Is San Diego a Literary/Artistic Wasteland?

Title: San Diego Blog

Maybe I'm just naive. Maybe I just like Rich Baiocco. And maybe, just maybe, San Diego does have an arts community. Maybe, just maybe, you have to open your eyes and look around. It's there. Like winter in San Diego, its subtle, but it's there. If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out the interview with UCSD's Lit professor/poet Eileen Myles (she's ready to move to L.A. because San Diego isn't enough for her) at Then check local writer Rich Baiocco's response at Blog San Diego:

Excerpt: "Any artist worth his or her salt in San Diego knows you need to get over yourself in this town. Yes, we're isolated. Yes, we're alienated. Get over it. Where does one get off expecting anyone to care that you wrote a poem, or painted some canvases, or your band has a demo? You need to make the scene."

On the resistance she's received teaching challenging texts at UCSD, Myles says, "I came here rewarded for being who I am, and this is my reward?" Big deal, you published a book. You think it stops there? Hit the pavement; press the flesh; do a reading at the Che Café. That's your audience. UCSD has some talented artists on both sides of the desk, but it also has a lot of big buildings and big books for those artists to hide away in, and really, academia is so far removed from having an impact on any sort of San Diego arts "scene" that it's laughable. Sure they'll dangle a cushy professor job in front of you, and maybe a sense of entitlement, but a poet's commitment is a lifelong struggle to stay relevant amidst one's surroundings.

So, I put it to Blog San Diego readers. Is there art in San Diego? Can you be an on the edge, over the edge, standing on the ledge artist in San Diego?

Responses (edited for length):

Barclay: Christ, I used to hear this "no culture" shit all the time from my ex (who was an artist living in the arts mecca of San Francisco/Oakland). It's simply not true. Myles just isn't looking....

How about checking out Ray at Night, or Kettner Nights? What about the Fashion Whore fashion shows...and spoken word and poetry readings down at SDVAG or SDAI? What about all the local music at the Ken Club, Casbah, Blind Melons (now Club 710), Dream Street, Honey Beehive, and Belly Up?

And regarding the conservatism -- yeah, overall, SD's a pretty conservative town. But so what? I'm socially liberal, but I'd rather not live in a homogeny of thought. There's all sorts down here. That's good. Dissonance helps an arts community. If you want your art to make a difference, do you honestly want to display it only to those who already agree with you? Do you have to be in the majority?

And is she honestly trying to tell me that L.A. has a less superficial arts community? Really? Aren't the artists generally in L.A. because they're looking to "make it big"? Doesn't that speak well of the SD artists who have been and continue to make art -- who do it because they have a passion for their chosen form, despite the minimal chances of "making it big" down here?

Scott Barbour: I didn't read Myles's article because I was too busy shopping for sunscreen and volleyball shorts, but I'm sure I'd be mad if I'd read it.

San Diego has lots of art. We have those funny tree-like sculptures by the Star of India and that mural of the whales downtown and other culturally significant stuff I can't think of right now because I'm too busy checking the beach and surf report.

Do we have an art scene? Of course we do. I've seen guys down by the beach who paint watercolors of the beach and they look just like the beach. Totally cutting edge.

Stack: Perhaps if Miss Myles put down the New York Times (I suspect its coverage of the San Diego arts scene is somewhat thin) and picked up a local newspaper (like the one in which her interview appeared), she would find that there are poetry readings, open-mic nights, concerts, galleries, theatres, museums, street performers, poets, painters, musicians, and on and on and on right here in sunny little San Diego. Heck, she doesn't even need to pick up a newspaper. All she has to do is take a little walk. She'll see all kinds of art. The powerful hands jabbing toward the sky on the Martin Luther King Junior Promenade. The always-changing public sculpture on the Embarcadero. The tall-ship-inspired architecture of the Convention Center. The Third & Penn and Diversionary theatres. Artwalk. Organ concerts. Music at Lestat's. Prose and poetry readings at Claire de Lune. This doesn't constitute a thriving arts community?

Then again, I find it odd that Miss Myles was shocked when her students challenged her reading selections. Since edgy hipsters challenge the mainstream, isn't it fair that the mainstream challenge them back? For that matter, perhaps the students aren't the mainstream and Miss Myles isn't so edgy and hip. Face it: swimming out of a small pond like Greenwich Village into a big sea like the rest of the world does wonders to shrink a fish's size.

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