Talking Arts In San Diego's 'Far East'

EL CAJON -- On the closing night of its latest exhibition, Studio C Contemporary, a fledgling El Cajon art studio conducted a panel discussion on the arts.

The event drew select activists in the San Diego and East County arts community for a discussion with local residents about efforts to foster what appears to be a new and growing arts presence in East County.

Studio C itself -- opened last year by Carlos Castrejon and Silvia Valentino and located at the center of El Cajon's downtown improvement district -- has been seen by many as the vanguard expression of an extension of the arts away from the core of San Diego and into East County. The studio's current show, a mix of painting, installations and performance art is clearly the kind of thing usually found in North Park or tucked away in downtown San Diego's East Village. Studio C has been joined by several other artists with nearby studios of their own.

In some ways, Friday's panel was a sort of expression of the current state of the arts in San Diego County being discussed in a new venue.

Some of the panelists clearly felt like they had landed in a foreign land and hadn't been east of the 805 in what sounded like decades. One even remarked how amazed she was that it had only taken 22 minutes, even in the rain, to make it out to this outpost of progress. Not news to the locals, of course.

Justin Hudnall, the moderator of this evening's discussion, clearly understood the sort of "chip on the shoulder'' attitude that East County can have about the way it is perceived by the West of 805 community.

Hudnall, who heads a writer's non-profit known as "So Say We All San Diego,'' is working on a San Diego Foundation-funded project to chronicle the lives and people of his native East County. He is calling it "The Far East Project.'' We get the point.

And much of this discussion of the evolution and future of the arts in East County waivered between discussing the fund-raising driven traditions of main-line arts organizations in San Diego and the current state of the arts and strategies that might work in the communities of East County.

The panelists' messages encouraged collaboration between and among community arts groups and the schools, reaching out to central San Diego organizations and building community participation as the fuel that can elevate and expand the arts community. Developing an arts community that remains metaphorically connected to the people and traditions of the surrounding community was also advised.

During a question and answer session, the event took a healthy turn to truly local arts issues as several audience members asked the arts leaders to understand and support efforts to save El Cajon's performing arts center, a pressing issue with the City Council considering razing the place.

In the end, as is usually the case in any discussion of the seemingly insoluable challenges of the arts community at large, no definitive answers emerged from the discussion. Perhaps the real accomplishment was getting some of San Diego's arts movers and shakers to venture a few minutes further east and perhaps word will filter out that rents are cheaper than central San Diego and spaces are bigger.

One constant in the history of the arts has been the attraction of cash strapped, creative artists to the places they can find to nurture their visions.

 

  

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Tags: Arts, Carlos Castrejon, East County Performing Arts Center, El Cajon, El Cajon Today, Justin Hudnall, La Mesa, La Mesa Toda, San Diego Foundation, Silvia Valentino, More…So Say We All San Diego, Studio C Contemporary

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