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Plans Announced For 2015 Balboa Park Centennial

June 19, 2013 1:19 p.m.


Adam Burke, Autonomy, company producing the centennial celebration

Phil Green, Autonomy

Related Story: Plans Announced For 2015 Balboa Park Centennial


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Mayor Bob Filner's press release as the 2015 Balboa Park centennial will be "A once in a lifetime celebration the entire world will remember." That's kind of a high bar to set for the Centennial Committee, considering shakeups at the top earlier this year, and flaps over the tourism marketing district contributions. Now they say plans for the big event are in place, and joining me to talk about what San Diego will have to show to the entire world are my guests, Adam Burk and Phil Green from Autonomy, the company that will produce the celebration.

BURK: Good afternoon.

GREEN: How are you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Great, thank you. Yesterday, some of the events from the celebration were announced. What would you say is the overall theme of the centennial?

BURK: The overall theme is really elevating San Diego. So we're incorporating a program which involves spectacular events, big shows on the border and on the water, and a big gala in the park. But more than that, we looked back and saw this incredible moment where this group got together and really put this city on the map. So we're going how can we do that 100 years later?

CAVANAUGH: And Phil, Adam mentions some spectacular events. They're sort of anchored around four spectacular things. Can you tell us more about that?

GREEN: Yeah, sure. The first is a water show, a spectacular water show. And the idea there is there's lots of elements, lights, aerialists, Acrobats. But the nature of the water show is to honor the military and the Navy with its ties to 1915. And to honor the port which was the original inspiration for the 1915 Expo happening in the first place. All of these have important symbolism, and we really looked at the border and felt we needed to do something special there to represent San Diego and Tijuana, the U.S. and Mexico. So we're putting together a network televised concert. And tell feature top iconic talent from both countries.

CAVANAUGH: Anybody on the agenda yet?

GREEN: We're far from booking.


GREEN: But the kinds of artists, the iconic figures like a Bruce Springstein or Vicente Fernandez.

CAVANAUGH: And another spectacular is the 1915 weekend, right?

GREEN: Yeah, and that one, we really felt inspired by what happened in 1915. And the more we read about the history of it, and the fact that San Diego actually lost the bid for the Expo then decided, what the hell, that's just do it anyway. So we always talk about what would it have been like to be there at that time and meet those leaders? So we said let's recreate that literally in Balboa Park. The entire experience of walking through the park and being there at the time of the Expo. So that'll involve everything from period costumes to period dance and music. But the other thing that we're really focused on is also the architecture. What we see now in Balboa Park, a lot of it is -- much of it is original, but some of it is not. So we want to take some of the original architecture and recreate it through projections and video mapping and that sort of thing.

CAVANAUGH: And the fourth spectacular is a surprise. What is the surprise?

BURK: Well, we have to keep something, obviously! So it'll be announced when it's ready. We've done a lot of work withes institutions in Balboa Park, and the institutions around the city programming in a thought forum like something that's never been seen before. So we're just looking for all the best of the city and put it on display.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us about Autonomy. You mentioned that you produced the bicentennial in Mexico City. How do you approach this? It sounds like you're going back and time and really looking into the spirit and the energy that surrounded the original 1915 centennial. ; is that right?

BURK: Yeah, absolutely.

GREEN: Our approach, it's partly research. But we also -- we don't come in sort of with our own vision should be. We sit down and meet with the best local minds and best local talent. We were trained at the hands of a gentleman named Rick Burch who is the father of the megaevent, he's done five Olympics. And he's known for just really helping organize and structure something. Because there's usually a lot of creative development that happens early on. And the challenge is to create a framework that everybody can understand, and everybody knows how they can participate. That's how we approach these things. And we work with the best local talent. And that's our process here in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what do you see about the Balboa Park Centennial that can make it into this world-class event that our mayor and the committee would like to see it become?

BURK: It's a good question. When we looked back at what happened in 1915, you just saw this incredible display of enthusiasm and community spirit behind an event. Our strong belief is that if San Diego really gets behind this and everyone really puts what they have forward, just imagine when a city puts on its best. So we look at the city, we look at the theatres, not just the Global and La Jolla Playhouse, but the other small level theatres. Of the artists, the industry, science and medicine and the contributions that the city is making in so many areas. And we also look at the international community here. So we've got spectaculars, thought forum, a series of international celebrations. And we strongly believe when all this comes together, the package of that is incredibly strong. And if San Diego wants to, it has the opportunity to put on a citywide celebration. So this is an opportunity and we're just helping present it and organize it.

GREEN: I have a belief that this is the kind of thing that is really only possible in a city like San Diego. It's something where there's so many iconic institutions here and so much to work with, but it still functions like a tight-knight community. So there is the possibility of mobilizing all of these groups and getting them on the same page. And you don't see that in many other cities. And you have Comic-Con here and the rock and roll marathon and the La Jolla Playhouse, and all the institutions within Balboa Park. But it's in their DNA. This is what sort of brought the city to life originally. The 1915 Expo was sort of the birth of modern San Diego as we understand it.

