Patricia by Patricia

Patricia by Patricia
Patricia by Patricia

Monday, February 23, 2009

Snapshots: Changing perspectives in the San Diego Art Scene

Snapshot – One women’s personal views on Changing Perspectives in the San Diego Art Scene: Notes from the panel discussion.

Snapshots: Changing perspectives in the San Diego Art Scene was held on Sat. Feb 21 at 7:00 pm. This was a panel discussion with Philly Joe Swendoza (
ArtRocks!), Robert Pincus (SD Union Tribune), Patricia Frischer (San Diego Visual Arts Network), and David White (Agitprop Gallery) and moderated by:Katherine Sweetman (Director, Lui Velazquez) held at Art Produce Gallery (3139 University Ave, SD 92104) but organized by Kevin Freitas (Art as Authority) 619.337.4891.

Your can now see the entire panel on video by Lynn Susholtz and transcribed for UTube by Katherine Sweetmen. Enormous thanks to both for the time and effort.

Why does one agree to participate in a panel discussion and why does someone show up to hear the panelist. I am trying to make sense of the evening activities and so am presenting this personal view to help me clarify my thoughts. I have added my speakers notes to the end of this blog to show more clearly the sequence of questions and my own personal responses for those who were not there or need a refresher.

I think some of the audience will have come away from this evening with frustration…yet more talk and no action. Others will have been highly offended by what was said. But I came away with a sense that there was a strong need for an arts community in SD. This is something that I have been noticing for years. In a conversation I had during the wind down of the evening with Mark Rodman Smith, we discussed how the Arts supply the tools to define community. Definition of community is a commodity that every SD communities (not just the arts) is looking for especially right now as we all struggle to survive. I think that the arts community is built through collaborations and we have an opportunity now to help the general community define itself.

My husband, Darwin, says that SD has an inferiority complex. This is bad in itself but also produces some bad behaviors. Some people self aggrandize to build ego. (Am I guilty of this? I hope not but I have been accused.) They can become territorial and combative instead of collaborative. My stance has always been that we have to pull together to create a tide that raises all boats.

Luis Ituarte described us as an area “under construction trying to find out who we are.” We have turned north to LA, but can also turn south to the “fire of TJ” as Perry Vasquez suggested. I would like to see SD defined community by community and not branded in a big corporate way. That is not to say I don’t appreciate the appeal of branding. Pierrette Van Cleve volunteered her expertise on the high end art market, but missed the point that most of those present were at the event seeking community not a ticket to ride. But I certainly appreciate her effort to attend and participate even if her views were labeled by one as fascism! I am sorry that excitement was at her expense, but at least it was controversy which was otherwise too lacking. I was expecting to be grilled for choosing Movers and Shakers and promoting Art Stars. But I got off lightly.

Robert Pincus and Pierrette agreed that art collectors in SD lack confidence to buy here. I don’t think we did enough to address that problem. Certainly it was mentioned that Museums are not doing enough to support new talent. We would like to see a curators open competition established to suggest shows outside of the white box. Lynn Susholtz called this “curator wars”. I would also like to see collectors wars with a competition and a cash award for the best compilation of art work. There are not enough professional art galleriest. Kyle Forbes did suggest privately that as a non artist he was surprised how non-inclusive artist were. He thinks there is a grass roots yearning for artists to speak directly to potential patrons. Galleries struggle with this we know. Artists do too little to help market their own work and need to make better work and raise the bar higher. And yes, I agree that making good art is not enough. Too bad, but true.

But it was Philly Joe Swendoza’s constant call to those present to get off their duffs and do something that rang true to many all night long. David White’s remarks that “all the things we hate are also our opportunities” was so hopeful and his closing reminder to “not be afraid to fail” are engraved on most artist hearts but still needed to be stated and expanded to include community projects as well as the art itself.

Kevin Freitas was extending a conversation that started on Art As Authority with this panel. Robert Pincus agreed to be present as this was also a discussion they were having privately. Now you are invited to join in if you wish. There are those that observe, those that complain and then those that do. Which are you?

Here are my notes. I hope you let us hear from you.

