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Arts & Culture

A Virtual 'Art Alive' Lives On At San Diego Museum Of Art

A floral designer interprets Diego Rivera's "The Hands of Dr. Moore" at the April 2019 Art Alive at San Diego Museum of Art,
Courtesy of San Diego Museum of Art
A floral designer interprets Diego Rivera's "The Hands of Dr. Moore" at the April 2019 Art Alive at San Diego Museum of Art,

Virtual Art Alive will still feature interpretations of works of art by floral designers — using household objects — plus make-at-home cocktails.

In a single weekend last April, some 12,000 visitors stepped through the doors of the San Diego Museum of Art (SDMA). The institution's annual Art Alive floral design event is one of the biggest gatherings each year for Balboa Park as museumgoers immerse themselves in stunning, hand-crafted floral sculptures, arrangements and other blossoming artistic pieces alongside the fine art collections of SDMA.

Art Alive, established in 1981, invites hundreds of local floral designers — including David Root, Keiko Schneider and Patricia Clevenger — to select works from SDMA's permanent collection and craft a floral interpretation. Then, the designs come alive: the floral works are displayed adjacent to those works of art. The weekend-long festivities also include large-scale works throughout the museum (with an always-must-see installation gracing the two-story rotunda) and the big event: Bloom Bash.

An Art Alive floral designer's interpretation of Bouguereau's "The Young Shepherdess" is pictured in this 2018 photo.
Courtesy of San Diego Museum of Art
An Art Alive floral designer's interpretation of Bouguereau's "The Young Shepherdess" is pictured in this 2018 photo.

When the program was canceled on March 20, it seemed like a bleak signifier of the current state of affairs. I imagined the terrible "Art Alive? More Like Art Dead" headlines we'd all write. But this week, the museum announced that it's back on — and virtual.

Sarah Grossman, SDMA's associate director of special events and corporate relations, said that the energy from the community compelled them to reconsider how they could offer an online version of the event. "There really was sort of an outcry from the community — we can't be there, but can we have something? Can we still see something? Can we see something new? Can we be excited?" she said. What the team came up with aims to showcase all of the elements of Art Alive, virtually.

An Art Alive floral designer's interpretation of "Specter of the Evening" by Salvador Dali is pictured in this undated photo.
Courtesy of San Diego Museum of Art
An Art Alive floral designer's interpretation of "Specter of the Evening" by Salvador Dali is pictured in this undated photo.

Part of what makes Art Alive unique is that it was already a way of having ephemeral, social-media-friendly works alongside centuries-old pieces. But, the floral industry in general is struggling, and it's not as simple as posting crowd-less pictures of the florals on digital platforms, Grossman noted.

"This pandemic has also hit the floral community hard, plus floral markets are shut down," Grossman said. With much of their event-based clientele canceling orders, it was too much to ask that the designers simply recreate their floral designs at home.

But the pieces had been selected and a team of more than 100 floral designers had already submitted their designs. The solution? SDMA is asking the designers to recreate their floral designs with household items, which could likely mean not florals. "Maybe it'll be fruits and vegetables, maybe it'll be things from their bathrooms or their kitchens, we're not really sure. We're leaving it really open-ended to let the creativity flow and see what they can do to interpret the piece they selected with unique household objects," she said. "And maybe inspire some other people to do the same."

In addition to the installations, Virtual Art Alive will also include a digital catalog, projects for children and a free workshop on using florals and botanicals they can find in their garden and neighborhood, led by local floral shop Native Poppy.

However, it's the always-anticipated Bloom Bash party and VIP extravaganza that is often synonymous with Art Alive. To capture the event's springtime glamour, Grossman said that they'll run a live DJ set online and run social media campaigns where people can post selfies in their party outfits from home. They've also partnered with Cutwater Spirits to create simple recipes for each of the party's famous cocktails, with instructions on how to make them at home. Cutwater will also offer order-ahead delivery options.

As Virtual Art Alive tries out new platforms of sharing the experience with San Diego, it's coupled with some uncertainty about the financial future of the events industry and of course, a major anticipation to go all out next year — when Art Alive celebrates its 40th anniversary.

A fashion show is pictured as part of 1982's Art Alive, the second year the event took place.
Courtesy of San Diego Museum of Art
A fashion show is pictured as part of 1982's Art Alive, the second year the event took place.

For all the event vendors they work with — not just floral shops but other event necessities like bartenders, security, chair rental, food and drink, music, and more — Grossman feels their pain. "Our events are just one casualty of hundreds they've lost over this month, last month, and who knows how far this could go into the future." she said. "There's a lot of fear and sadness. Being in the events industry, it's still like 'when can we have the next event?'"

Fortunately much of the funding for the event was secured in advance, but it's still SDMA's main fundraiser for the year and the uncertainty of corporate sponsorships and the loss of ticket revenue will impact the museum. All Virtual Art Alive events are free to the public, with lead-up events beginning now on social media through the Virtual Art Alive weekend April 24-26.