CAVANAUGH: Adam, you mentioned the fact that we have biotech, so much technology that's a part of our innovative economy. Last fall, there was a major announcement about the park centennial. And then the theme was Edge 2015. And it was supposed to be all about cutting edge technology and innovation. I'm wondering where that falls in your vision of the celebration?

BURK: Well, the edge element, the innovation element, the celebration has organically grown bigger than that. But that's still a really essential platform within it. So that's why we're creating the centennial forum which will be a year-round forum. And people have probably heard of these amazing thought forums that have become amazingly popular. We're going to create one for a city. It's going to be a beautiful temporary structure in Balboa Park. And we're going to divide it into seasons, and we're going to focus on shelter, communication, health and movement, and these are areas of human need and necessity. But they also happen to be areas where San Diego excels. Then we're going to work with programming partners from museums and universities and businesses and have a program of thought leadership, networking events, workshops, presentations, summits. And it's extremely ambitious. But our original theory, it's easily achieved if the minds of San Diego step up to the plate and want to get involved. And we've already started working with them.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. How much is this all going to cost?

BURK: People love numbers, and it's a multimillion dollar program. There's no way around it. What we're trying to do is make it fairly scaleable. So if we get a coalition of funders involved from public to foundations to private, we're not going around and putting a number out there right now. But it's a multimillion dollar celebration.

CAVANAUGH: And you say it's scaleable in that it all depends on how much money you raise?

BURK: Well, obviously the more money you get, the more you can do. But we can do pretty much everything we're talking about without having to hit the biggest possible number, if that makes sense. We look at the price of a Hollywood movie, and the valley of this entire community and city, and we're confident we'll raise enough money to put this program on.

CAVANAUGH: I think San Diegans are in general are pretty excited to see what we can do. But they also want to be able to live here when it's going on. What kind of thought is going into logistics like traffic and parking and all of that? Is that part of the kind of idea that you're putting together?

BURK: Yeah, absolutely. So the core of the celebration is in Balboa Park. And Balboa Park has been subject to years and years of scrutiny and plans and studies. So we have so much background to work with. Outside of the city, there'll be very defined moments when things will be done, so people will be able to plan for them. And the lucky thing for us as producers right now is the park is going through all these changes. We get to sit back and see what happens, then we'll put a plan together and communicate. So platforms like this are fantastic for us because we can help closer to the event, help the community understand exactly what they need to be ready for.

CAVANAUGH: Phil, do you know how much the park is going to physically change for the centennial celebration?

GREEN: The entire notion of this was to work within the existing infrastructure. So there were talks of creating pavilions and huge exhibition space. But we looked at the park and said there's beautiful space all around us. So we're doing very little in terms of construction. Staging, lights, and that's why this is scaleable and flexible. It's a vision built on programming and not on building massive structures or anything like that.

BURK: And it's anything interesting because you look at the modern expo. I went to shanghai, and there were billions spent! We're thinking there's something in that modern expo being larger on the infrastructure that is just deserted at the end, making it stronger in thought and programming.

CAVANAUGH: Do you see people being charged to attend the events?

GREEN: In some instances, they'll be charged. For the forum. We'll keep the prices low. The whole notion of the forum is that we don't want to replicate TED. We want to create a forum that is challenging but also accessible to the general public. So it may be $30 to get in to hear world-class speakers present. So we're keeping the bar low. But the rest of it, most of the programs we're creating are designed to be free and open to the public.

CAVANAUGH: This kicks off new year's eve, 2014. You produced a lively video about the centennial and what people might expect. Do you have any idea on how you're going to kick this anxiety off?

BURK: Well, we're actually not planning anything big on new year's eve right now. The program will start in January. The problem with museums is you're competing with so many other existing events, it's a very logistically complicated evening. So we don't want to add any pressure to that. And we have a year. So we're very lucky. I don't think we're going to kick it off with a massive show. But we're thinking that the 1915 gala might be a nice way to bring everyone into the right head space for the first big event then roll out the series of other events from there.

CAVANAUGH: Phil, what do you see as the return for San Diego in the long run if this centennial goes as well as you hope?

GREEN: We've talked a lot about that, the legacy of this. And one of the things is that when you go to Balboa Park, you have this -- you're struck as an outsider, not somebody who lives here day to day. And you're sort of instruct by this beauty and the sort of power of having all these institutions around you. But you also feel like it's sort of stuck in a moment in time where we want to bring everything out to the general public and put it the best on display. It's sort of a moment of transition. And a real opportunity to push the boundaries and sort of lead Balboa Park and the city into the future.

CAVANAUGH: The original exhibition, Woodrow Wilson flipped a switch in Washington DC, lit up Balboa Park, started the exhibition. Could it be this time we get a visit from President Obama?

BURK: We would love to see the president push the button once again as happened in 1915. And this is the challenge. We need to create something exceptional if you want the world leaders, including the president of the United States to show up. So that's why we're rallying San Diegans to create the moment that will be equal to such visits.

CAVANAUGH: Is there a site or a place where people can go at this point to begin finding out how they would like to volunteer or take part?

BURK: Sure., the website. And that's building every day.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both. I think you've given us a really good start, overview of this.

BURK: Thank you.

GREEN: Thank you.