Angela Carone, KPBS Arts Reporter
Beth Accomando, KPBS Arts Reporter
Related Story: 2011: Arts And Culture
ST. JOHN: It's the end of a tough year for the arts, which have struggled with the bad economy like everything else. San Diego is fortunate to have a rich, and diverse arts community. So there's a lot going on. As with anything creative, there are events happening around town that are unexpected, thought provoking, funny and lucrative. We have two higher respected observers of the arts scene, and films in studio, to give us their perspective on the big arts stories of the year. Angela Carone, and Beth Accomando. Reporter arts reporters KPBS KPBS. Let's start with the the wings of freedom.
CARONE: Well, it's a work of public art. And public art often causes controversy. For as many people as you can find who love a piece, you can find just as many who hate it. This, of course is at the tip of Navy pier. So it's in a very prominent location. It's massive, meant to resemble two large sails coming out of the ground. It's made of steal and titanium. One is 500 feet, and the other is 400 feet. It was presented with quite a bit of fanfare. It's been talked about this iconic work for San Diego. It would be as they're saying our Sidney opera house, or our Eiffel tower.
ST. JOHN: So who designed?
CARONE: Well, it's funny, it's sort of been designed by committee, actually.
ST. JOHN: It's a questionable issue.
CARONE: It is. The first iteration of it was designed by a man named Malcolm leland, who is a local sculptor, although he lives now in Portland. He lives in assisted living, he's 90 years old. His sign was an outdoor amphitheater that did have sails, but the sails were retractable. It provided a roof for inclimate weather. Which we don't have often here in San Diego. But it was a very complicated design. Well, it changed over the years. The it became very expensive. Leland became less and less involved. And howl Sadler, who's a local architect, he worked with Leland on a lot of projects, he took over the design, scaled it back to just the scales. And it does still have outdoor seating that would be at the base of the sails. So it's kind of this design by committee situation.
ST. JOHN: So where does it stand now?
CARONE: What's the chance of it being built?
CARONE: The midway museum is the one putting this proposal forward, it includes a park and some parking, and a number of different things. And they just held a series of town hall meetings where people could go and give their public opinion. Those wrapped up in early December. Now it goes to the board of port commissioners who on January 10th will vote only whether they should include it in their master plan. After that, it'll go through environmental impact studies, engineering study, it'll did to the coastal commission. So we're talking really, probably 2013 before a decision is made on wings of freedom
ST. JOHN: So we might still be talking about this the same time next year.
CARONE: I guarantee you we will.
ST. JOHN: Beth, let's move onto another big arts story that, of course, even if you haven't been to Comicon you know it's the most popular event in San Diego, earning the cities incredibly 10 dollars a day. They have talked about leaving San Diego because of the size limitations of the current Convention Center. So what's the current status of Comicon.
ACCOMANDO: Well, we can be confident that they will be here through 2015. So that's good news. But it's up in the air whether they will remain here. They have been wooed by quite a few other locations, most notably Los Angeles and Anaheim, to move the convention there. But for a moment it's here. And they're working very hard to keep it here. The organization is based here. So they rely on thousands of volunteers. So obviously for them, it would be a benefit to remain here in San Diego. But the space limitations are really difficult. And the biggest problem with that is that they have to cap attendance. So they cap it at around 125,000 to one it 30,000 each year, which means they have to close ticket sales. Which up until about five years ago never happened. You used to be able to walk up to the convention and buy your tickets right there.
ST. JOHN: Now they're sold out in seven hours
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, they're sold out. And that also means it's a cap on the amount of money they can make. Because they can't sell anymore tickets unless they raise prices
ST. JOHN: So is size the only limitation they're looking at when they're considering to stay or not?
ACCOMANDO: Not the only limitation. They also have issues in the sense of they're negotiating with hotels to keep hotel rates at a reasonable price so that people who come can afford to go. They are trying to deal with the space limitations by going to adjacent hotels and renting out rooms and ball room space, to expand the convention, and make it more of this. Caus feel where you can enjoy stuff all around. But each hotel that they have to get space from means additional expenses am they don't come free. And that taps into if there's a cap on attendance, they can't and don't want to raise prices too much. They're really stuck. And they're the ones who also pay for the shuttle service, for handicapped service. They have to pay for the cleanup. So there's of expenses that people may not see. And they are a nonprofit organization.
