable joint performance of the National Anthem by the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, the San Diego Women’s Chorus and SD Pride and Padres staff.
- I don’t know if they’re trying to out-cool all the other school fundraisers, but this Museum School event is certainly doing just that. Featuring a brand new Rob Crow/John Reis project, Pinback, El Ten Eleven and more, it’s definitely not just for the PTA moms and dads. Saturday night at Music Box.
- A Ship in the Woods — the iconic San Diego arts organization that has hosted 77 resident artists and more than 80 cultural events — is in a period of transition, and just announced new team members like Marina Grize and its first official executive director, Nikos Zoggas. In an email to supporters, founder RJ Brooks detailed the org’s history and its precarious financial situation, and announced plans for fundraising to help sustain their transition. Upcoming events and projects include a May 18 music residency benefit festival and a Living Classroom project.
- “In Bloom” is a music, art and DJ showcase happening Saturday at 7 p.m. at Weirdhues in Chula Vista. It’s hard to find much about the event online, but the poster boasts some artists I have my eye on, including Hatepaste, Mary Jhun and Zia Sinclair.
- Love the still shiny-new CityBeat Al Howard column, Black Gold. The most recent piece is especially good, “Black People Music.”
- Local theatrical darlings Sam Ginn and A.J. Knox wrote an adaptation of “Servant of Two Masters,” with runs now through May 5 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad and is supposedly very, very funny. (U-T)
- San Diego Film Week continues through Saturday. Some highlights throughout the week include Wednesday night’s music video showcase at the Whistle Stop and the Horror Shorts night on Thursday.
- Anthem Vegan, which recently shuttered its North Park location, will partner with Toronado to operate out of the 30th St. bar. (Eater)
- I will follow up that vegan news with a headline that includes the phrase “Spicy, Meaty Sunday Morning.” Chula Vista’s Fernandez restaurant is a haven for Tijuana-style breakfasts (and lines). (Eater)
- Loved this profile of Steady State Brewing in Carlsbad and new drink trends. (Edible)
- This is an interesting look at how local tribes operate under California state cannabis laws that technically shut them out, and the advocacy efforts underway. (Pacific)
- The details matter when it comes to cannabis plus beer. “If a brewery is claiming to make a beer with marijuana in it, they’re either lying, breaking the law or taking some serious liberties with the public’s perception of what getting buzzed means.” (CityBeat)
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
- To brush up for the History Center’s punk-filled weekend, I recommend listening to the punk style episode of Articles of Interest, a clothing-based podcast (which is all very good). It delves into (of course) Vivienne Westwood’s Chelsea punk fashion empire and the birth of the Sex Pistols.
- Three spring-happy local trails I’ll recommend: Mission Trails Regional Park’s Spring Canyon, which is gloriously under-trafficked. Barely a mile into this trail (heading north of the park from the equestrian staging area, beneath Highway 52), you’ll be surrounded by zero human beings, countless poppies and possibly a snake. Jamul’s Hollenbeck Canyon is a close second, with several river crossings and rolling green hillsides that seem a bit British Isles (California Department of Fish and Wildlife day pass now required). Or if you want to stay closer to the city, Florida Canyon is lit up right now with blooming native plants.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misidentified the photographer who took the photo of Jacqui Ramirez, Audrey Pavia, Evie Bibo and Kitty Johnson. It was Tim Griswold.