  1. In your opinion what are the problems with the San Diego Art Scene?
    Jealousy over funding and contacts holding back collaborations.
    There are not enough collaborations to show the strength of the visual arts in SD to the great mass of disinterested casual observers.
    Artists wait for galleries to build a market. Instead, a partnership should be created between artists and galleries to promote art.
    Art Associations are not educating artists on marketing and concentrating on building audience.
    A lack of curators hunting out artists of excellence and producing exhibitions of their art. This is one of the reason it is hard to discover new talent. Who is looking for it?
    There are too many boring juried shows where the fees finance the show.
    There is massively uncreative programming from the arts administrators at city and county levels and lack of collaboration amongst them so they are constantly each reinventing the wheel.
    Obviously there is a lack of funding for arts education in the schools.
    The attempts to involve the corporate world in the arts are too few and far too ineffectual.
    Finally, networking opportunities for artist are lacking.

  2. Why do we stay in San Diego?
    There is incredible artistic freedom which I compare to the Wild West.
    No one is really watching what artists here do which means anything goes.
    If someone like me can come and help create the SDVAN visual resource in just 10 years, the sky is the limit for young entrepreneurs with energy and creative ideas.

  3. How do we get more/better/diverse art coverage from the media? / What should the arts be asking of our writers?
    I would like to see more curated shows of excellence with intriguing themes which attract a new audience.
    We need to encourage any good writer to write about the arts.
    Museums and Universities should give more awards for art writers. We discovered and encouraged two art writers from the Vision to Page competition. Students are also a good source of art writing which is untapped.
    More online interviews and videos (new technology) featuring artists and reviewing shows are needed and could be the breakthrough to a new audience.

  4. What sells in SD? How does market affect what is made here?
    Works made by children to their parents, highly discounted art at charity art auctions, art made by an artist sold to another artists (luckily we have artist with money) and a few commercial galleries who know their clientele have survived from selling art.
    What could sell here might be a better question? Icons of the youth culture and art as status symbols if we could convince the rich that local art is a status symbol.
    I do not think that any honest artist seriously thinks about what sells. And most do not have a clue what sells. Making art is a calling. If a few artists are only concerned about marketing and have some success, this is not prevalent or interesting to me except as a phenomenon.

  5. What can we do to make the art scene better?
    Sharing contacts through more collaborations instead of withholding that information would be a good start.
    Artists should learn to understand how to be professional and help galleries to build a market
    New Galleries should be correctly financed to survive the seven years it take to break even.
    Underground art spaces should be supported as they help enormously to build community.
    I would like to see each museums holding at least one open submission for curated shows which showcase artists of excellence.
    If the various City Arts Commissions/Board could form some sort of an Association it might go a long way to creating synergy and build projects across the county.
    Corporate funding for arts education in the schools needs to be coupled with corporations receiving recognition for this effort.
    More and better parties and not just because life is often too serious but because that is where artists usually network, relationships are started and people discuss art.

Patricia Frischer, coordinator, San Diego Visual Arts Network 760.943.0148

Your can now see the entire panel on video by Lynn Susholtz and transcribed for UTube by Katherine Sweetmen. Enormous thanks to both for the time and effort.


  1. Kudos on getting the blog started! I agree with one of Darwin’s observations, but not with the other. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of self-aggrandizement in the San Diego arts world. I’ve witnessed turf wars over neighborhoods in downtown that are less than a mile apart from each other. This should not be happening in a city with less than 30,000 residents. Surely there could be a consensus to create a monthly arts event, but few want to change and seem to have the attitude “it’s my way or else”.

    As for Darwin’s observation on an inferiority complex, I don’t see that at all. What I see, is a city that rests on its laurels as “America’s Finest” and feels that it is superior to others. When CCDC was looking for ideas on how to revitalize C Street, I made a presentation to the CCAC Arts & Culture Subcommittee for an arts corridor that would provide artists with live/work space, create a walkable gallery district that could be promoted to tourists spending $300+ a night at exclusive downtown hotels, and include performance space at a revitalized California Theater. Because San Diego’s art galleries are so dispersed tourists (i.e., potential buyers) will not travel to them. (This was an observation made by AMS Planning & Research in a 2004 study it conducted for CCDC.) My presentation also suggested that the City invest money to assist gallery owners in getting out of their current leases so they could co-locate as they do in other successful art markets. I was dismissed by the so-called arts committee and told that San Diego was not an arts city, but a sports city. I was nonplussed by this reaction and appalled that the Arts & Culture subcommittee was made up of people who know nothing about the arts and care not one iota about culture. (And to say San Diego is a sports town is just another example of hubris. San Diego has two franchises and it rarely fills its baseball park.)

