In 2012, while working at the San Diego Museum of Art, I was given the opportunity to submit a grant application to the James Irvine Foundation for funding in support of a new public art program. The overarching idea behind the program was to give residents control of the public art process in their neighborhood. Through a series of public meetings over many months, residents of selected communities would decide how to use the Museum's funds to create a work of public art. Residents would decide the content, material, and location of their proposed work of art. The Museum would then pair the residents with an artist that could facilitate the creation of the artwork. The program's primary goals were:
- The creation of permanent, iconic works of public art which reflect the unique social fabric of each area, and strengthen a personal sense of identity and place.
- Spur cultural tourism and demonstrate the positive, economic impact of public art.
- Engage neighbors in a collaborative art project while building meaningful and enduring relationships between residents and the Museum.
- Support the imagination, uniqueness, and significance of local communities.
We named the program Opens Spaces, and it was indeed funded through a multi-year grant from the James Irvine Foundation's Exploring Engagement Fund. In 2013, artists Roberto Salas, Todd Stands, and Misael Diaz were chosen to work with residents in the communities of Lincoln Park and Logan Heights. In 2014, artists Richard Luna and Miguel Angel Godoy were hired to work with residents in Lemon Grove and National City.
I left the program in 2014 to accept a position at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. If it were not for the tireless determination and savvy community building of Irma Esquivias, the program would not have continued. Irma was the coordinator for this program from the beginning and I can't thank her enough for seeing it through.
The residents of Barrio Logan decided they needed a work of art to keep the community more connected and better informed. And neighbors eventually agreed to help create a radio station with a strong enough signal to reach the whole community, but weak enough to keep them out of trouble with the FCC! And thus was born KRPB: our community powered airwaves! The station launched as Radio Pulso del Barrio. Led by Artist-In-Residence Roberto Salas, Lead Artist Misael Diaz, and local community members, Radio Pulso del Barrio has become "a bilingual art, culture, and education-centric radio station designed, built, and maintained by the communities of the greater Logan Heights area to connect and empower its neighborhoods by giving residents a voice."
First hitting the airwaves in spring 2014, Radio Pulso Del Barrio is now streaming online.
The residents of Lemon Grove raised concerns about the Buena Vista Avenue Bridge, which cut through a main artery of the neighborhood and created a dark underpass for students and other pedestrians. Working with Artist-in-Residence Miguel Angel Godoy and Lead Artist Richard Luna, the participating neighbors came together to design and create a mural for each side of the underpass.
Local residents, Artist-In-Residence Roberto Salas, and Lead Artist Todd Stands worked for several years to complete a permanent work of public art in the Logan Heights community. After several open community meetings an initial concept was proposed. This concept, pictured left, involved LED lighting suspended from stainless steel cable at the intersection of Euclid and Imperial in Southeast San Diego.
During initial meetings, community residents voiced their concern with this intersection, and its reputation as the “four corners of death.” Through a process of conceptualization, evaluation, and feasibility studies, an artwork was conceived to rebrand the junction as “the four corners of life;” and to change the environment and aesthetics of the space into a healing and restorative symbol.
With the assistance of the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, an initial submission of this project was reviewed, but not approved by the City of San Diego. Multiple city departments participated in review and conversation about this project, and while the city supports the goal of bringing public art to Lincoln Park, it was determined that traffic safety at the intersection would be compromised.
The Museum, artists, and the community are now in the process of reviewing alternative community art projects.