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Arts & Culture

The Year In San Diego Arts And Culture

The airy interior of Space 4 Art, a new commune for local artists.
Space 4 Art
The airy interior of Space 4 Art, a new commune for local artists.

Art and culture kept our city humming once again in 2010. The theater scene enjoyed national attention and local critics raved. The visual arts scene continues to blossom, informed by the quality of artists working in our community. Comic-Con will stay, and a little controversy brewed here and there. Our Culture Lust round-up concludes with a list of this year's great music performances on KPBS' These Days program.

San Diego Arts in the News:

NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman (and his boots) visited San Diego twice this year. In March, he launched his national "Art Works" tour from San Diego, visiting many of our cultural institutions along the way. Landesman returned a few months later to announce the Blue Star Museums initiative, offering free summer admission to 14 local museums for military families.

The Port of San Diego selected the design team that will light the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge. The $5 million project will string a constantly changing pattern of LED lights on the bridge. For background on the project, check out our These Days interview with Port of San Diego public art director Yvonne Wise.

It was a better year for Art San Diego, the city's only contemporary art fair, now in its second year. Changing the name, location, and hiring a curator helped. The fair also hosted a day-long conference about integrating art into our city landscape.

When the Mayor announced he would recommend temporarily suspending funds for city public art projects, arts journalists pounced. The Mayor's Office has yet to release the details of the proposal.

New spaces for visual art and artists sprung up this year. Space 4 Art in the East Village continued the trend of artists colonizing this downtown neighborhood. They joined other spaces who were part of Art San Diego's "Art Labs."

More San Diego artists than ever before were selected to participate in the Orange County Museum of Art's California Biennial show.

When the San Diego Union-Tribune laid off its veteran art critic, Robert Pincus, they inspired a series of community-wide conversations about arts coverage in this city. A forum was held at Warwicks. On online campaign was launched to get Pincus back on staff. And a series of online conversations took place, including one sparked by a renegade act by a new U-T blogger.

After a lot of courting, organizers of Comic-Con International decided they would stay in San Diego for another five years. 2010's convention sold out again bringing legions of pop culture fans to San Diego for the four-day convention. I took plenty of photos and continued my exploration of fan cultures, this time learning about young Lolitas.

One of the more negative cultural stories of 2010 was the Compton Cookout held by students at UCSD. The event and fallout was covered extensively by KPBS. I posited my own theory on some of cultural trends informing the Compton Cookout.

Reasons to Celebrate:

The musical that got its start at the La Jolla Playhouse won the 2010 Tony Award for best musical. "Memphis" was directed by LJP artistic director Christopher Ashley, who was on stage at the nationally televised awards ceremony.

UCSD professor and poet Rae Armantrout won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. We talked with Armantrout on These Days about her poetry.

The San Diego Symphony celebrated its centennial season this year with a spate of concerts and parties. Apparently the Symphony is on solid financial footing going into 2011.

UCSD celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. We talked about the campus' impressive modern architecture and contemporary art collection on These Days.


MCASD hit it out of the park again this year. It's summer street art show brought artwork to the museum and San Diego streets. Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape included work by a French artist who went on to win big, and art by famed street artist Shepard Fairey. One of Fairey's expansive murals was tagged shortly after installation.

MCASD's "Here Not There: San Diego Art Now" showcased work by over 40 artists living and working in San Diego County. And, this fall brought the first retrospective for UCSD professor and artist Kim MacConnel.

The La Jolla Playhouse staged first rate productions of Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-winning play "Ruined", and the challenging "Notes from Underground."

Cygnet Theater's "Sweeney Todd" was beloved by critics and got an extended run, after which the company staged the Norman Conquests for some quality marathon viewing.

The Old Globe celebrated its 75th anniversary and staged its annual Shakespeare Festival with a new artistic director, Royal Shakespeare alum, Adrian Noble.

Ion Theatre, one of San Diego's most progressive theater companies, got a new space (the old 6th and Penn) and continued to impress with bold fare.

The San Diego Museum of Art launched a Summer Salon Series, a weekly presentation of local artists doing mostly interactive performance art. The series was a breath of fresh air. One of my favorite works involved President Obama, typewriters, and 60s fashion.

Influential gallery owner Mark Quint continued his interest in the concept of the museum store by finding new venues for Specimen - his online store. This year he found a storefront and partnered with The New Children's Museum.

Quint Contemporary Art also mounted a show of Robert Irwin's latest work, which gave us an excuse to have the artist philosopher on These Days.

A spate of local artists published books this year, including UCSD art professor Bram Djkstra, City College profs Jim Miller and Kelly Mayhew, fiction writer Debra Ginsberg, and local journalist Dave Maass (electronically!)

Lots of great stories emerged from the local music scene, but I'm going to defer to some of the local music writers I follow for this. The tireless George Varga has this round up of the year in local jazz and Peter Holslin lists the local bands that kept him listening in 2010.

New Faces:

Roxana Velásquez was appointed the new executive director of the San Diego Museum of Art. She's the first woman to hold that post in the museum's history.

Kathryn Kanjo was appointed chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Ed Fosmire took over as executive director for the Oceanside Museum of Art, replacing Skip Pahl, who retired after 12 years at the helm. (OMA had some photo-worthy events this year, one featuring tattoos, the other steampunk culture. The exhibit of Richard Gleaves' work also caught our attention.)

San Diego native and attorney Micah Parzen was appointed executive director of the San Diego Museum of Man.

Sad Goodbyes:

We said goodbye to some important voices in the arts this year:

Craig Noel, the founding director of the Old Globe Theater, passed away in April at the age of 94. On These Days, we talked with North County Times critic Pam Kragen about Noel's significant contribution to San Diego theater.

James Moody, world renown jazz saxophonist passed away in December. We searched our archives to find video of Moody performing in the KPBS studios.

Sandra Ellis-Troy, a San Diego actress with a 30-year career on San Diego stages, died unexpectedly in November.

Local philanthropist and pioneering heart valve inventor Donald Shiley passed away in August at the age of 90. Shiley and his wife Darlene are significant patrons of the arts in San Diego, including a $20 million donation to The Old Globe. (NOTE: The Shileys have also been major donors to KPBS).

Dan Kirsch (still very much alive!) will be leaving his 6-year post as executive and artistic director of Diversionary Theatre, San Diego's gay-themed theater in University Heights.

2010 Performances on These Days:

It takes a ton of work to host musicians in our These Days studio for live radio performance, but we managed to pull it off a few times this year. I've rounded up some of those performances for you, in case you missed them. It's amazing how many fine musicians work in, and travel through, San Diego.

Matt Welch and his experimental bagpipes. Yes, I said experimental bagpipes.

The Calder Quartet got up very early and, despite being sick, they performed for us.

Local bluegrass was represented by Shawn Rohlf and the Buskers.

La Jolla Music Society's SummerFest event brings some of the best classical musicians and composers to town each year. Christopher O'Riley, Wu Man, and Jimmy Lin performed for KPBS listeners.

Local indie band Joel P. West and the Tree Ring gave listeners a taste of their lovely sound.

Renown Spanish classical guitarists The Romeros performed for KPBS fans.

A young San Diego band named Old Tiger performs and talks about breaking into the music biz.

We spent St. Patrick's Day hearing music from local band Skelpin and hearing some stories from the local Irish community.

KPBS listeners were treated to performances by two stars of the San Diego Opera's production of "Romeo and Juliet."

The Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir performed live in the These Days studio.

Any stories I missed? Do you have a favorite art story from 2010? What are you looking forward to in 2011?

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.