    Arts education in the schools is obviously important and your suggestion that corporations start to fund such an initiative is a good one. However, even though San Diego is the 8th largest city in the country, it boasts a total of four (4) Fortune 500 companies. Large corporations are needed for a city of this size to create private/public partnerships that help fund important programs that the city cannot afford to do on its own. They attract workers that buy homes. They pay taxes that fund city services. They create jobs. They support arts and cultural institutions. They have corporate art collections. During the most recent campaign season I could not get anyone to have a serious discussion about creating an environment that welcomes large corporations and a strategy for attracting them to San Diego.

    The biggest hurdle I see to creating and sustaining a city that values its artists and culture is the lack of political will and understanding. I preach to the choir when I say to you that the arts create jobs, bring in revenue, and revitalize a city. Until the City Council, CCDC, and the Mayor’s office recognize the arts as fundamental to a livable city, nothing will happen. Leadership and a clearly articulated vision is what are needed for San Diego to be a truly great city. There are too many organizations fighting for the same piece of the pie and no voice challenging creative problem solving and collaboration. Oh, that there were a few more Pam Slater-Price’s who give generously and often!

  2. I went to this panel discussion as an artist observer.

    When I came down from the Bay Area I found it very difficult to connect with the art community. It was easy in the Bay Area, but it was only easy because this is where I received the majority of my fine art education. Through academia I was introduced and therefore connected to this art community. Here I was a stranger with no connections to give me an introduction.

    This was fine, plenty of work to do in the studio, I went to galleries, and museums, travelled up to LA, and the rest of the time spent making money to survive. Then at some point I thought it might be a good idea to connect with the art community here. I quickly found it impossible to have a conversation with other artists that did not come down to showing and selling, and a constant complaining about the lack of one, the other, or both.

    I craved real conversations, like we’d have in the Bay Area, shows you saw, what you were readings, interests, influences, politics, etc. For me it’s been 20 years here and I am resigned to not having these connections, but I hope for the benefit of the San Diego art community this changes.

    It was informative to observe the dialogue and I sincerely hope it continues.

  3. I attended and appreciated the talk and thank the people who made it happen. Also, its helpful to be able to see your talking points Patricia as a refresher.

    I agree with most of the points. More collaboration and community support is needed. As well as more dialogue. Those things are pretty obvious. Maybe it needs to be better understood that by supporting others in the San Diego "scene" we implicitly support ourselves as people who participate in that scene. Thus the importance of talking up other artists and showing up at as many events as possible. Showing up goes a long way.

    Also, we need to be very open about the need for people to buy art in San Diego. I think this is crucial. Short of being confrontational, artists, gallery owners, and everyone else should emphasize to community members the importance of becoming a patron, and quite frankly the personal benefit people receive from acquiring a piece of art that they love. It would probably be a really good thing if this was on everyone's mind.

    The idea of more critical writing is a very good idea, and if the San Diego publications won't take the initiative, I don't see why individuals shouldn't.

    Just out of curiosity...who other than the ultra rich or ultra connected is going to be able to secure financing for a sales gallery for seven years? How is that realistic? It feels discouraging for a young person like myself who has just opened an art gallery to hear such a thing. I understand that a commercial art space takes a great deal of time and resources to develop, but at the same time I think that young artists/entrepreneurs in San Diego should be encouraged to go out on a limb. Suggesting seven years of financing seems less than encouraging.

    Since I am new in the community, these events are very helpful for me. I invite anyone to come up to North County and visit The Andrews Gallery. Furthermore, I am happy to provide the gallery as a venue for more discussion and dialogue, art partying, or any other such stimulating and creative events. Get in touch: WWW.THEANDREWSGALLERY.COM

  4. The panel discussion was a rare forum for all spokes of the wheel so to speak (artists, art advocates, dealers, gallery owners, art media...) to dialogue about what really motivates artists in San Diego and how our creative work functions in the community beyond our studio doors. I'm grateful to the organizers and participants for giving their time to allow such a dialogue to occur.

