Borrego Springs library
The new Borrego Springs branch library / Photo courtesy of the San Diego County Library

Access to public art programming outside of San Diego’s major metro communities is limited, and the San Diego County Library system is working to change that. Across the 4,526 square miles that San Diego County covers, that’s an ambitious task.

The San Diego County Library — which oversees 33 branches outside of the city limits — juggles hundreds of arts-related projects each year, with a wide variety of programming like workshops (including a Neil Gaiman online writing class last month!), international film festivals and screenings, One Book One San Diego events, plus exhibitions and learning opportunities.

“County library branches enrich learning, experience and access to cultural arts through our community-wide events that support local interest,” said Kristin Ward, Principal Librarian of the San Diego County Library. “Our branches offer a variety of arts programming, ranging from art exhibits and displays, to hands-on art creation and interactive lectures and discussions.”

Rural Arts Programming

In the widely used North American Industry Classification System, arts and culture businesses are grouped with parks, nature centers and businesses related to sports and recreation, and those things are more prominent outside of cities. And according to the NEA, parks make up 6 percent of the arts and culture sector in urban areas, while parks clock in at over 20 percent of rural area arts offerings.

While nature-related visitor centers, wildlife refuges and more offer significant and vibrant cultural programming and arts opportunities, the discrepancy between rural and urban types of arts is noteworthy.

But instead of a pressure to imitate cosmopolitan trends in arts programming, libraries in the San Diego County Library system are always mindful of the community in which they’re located, and the needs, priorities and interests therein.

“As most branches are limited by space and scheduling constraints, exhibit space priority is given to art displays that appeal to all ages, reflect community interests or activities, support local artists and local art organizations and/or promote library programs,” said Ward.


Art in county libraries is funded primarily through San Diego County’s general fund, including much of the library’s programming and new buildings and its permanent art installations, such as sculptures or site-specific works (think: the new Anza Borrego Springs Library building architecture and “Walk of the Cosmos” installation).

Funding for art installations comes from Friends of the Library groups, both a countywide umbrella organization and individual organizations for each location. And library staff apply for grants for specific arts programming for their community.

“One recent example includes a grant from the California State Library, which funded the Rural Arts Project, a program that has allowed the library to bring arts education to areas of the County that have limited access to arts programming,” said Ward.

The Rural Arts Project, announced last fall, provides arts and culture programming, workshops and arts education for youth and adults in remote San Diego communities earlier this year via the Ramona, Potrero, Borrego Springs and Campo library branches. For example, the Alpine branch is offering printmaking classes next week (youth on the July 17; adults on July 20) as part of the project.

Rural Arts Project
Rural Arts Project activities at the Borrego Springs Library / Photo courtesy of the San Diego County Library

The San Diego County Library also manages arts programming in not-so-rural reaches of the county, including Japanfest (Aug. 3), the San Diego Storytelling Festival (March) at the Encinitas Library and the DIY Fest in Vista (March).

The “Mail Art: Correspondence from the Heart” exhibit currently on display at the Lemon Grove branch features American artists Ellen Glasgow and Sandra MacDiarmid. “These women artists and military wives chronicled their lives with handwritten letters illustrated with watercolors and intricate drawings,” said Ward.

Ward also stressed the importance of collaborating with regional organizations.

“El Cajon Library has also hosted homeless art programs and exhibitions in partnership with Heal with Heart to provide access to arts experiences for the unsheltered,” she said.

Ants, Tijuana Zine Fest and More News for the Culture Crowd

  • Managed by the city of Carlsbad’s Cultural Arts program, the William D. Cannon Art Gallery in the Carlsbad Library Complex hosts five exhibitions each year, including the current exhibition, “Light and Space,” featuring works that explore shadows, light (and lights) and color in nature (and unnaturally), by Adam Belt, Kaori Fukuyama and Rebecca Webb. The exhibition runs through Aug. 25.
Rebecca Webb
“Line Drawing Dry Land” by Rebecca Webb, part of the “Light and Space” exhibition at Carlsbad’s Cannon Gallery / Image courtesy of Rebecca Webb
  • The most recent episode of KPBS’s “Device” podcast, which as always tackles a classic book through a science lens, covers “The Poisonwood Bible.” And ants. The San Diego Natural History Museum’s Michael Wall could make anyone “appreciate” insects …
  • On Wednesday, the Casbah hosts a GRRRL Independent Ladies showcase, including erstwhile Culture Report subject Mónica Mendoza’s band Le Ra and more.
  • Patio Playhouse kicks off its Plays in the Park summer series with “The Wizard of Oz,” opening this Friday in the outdoor (i.e., star-lit!) Kit Carson Amphitheater. The project is part of a partnership with Words Alive to promote a love of reading. (The Vista Press)
  • On Saturday, “A Show About Touching,” a new group exhibition exploring female desire, opens at Bread & Salt (coinciding with this month’s Barrio Art Crawl from 4-10 p.m.). This project was conceived in residence by curator Elizabeth Rooklidge and also features work from current resident Emily Harter.
  • Opening Saturday at the Athenaeum Arts Center (in the Bread and Salt complex in Logan Heights) (you know the art crawl drill!) is “The Making of a Graphic Novel—More Than Money,” a watercolor exhibition that explores graphic novelist Claudia Dominguez’s graphic memoir, “More Than Money,” which is about her father’s kidnapping in Mexico City.
  • The dreamboats behind Toshwerks will lead a workshop on “paper quilling” at the Poway library Saturday afternoon. Pre-registration required. (County News Center)
  • The next Mingei Masters Workshop is on Saturday, at MakerPlace and teaches the alginate method of life casting to make a cast of your own hands.
  • Ruta Madre,” a Baja road trip movie by San Diego-based filmmakers, opens Saturday in Coronado with subsequent showings in Tijuana, San Diego and select cities. (Coronado Eagle & Journal)
Ruta Madre
David Castro in “Ruta Madre” / Image courtesy of Alpha Centauri Pictures

Closing Soon

  • Audrey Hope’s large-scale exhibition of sculpture and cloth, “Hanging the Bear Cache,” at Best Practice closes on Saturday, also coinciding with this month’s Barrio Logan Art Crawl.
  • This news made me gasp: On Sunday, The Nat’s “Water: A California Story” seemingly permanent exhibition closes after over a decade. Go try that manual faucet generator one last time! This closure is to make space for the forthcoming live creature exhibition “Living Lab,” set to open in late November.

Food, Etc.

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now

  • This piece on memoir writing and trauma points a lens at our culture’s addiction to the trauma tell-all. “The system is designed to encourage writers, and especially marginalized writers, to ignore their boundaries,” said Roxane Gay. (Los Angeles Review of Books Blog)
  • When recently googling “influencer butts” (it was for research) (for a tweet) I found this incredible takedown of brands and weight-loss influencers co-opting the “#bodypositive” movement. “The voices behind the original body positive movement, which has roots in radical fat acceptance that’s not just personal but political, are being sidelined over and over again.” (Flare)

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