Cultural Cognizance
Finding enlightening entertainment in our fair city is as easy as taking a look around; San Diego has it all, from art museums to a shared cultural history with Mexico

UCSD Guardian Opinion
March 30, 1998

San Diego is a city with secrets that it does not easily give up. As these cultural jewels are not readily apparent, people bemoan the fact that San Diego is culturally dead. Not only is this assumption incorrect, it is a shame because these people do not know what they are missing.

Since San Diego lost its symphony in 1995, the city has not had a cultural center. Museums, galleries and theaters are spread across the county. Most big cities have a center that people associate with it -- such as the French Quarter in New Orleans. Because San Diego lacks this cultural heart, it's easy to overlook everything the city does have.

In addition to lacking a cultural core, San Diego is severely outclassed in the "big-ticket items" -- like a world-class library and large museums.

Tourists and outsiders searching for the big-ticket items tend to run out of things to do in San Diego after about five days. These people go to all of the obvious places -- a baseball game, Sea World, the zoo and maybe Balboa Park for a day. When they get desperate, they go to malls and shopping centers to break the tedium.

Unfortunately, most people don't see more of the city than these scant few items. However, it's the little pieces of the puzzle that give San Diego its cultural distinction.

The landmarks from San Diego's history are plentiful and spread across the entire city. For instance, you can visit the oldest mission in the United States, or Old Town, which was the center of the city until the Great Expansion of World War II. The walk along Harbor Drive takes you through history, passing such historic sites as Lindbergh Field, the Navy Pier, the Convention Center and the Gaslamp Quarter.

The crown jewel of San Diego is Balboa Park, in the center of town. As the grounds for the 1912 Pan-American Exposition, many of the temporary buildings erected still stand today.

Even though none of the museums can be considered world class, the park houses the San Diego Zoo, numerous museums and galleries, two theater complexes, a beautiful Japanese garden and numerous International Houses. Balboa Park also has an IMAX screen -- the largest film format in the world.

Perhaps the greatest display of art and culture in San Diego is the inSITE exhibition that takes place every year between San Diego and Tijuana. Each year, different artists build pieces of art that correspond to parts of the two cities. There are also lectures and discussions concerning the state of art in the region.

In addition, the city has a tremendous theater scene. The Old Globe in Balboa Park and the La Jolla Playhouse (which shares facilities with UCSD) work hard to bring old classics and new works to San Diego.

The Old Globe re-launched the musical "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying."

The La Jolla Playhouse, started in 1947 by Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer, won the 1993 Tony Award for "Best Regional Theater." Last year, the Playhouse hosted the West Coast premiere of "Rent" and the world premiere of the musical "Harmony."

UCSD has a tremendous number of cultural resources. In fact, people make a special point of coming to our campus to attend events.

The University Art Gallery hosts many excellent exhibitions year-round. The gallery just closed a first-class exhibit called "VisAlchemical," featuring glasswork by artists such as Dale Chihuly and UCSD professor Italo Scanga. Another show will be opening in two weeks.

The Stuart Art Collection is a comprehensive outdoor collection of art spread throughout our campus. Although some of the pieces in the Stuart collection are awkward, there are gems such as the Snake Path, La Jolla Vista View and the Speaking, Talking and Dead Trees.

UCSD also hosts numerous concerts and performances. The Glenn Miller Orchestra gave an outstanding performance at the Price Center Ballroom last month and the RIMAC Arena hosts many popular artists, including Beck, Jewel and Madness. The San Diego International Film Festival is based at UCSD and premieres many great films that would be hard to see anywhere else.

The region also has a fair amount of natural delights. San Diego County encompasses many different environs. You can drive from the beach to the desert in about two hours after a stop in the mountains. San Diego has hundreds of miles of beautiful trails and wonderful beaches to explore.

So with this much culture, the question becomes, "Why don't people know about it?"

There are several possible reasons. People seem to be so focused on how great the weather is in San Diego that they might tend to forget there is more to the city than the fact that it is sunny and 70 degrees all the time.

San Diego may also receive a lot of negative publicity when ambitious endeavors fail. As in all things, experimentation is needed to flesh out ideas and thoughts. Sometimes these experiments fail at the cost of prestige and reputation.

Also, the desire to produce mediocre programs because they are popular detracts from San Diego's reputation. Why would someone want to go see a new, untested show when shows like "Annie" and "Miss Saigon" are appearing in town?

Another problem may be the fact that San Diego is constantly in the shadow of Los Angeles. A lot of the big concerts, plays and exhibits are only shown in L.A. Frequently, musical groups try to go for the middle ground between San Diego and L.A. and hold a concert in Irvine.

Even though San Diego may lack any one component that makes the city stand out, there are enough unique gems to make San Diego a unique and culturally diverse city.