    No consensus of direction was defined by the end of the meeting, but the questions raised were provocative enough to illuminate a few loose conclusions:

    -Artists may see the current economic downturn as a source of freedom. Though sales and funding are essential scaffolding for the educational and community institutions and galleries that support artists, without financial reward, all the artists I know are still making work. We work an extra job. We live on less. We use cheaper materials or sacrifice other expenses to allow for our materials of choice, but we change everything else so we may continue working. We obviously have a drive to create that precedes the art's value in a market, and liberates art from being considered exclusively as a commodity. That being said, if our work doesn't depend on sales, we can do whatever we want. I'm reminded of Paul Newman playing poker, in jail, in "Cool Hand Luke" when he says "Sometimes nothin' is a real cool hand."

    -On that premise, we also have a chance to redefine our value to the community. If artists never get rich, why does the assumption subsist that we do it for the money? The art world requires money to stay afloat, but the arts have inherent value to the larger community. Many artists just want their work to be seen and to share with others the sentiment they saw important enough to render.

    -There was a real call to artists by several panelists to take control of more of what happens outside the studio door. If we want to be a creative community and not a handful of disconnected fringes, we can't passively wait for someone to discover our work and take over it's place and purpose. We have to get involved and get to know each other. This is where things got a bit fuzzy and inconclusive, but we mentioned artist-organized events, shows, and a lot of writing by artists as well as art writers as ways to start. We need to not see a separation between ourselves in the studio and the "art world", art education, or the the city and business development that should consider it a priority.

    -One way to get involved might be to support the effort to create affordable live/work spaces for artists. We need affordable workspace, and working closely with other artists usually fosters quality work because we dialogue to resolve ideas and inspire each other to stay on it and expect higher standards of ourselves. I hate to say it but sometimes we all need to be told that something's just not working out... and that can push us to go to a higher level.

    I hope we can continue the dialogue and organize our thoughts and energy.

    Lea Marie Dennis

  5. As an artist, the last thing that I want to be bothered about is the art scene. I don't have the time to show up at all the right parties, at all the "important forums," at the myriad art openings, at all those occasions where I am likely to meet the people who can make me or break me. Like many artists, I'm too busy creating art that in all likelihood will fade into obscurity.

    But since you asked, I can tell you what won't help the scene--the self-satisfied mugs of self-proclaimed movers and shakers who, as hardworking and dedicated as they might be, already hold sufficient power over the artists who need their support. Though the event I'm referring to was disingenuously promoted as an opportunity to bring attention to the artists themselves, it was embarrassingly clear by the name of the event who actually received top billing. And what did the artists themselves receive for their fawning participation? The Medici may have been vainglorious tyrants, but at least they paid a generous rate for flattery.

    It is true that this exhibit attracted a large crowd, and was touted as one of the most successful exhibits in recent San Diego art scene history. That may not be surprising; when movers and shakers indulge shameless fantasies of celebrity, they will inevitably attract schmoozers, sycophants, and party sniffers to their coattails, if at the same time discouraging artists less tolerant of that kind of vulgarity. I understand, of course, that marketing is important, but genius and marketing are estranged siblings, and should always remain so, even in the same person. You’d do best to stop trying to negotiate a reconciliation between them.

    Furthermore, this insistence by promoters to fuse the San Diego party and art scene is ultimately self defeating. Art carnivals, with their live bands, body painting, fortune telling, et alia, are certainly great fun, but they do little to bring the art scene to the attention of the serious buyer. Can we not have faith in the public to appreciate art on its own merits, or faith in the power of the art itself? Frankly, this circus repels many artists with more sensitive constitutions, who live more introverted lives, who are more comfortable holding a paintbrush at home than a glass of wine at a Saturday night soiree. True movers and shakers would move beyond the pool of those artists more tolerant of the social game, and shake out talent amongst the disagreeable and unsociable, amongst those whose work challenges their assumptions about art itself, and about what is marketable. And a true mover and shaker would write and talk about this art, with seriousness, with thoughtfulness, without fear of causing offense to a friend, and with a willingness to become as unpopular as some of the artists themselves. That is how a scene is made.