ST. JOHN: Okay. So they also run this wonder-con, which is usual in San Francisco, and next year, it'll be in Anaheim, which is much closer. This is one of the venues that's been wooing ComiCon to come up there. What about you that?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it has a couple of ramifications. That may be a 1-time thing for wonder-con, because the mas coney center that they usualuse is being renovated right now. But the fact they have a Convention Center that has been wooing them to say, hey, look how great we are, look at the convenience we offer, has to come up in our minds to say, if it works really well there, will they be tempted to stay? The benefit for San Diego is, if you missed Comicon you have I chance to go a short distance and see a very similar kind of convention and get a lot of access to things that you might have missed down here. And test out that venue.
ST. JOHN: Well, that's one thing that is going great gun, in spite of the economy. Let's move onto some of the people that have fallen to the baddy come. And Angela, two very different butt important venues closed.
CARONE: Well, you're right. They really couldn't be more different. Sushi was known for doing -- presenting cutting-edge, provocative work in the form of performance art and a lot of dance. And starlight was very different. This is the outdoor theatre at Balboa Park. It's famous for being underneath the flight path of planes flighting in and out of Lindbergh.
ST. JOHN: It's unforgettable.
CARONE: The actors freeze up in the middle of a performance, and wait for the planes go overhead. Then they start performing again. And it's the kind of place where families would go and have a picnic and see some of the musical war horses, these family-friendly musicals like hello dolly and Annie, and that kind of thing.
ST. JOHN: So let's talk about sushi first. What happened?
CARONE: Well, in July, let me just say that neither of these organizations were financially stable for quite a long time. And in July, the Sushi board voted to basically dissolve the organization. And the recession didn't happen. Sushi was homeless twice during its lifetime. The host recent one was in about four years. They got this new permanent home on 11th and J, and the recession hits. And they just couldn't make it work. It never was going to be what it was in the '80s and '90s in its heyday.
ST. JOHN: And what happened to the starlight?
CARONE: Well, are the starlight hasn't officially closed. It's filed for Chapter 11 in the bankruptcy code. And the UT reported at the time of closure, it was $1 million in debt. And this is a theatre, too, times have changed. It's a something over 3,000 seat theatre. In its heyday, if will fill up on opening nights. Then the theatre community in San Diego changeded. Theatres like the La Jolla Playhouse, and the old globe became these stepping stones to broadway. Mid-level theatres fleshed out the scene. And in today's entertainment market, to fill a 3,000 seat venue, if it's not a popular rock concert, it's really, really tough to do. So it'll be interesting to see if they reemerge.
ST. JOHN: Well, that may be a loss of two arts institutions in San Diego. But as you say, things change. And Beth, there is always increasing interest in film festivals.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, they seem to be doing well. And past history has shown us that the entertainment industry tends to do well in a bad economy. People want to escape. So films offer a great opportunity to do that. The San Diego Italian film festival has really been thriving. It's a small group. But they base -- their ticket sales are based on donation only for, I think, like 90% of their events. And those donations have risen from $0.50 per person to $5. Will they've expanded the number of days they show films. Their primary venue is MOPA, and they fill it up and sometimes have to turn people away. So they're doing very well. . The San Diego Asian film festival moved into new offices at liberty station. The San Diego Latino film festival got new offices on El Cajon boulevard. These are still challenges for them. They're not financially thriving to the point that they can relax. They're working hard to maintain all this. But they're expanding and making their festivals larger, bringings in more people.
ST. JOHN: That's positive news for this year, at least. And there's more positive news on your beat here, Angela. The ground breaking series of art exhibits called Pacific standard time, which San Diego is participating in. Tell us about it.
CARONE: Yeah, this is really very cool. Upon it's a sort of ground breaking event that was initiated by the Getty museum in Los Angeles. And over 130 museums and galleries up and down the coast of California are participating. And it's meant to chart the sort of birth of the LA and Southern California arts scene, which they're dating to the '50s, '60s, and '70s. And we have two museums, locally, that are participating. The museum of contemporary arts, San Diego, and the Mingei.
ST. JOHN: The museum of contemporary arts celebrates a certain kind of art.
