Culture Report: Capturing Civil Rights Era Black Life in Southern California
A new photography exhibition opens this weekend in the San Diego Museum of Art’s Fleming Gallery, an admission-free space adjacent to Panama 66. “Black Life: Resistance and Resilience in Southern California” features the work of three black photographers working in Southern California during the second half of the 20th century.
Curator Gaidi Finnie, board chair of the San Diego African American Fine Art Museum, which collaborated with SDMA on the exhibition, gathered works by Guy Crowder, Harry Adams and Charles Williams from the vast archives in Cal State University Northridge’s Tom and Ethel Bradley Center.
Changing Lives and Changing Photography
“This was a community that was changing,” said Finnie. “It’s not the slavery period, it’s not the reconstruction period, but this is the civil rights period coming up to where we are today.”
The photography in the exhibition aims to showcase a wide range of black life — historically significant moments but also daily, simple life — in the period running from the 1950s to the late 1980s. Finnie subdivided the exhibition into categories including activism, sports, entertainment and lifestyle.
More than an artifact, Finnie sees this exhibition as something very much alive, that continues to inspire. Plus, that period also encapsulated changes in the medium. “There was growth in photography,” he said. As photographers like Crowder, Adams and Williams were starting out, they didn’t have the luxury of photographing celebrities or prioritizing fine art photography.
“They had to do it to try to get paid and get someone to pay them, and there were no white publications paying them,” Finnie said.
Williams, a newspaper photographer, established the California School of Photography in order to jumpstart the careers of aspiring young photographers in the community, including Adams.
As the works in the exhibition approach the ‘70s, Finnie said, there are more pieces of famous sports figures and entertainers, and more fine art photography. As the photographers and the craft grew, so did their access to those subjects.
Black Art in a Major Balboa Park Institution
“African American art is not an area in which this museum currently has a particularly strong collection,” said Anita Feldman, SDMA’s deputy director for curatorial affairs and education. Finnie and the San Diego African American Fine Art Museum had the “expertise but no venue,” Feldman said. The resulting exhibition is a collaboration and a joining of forces between institutions, along with the CSUN Tom and Ethel Bradley Center.
Finnie hopes that the exhibition — and its home in the free Fleming Gallery — will encourage San Diego’s black community and their visitors to experience the museum.
The Low-Free Secret to SDMA’s 90 Percent Increase in Attendance
During roughly the last 5 years, SDMA has launched several programs that foster access to the museum’s collection and special exhibitions. The refurbished free Fleming Gallery also reaches a broader audience that includes people who might not otherwise enter the museum.
In addition, the museum waives admission fees for school groups and youth, and their Friday night reduced admission ($5) is also free for college students. “We have definitely seen a great increase in attendance since we began these initiatives,” said Feldman. “Over 90 percent in the past 5 years.”
While the Fleming Gallery is separate from the museum’s primary space, it’s an expansion of the work into the community (along with their May S. Macy Sculpture Garden) and is integrated with Panama 66, a popular dining and drinking spot for locals and tourists alike. “I would argue that it is not off the beaten path,” said Feldman.
“Having an exhibition space that is free to the public is central to making the collection and our exhibitions more accessible,” she added.
“Black Life” is on display at SDMA from August 24 through December 1 and includes several special programs, like an opening celebration on August 29, a film screening of “Agents of Change” on September 13 and a conversation with Finnie and Keith Rice from the Bradley Center on October 26.
Third Annual San Diego Festival of Books
The Union-Tribune’s Festival of Books hits Liberty Station this Saturday, featuring Luis Alberto Urrea among a host of authors, literary stars and exhibitors. The day-long event is structured around panels and conversations, with plenty to do and see (and buy) outside of the panels, including author signings hosted by a variety of local bookstore tents. Last year’s festival attracted more than 20,000 book lovers.
The event is free, though each panel requires a $3 ticket to reserve a spot. Some panels are already selling out, and last year’s panels sold out completely. You can view a full panel schedule here.
San Diego’s Imagineer, Storytelling and More Arts and Culture News
- “The world needs powerful storytellers now more than ever,” said Nathan Young, founder and host of Daring Stories, a new project that couples a workshop with a showcase (of featured storytellers and on-the-spot volunteers in an open-mic format), all revolving around a central theme. The theme for Wednesday’s event is “Facing Your Fears.”
- Last week, the Vista City Council approved a new mural called “Long Live Vista! — ¡Viva Vista!” It will be painted by muralist Kim Cruz and inspired by Mexican “Loteriá “ bingo cards. The piece will join more than 80 other public works of art throughout Vista. (Coast News Group)
- The second installment of Artists for Artists — the local artist-run silent auction to raise funds for several arts community members battling cancer — takes place at Bread and Salt on Thursday.
- 89-year-old Carlsbad resident Rolly Crump is the last living Disney Imagineer who designed the 50-year-old Haunted Mansion I recommend skipping the lines and the sunscreen and just celebrating its 50th with these amazing photo archives. And it’s worth noting that Halloween season officially kicks off at Disneyland in just over two weeks. (U-T)
- On Sunday afternoon, “Be About It” hits Arts Park at Chollas Creek and features rap, song, dance, comedy and more, including poet Gill Sotu. Plus, it’s free!
- Quint Gallery’s current exhibition line-up is all women. All three shows run through mid-September, featuring works by Allana Airitam, Sasha Koozel Reibstein and Patricial Patterstein.
- The Symphony announced plans (and, yes, renderings) for a “summer band shell.” It’s a very poetic name. (Times of San Diego)
- Carlsbad’s Cannon Gallery’s group show with Rebecca Webb, Adam Belt and Kaori Fukuyama closes Sunday.
- This is your next-to-last warning that Roman De Salvo’s “Electric Picnic” installation, the result of his residency at the Timken, closes August 28.
- The 11th Annual Spirit Festival hits the Broadway Pier this weekend.
- The herbs and spices puns practically write themselves when almost 4 tons of pot are found buried beneath a bunch of picturesque whole jalapeño peppers at the Otay Mesa cargo crossing. But for perspective: Two days prior, an even bigger shipment of pot was found in a shipment of (boring) auto parts. (NPR)
- When the Casbah recently posted a pic on Instagram of their first White Claw shipment, along with a hashtag, I knew that it was a sign of a changing beverage industry (and not that the Casbah is suddenly less punk). This Yahoo Finance piece highlights the sudden and undeniable rise of hard seltzers among younger adults.
- Consortium Holdings’ Arsalun Tafazoli (the mastermind behind 16 bars in town, like Raised by Wolves, Polite Provisions and Born & Raised, to name a few) is profiled in Forbes.
- I loved this profile of Tijuana’s Tacos El Franc, made famous by the Netflix show “Taco Chronicles,” and longtime chef Angel Mendoza. “Set to opera music, the veteran taquero gracefully flings guacamole and salsa onto juicy steak tacos served on warm hand-made tortillas as hungry customers enjoy the subtle show.” (U-T)
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
- VOSD’s Adriana Heldiz literally walked a mile (nay, 6 miles) in a story subject’s shoes. Her photography of San Ysidro High School student Jose Luis Perez is strikingly observant.
- San Diego poet, educator and arts advocate Bruna Mori’s collaborative book of photography and poetry, “Beige,” features George Porcari’s suburban photography and Mori’s poetry, which is somehow raw, rich, stark and wistful all at once. “Beige” aims to capture the suburban spaces in Southern California.
- This piece on Graydon Carter’s new ($50 subscription) weekly newsletter: “The biggest question inspired by the Air Mail newsletters is, ‘Who could this possibly be for?’” (The Nation)
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