    Gabriela Anaya Valdepeña

  6. There is a place in the art world for large parties but I would actually like to see more small gathering where the artist can meet potential collectors and talk to them. Many young people have an expressed an interest in this after their exposure to art walk events. But galleries have found this difficult and time consuming with little result in sales it seems. I think this might be short sighted. It takes a long time to culitvate an interest in art and we have to be prepared to help as much as possible. That can not be done by 40 or 80 VIPs in the art world. It has to come from a more grass root push to muster our talents and enthusiam and come up with new plans to involve a new audience in the art. And I am not speaking of Art Association which show work to each other, but of creative and cutting edge ideas to help shape our future.

  7. I think it’s true that smaller gatherings where artists meet potential collectors would be a great idea, especially if the artists themselves don’t have to be very involved in organizing them. Isn’t that precisely the type of moving and shaking that gallery owners and such should be doing, if they want to foster the health of a long term scene? Of course, it must be frustrating when city officials, and also gallery owners and museum directors, won’t cooperate.

    On the other hand, artists themselves might be well advised to ignore the whole issue. It’s true, perhaps, that if they got more involved in their own marketing, they would sell more. But would that mean better art? I like what Lori said above about real conversation between artists, and critics, about ideas, about what makes good art, about why art might matter to the broader culture, about whether it should matter at all? Wouldn’t that be more interesting and invigorating to the artist, and to the public? The scene be damned; if it withers, maybe it deserves it.

    Really, there’s all too much niceness in the San Diego art world. I think we need more contempt, not less--contempt for each other, and for the public at large. Let’s be honest: haven’t we always enjoyed that? The public has too, for that matter; that’s what makes them interested in art in the first place. Of course, that contempt has to be both genuine, and interesting, which isn’t always easy. And above all, let’s never let on to the public at large that we care about whether they know we exist.

    Gabriela Anaya Valdepeña

  8. Gabriela -

    taking a clue from what you said, and not out of any real contempt towards you, it is a great fallacy to believe galleries, collectors, critics et al. should be on their hands and knees serving the artist's interests. It is high time for artists to get off their duffs and do something for their own community. Making art does not make it great. You may have a gift but your job has only began as an artist.

  9. Kevin,

    You go ahead and serve the scene, I'll do my best to serve art itself. In the meantime, peel me a grape.


  10. Gabriela -

    The problem with leaving comments and how well they are expressed, depends on the writer and of course, and the reader. I knew my previous comment was not perfect. Alas, peel you a grape is pretty funny. But, "serving" art, isn't this a very tired, romantic, self-serving cliche that should be done away with? The artist as visionary... etc etc. How relevant is all that today?

  11. Kevin,

    "To be original, by definition, is to be profoundly derivative" --Manifesto of the NovaNaive

    I get to decide which cliches I will or will not do away with; that is the privilege of an artist. Art as a means to a social end is nothing new either, and this approach will often produce mediocre art, which may or may not have popular appeal, but which will in all likelihood be soon forgotten. Serving art is not necessarily self-serving either, since not a few artists have broken themselves in this service.

    But then, what does it matter? When the meteor comes, the work of the greats and the also-rans will be buried together. There has to be some impetus for creating art that transcends either the need to form a community, or the dream of personal immortality. I think those anonymous artists from Lascaux must already have known the answer to that.

    We could go back and forth here until the last red dwarf whimpers good-night and never reconcile. But I really wouldn't want us to. And now that I've shaken up some movers and shakers, I feel, at last, I've done my part for the San Diego art scene.

    I'm still waiting for that grape.


  12. Gabriela -

    I would peel you a whole fruit salad if you wanted but bear with me here. I don't know if you could truly classify me as a mover and shaker, your comment about how I should serve the scene intrigues me. Only because I do not think I do so. My "take" on the scene is to enlarge the perspective form both sides of the spectrum - artist/public - and justly do away with those cliches that only corrupt us in the end. While we're waiting for the meteor to hit, we can at least do the right thing.

  13. Kevin,

    A whole fruit salad huh? Now we're talking. I confess, I don't really know if you are much of a mover and shaker; I've never seen you dance. I do, however, appreciate the thoughtfulness and energy of your critiques on local art. But the moralist approach to art, this white noise about an artist's responsibility to the community, as an artist, I just find tedious. Art represents for me the exact opposite--an escape from ordinary responsibility, an amoral state of being where I can explore subjects and voices with complete freedom, where I can dance all night with Thanatos if I want to, in red shoes. I don't want to do the right thing, whatever that means, I want to do the wild thing, until the meteor stops the music.



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