First Comes Art, Then Comes A Party, Then Comes Community Empowerment
Community members bet on City Heights block party to shed stigma, spur action
The exterior of the Treasure Trove shop in City Heights was a frequent target for vandals. The barren facade was a ripe canvas for graffiti, frustrating for both the owner and community members — so they took charge. The space is now occupied by swirls of cerulean, mint and rose paint depicting the sea at sunset.
Carlos Quezada, who works at a nearby school, helped arrange an artist to conduct the work after hearing businesses complain about the frequent tagging.
“This wall for example was hit once a week, and it’s been over a month and it hasn’t been touched so, we’re really proud of that,” Quezada said.
The neighborhood has long been painted by outsiders as dangerous, but locals know it as a welcoming district rich in diversity. Quezada and his fellow community members are working to empower residents in shedding the negative stigma. The mural is just the first step.
Co-organizer and resident Edwin Lohr said the illustration by volunteer artist Erin Bowman is a product of community collaboration. Bowman donated her time, the Treasure Trove offered the space and area school children lent a hand. He said the project was well-received; someone even painted a small “thank you” on the wall after it was complete.
“The businesses [are asking] ‘Can we do one down there? Can we do one down here?’ So I think it’s really catching on,” Lohr said.
They have arranged two other artworks in the area, dubbing the series #TheAvenueMuralProject. They plan to do more this summer, and possibly collaborate with taggers in the area, pending funding and resources. In the meantime, they want to tap into the mural momentum and drive community engagement forward.
To keep the energy going, Quezada said his first thought was to throw the neighborhood a party.
“To be able to bring them together, and combine all the strengths of the community I think is what would bring up the residents,” he said, “and then bring people in so they can see it as a another place to go just like Pacific Beach, or Chula Vista, or North Park.”
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Love City Heights Block Party
When: Sat., June 24, 1 - 7 p.m. (event will be live streamed on Facebook)
Where: 3945 University Ave
1:15 - DJ Camacho
2:15 - Raffle
2:30 - DJ Parradax
3:30 - Karma Godz
4:45 - Raffle
5:00 - StoryBox Theater
5:30 - Piracy Conspiracy
6:15 - Raffle
The “Love City Heights” block party will feature musical acts, artwork, a literary performance and raffles. The name comes from a mural that bears the same slogan and sits within a once-vacant lot where the festival will be located. The June 24 event sponsored by the City Heights Business Association will connect residents with scores of community resources and will include an award ceremony for whoever posts the most mural pics to social media.
Quezada said the goal is to celebrate City Heights, but is also goes deeper than that.
“A lot of people don’t know what’s here and are afraid because of the stigma, so we’re really trying to break that stigma and bring people into the community,” he said.
Brittnee Woodard, who grew up in City Heights and is searching for an affordable place to move back, said uniting the neighborhood can help.
“There is so much that we, the people can come together and do for each other and it really takes a village in order to make a community run,” Woodard said.
Similar ideas have been successful elsewhere in the U.S., including Dallas. That is where Jason Roberts wanted to see vibrancy in his blighted community of Oak Cliffs.
"It's always been considered a bad part of town," Roberts said at an independent TED talk in 2012.
To counter that, he organized an interactive art event, spending his own time and money to pull it off, and expected about a hundred people to show. Turns out, seven times that many people showed up.
“At that point, we learned, 'Wow, if somebody just stands up and takes an initiative to give somebody an idea to change a perception of a place, it makes a huge difference,'” he said.
Roberts said the facility became a regular space for public gatherings, so he kept going, and eventually earned his community a multi-million dollar grant. He now leads a nonprofit that encourages similar grass-roots action across the country.
Quezada’s idea doesn’t stem from Roberts — he actually had not heard of him — but their hearts are in the same place.
“I just think that when things need to be done, somebody needs to do them," said Quezada, who received a certificate from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer for his work on the murals.
He said he wants the block party to be a monthly or at least annual event, but his role in its future is uncertain. The custodian received a layoff notice from the San Diego Unified School District and will not know if the next job he gets will allow time for volunteering.
Summer Events from City Heights Business Association
June 16: Outdoor screening of Moana
June 24: Love City Heights Block Party
July 7: Outdoor screening of Sing
July 15: Watercolor prints with artist Stacie Greene & performance by Samahan Filipino Performing Arts Company
July 29: Create Carnaval masks with San Diego Guild of Puppetry
Aug. 4: Outdoor screening of The Secret Lives Of Pets
Aug. 19: Collage-making with artist Romare Bearden & music by Rob Thorsen Jazz Quartet
Aug. 26: Mirror art with artist Stacie Greene & performance by La Fiesta Danzantes