CARONE: It does. It's the light and space movement. The show is called phenomenal. And this was this group of artists in the '60s who were inspired by the light in Southern California, and these wide-open spaces of the desert, and the ocean, and they tried to make work and did make work -- they created that same experience. They wanted to have the viewer have that same kind of experience. And it was really a revolutionary way of making art. So MCASD has mounted its larkest show in history. MCASD really supported these artistes early when that when they were emerging. So it's really great they're now getting to Mt. This important exhibit.
ST. JOHN: And we're not talking landscapes here at all.
CARONE: No, we're talking to immersive, experiential work. You walk into a room, and it fills with right in a certain way. And it's about perceiving that light.
ST. JOHN: And the other exhibit at the Mingei focuses on San Diego artists who were making art here during the '50s and '60s.
CARONE: This one couldn't be more different. It's craft-based work. These are San Diego artists who were designing furniture and textiles and jewelry. And painters and sculptors as well. It's a very eclectic show, equally as interesting. And it's sort of like if you were to take a panoramic snap snot of the artist ares who were making work in the '50s and '60s, it would look like this show.
ST. JOHN: And it's got some wonderful furniture, and things that are more utilitarian perhaps.
CARONE: Yeah, craft-braced. Bowls, furniture, textiles, wall ornamentation, you have really the kind of craft-based work. It's not conceptual in the way that Phenomenal's work is experiential and conceptual.
ST. JOHN: That's Pacific Standard Time, which some people are making an effort to go to all the exhibits up and down the west coast.
CARONE: The Pacific standard time website is really helpful. It gives you suggestions of how to plan out itineraries, and it shows you what all the museums are doing.
ST. JOHN: That's an example of a successful exhibit. And Beth, you have an example of something that you never think would work in an economic downturn. But luxury movie theaters are opening up here in San Diego. Cinepolis, tell us about what it means for San Diego film-goers. It's a Mexican owned company, they have theatres in 11 countries, including India. And a number of their theatre, not all of them, but a number of their theatres are what they call luxury theatres. And they have these luxurious reclining seats, you push a button, and people will come and bring you food that you order. There's only 70 seats in the theatre, the screens are 30 plus feet big. It's a return to kind of this old-school movie palace kind of a feel. And they also serve liquor, and there are designated theatres that are adults only where a lot of people actually like the idea of not having to put up with kids in a movie theatre while they're watching a film
ST. JOHN: Well, how can a luxury theatre survive in San Diego in these tough economic times?
ACCOMANDO: I think what it taps into is the fact that it returns movies to being more of an event. You have to really plan to go to it, and you can go, you can have food there, you can go in, and it is really nice to sit in those lounge chairs and recline them and watch on this beautiful, pristine screen. So I think it taps into that, making it more of an event. So people have to reserve their seats. I've gone a few times and found the screenings are sold out
ST. JOHN: Wow. It's working
ACCOMANDO: And they're smart because they do put it in dell mar, which is a well-to-do community, people can, you know, come from nearby to go and enjoy this. If you have to drive long distance and add gas price to it, you may think twice. But I go all the way from Lemon Grove up to dell mar.
ST. JOHN: So are there plans for more?
ACCOMANDO: Yes, they plan to open six in Southern California. And then we're also going to be getting the arklight theatre coming to the UTC shopping center. And it's not actually the same, but they do offer reserved seating, very nice theatre conditions, no commercials when you watch the movies. The aisles are much larger. It's a much more comfortable viewing violator.
CARONE: So what's the ticket price like?
ACCOMANDO: The ticket prices, it depends if you're seeing 3D or standard, but it's roughly about 15 to $20 is what you're paying. And then they offer full-on menus.
ST. JOHN: Not that much more
ACCOMANDO: Right. It's only a few dollars more to go see it. And the thee D is really incredible. It does look better than some of these kind of -- some of the screens are not quite as bright and vibrant in the older theaters. So it's really nice.
ST. JOHN: And what are the food options like?
ACCOMANDO: You can get gourmet popcorn, which feels a bit expensive at $10. But quesadillas, and Mexican food, sandwiches, and it's great.
ST. JOHN: That's a good note to end on here. Thank you so much for giving us some of the high notes on the arts community here in San Diego.