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Arts & Culture

Sushi Closes Its Doors

Artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and members of his collective La Pocha Nostra at a 2008 event at Sushi.
Angela Carone
Artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña and members of his collective La Pocha Nostra at a 2008 event at Sushi.

UPDATE: For a more in-depth look at why Sushi Performance and Visual Arts is dissolving, read my story or listen to the audio story here.

I just returned from a two-week vacation to some sad news. Sushi Contemporary Performance and Visual Arts is closing after a 31-year run as one of San Diego's most progressive arts organizations (if not the most progressive).

According to the U-T, the small but groundbreaking arts organization suffered financially during the recession and never bounced back.


Sushi provided a stage for cutting-edge performance art and dance, and thereby considerably stretched the San Diego arts scene.

During the 90s culture wars, controversial performance artists (the NEA Four) Karen Finley, Tim Miller, Holly Hughes and John Fleck all performed there. Other famed artists like renowned Latino performance troupe Culture Clash and Whoopi Goldberg (early in her career) graced its performance space.

Painter Lynn Schuette founded Sushi in 1980. Schuette stacked Sushi's line-up with artists who might shock and challenge audiences, but often went on to become influential figures in the national art scene.

Recently deceased theater critic Don Braunagel described Schuette's devotion and vision for Sushi in a 1997 San Diego Magazine article about one of the organization's many resurrections.

[Schuette] started Sushi in July 1980 as a 120-seat venue in the second story of a Salvation Army building on Eighth Avenue. It was a bold venture in a scary part of the city, but Schuette persevered. Living in the building for Sushi’s first seven years, she steered her little dream through prosperity and poverty until 1993, when the company was evicted so the building could be razed for low-income housing. Schuette decided to devote herself to her painting and turned Sushi over to SDSU dance grad [Vicki] Wolf, her strong assistant for eight years.

Founder Lynne Schuette returned to Sushi as interim director in 2008 to guide the opening of a new space on 11th Avenue downtown. She launched the event with a performance by MacArthur genius award winner Guillermo Gómez-Peña.


I was there that night, as Gómez-Peña and his collective La Pocha Nostra staged a provocative fashion show. The collective creates characters they describe as “¼ stereotype, ¼ audience projection, ¼ aesthetic artifact, and ¼ unpredictable personal/social monster." Let's just say there was a lot of skin on that runway and not much "fashion."

Sushi also provided a home for the vision of contemporary music maven Bonnie Wright, who presented her Fresh Sound music series there. An experimental bagpiper (!!) named Matt Welch performed as part of that series last year and we interviewed him.

I quickly searched our KPBS archives and confirmed that we've often mentioned Sushi's shows on our airwaves because we found them noteworthy and inventive. It was a Sushi exhibit that turned me on to the Canadian duo the Cedar Tavern Singers.

According to the U-T article, Sushi's archives will go to the UCSD Library's special collections.

What were your memories of Sushi? Any shows that blew you away? Please share your memories and thoughts in the comments below.