National Arts Leaders: Breathe New Life into San Diego
There is a handful of renowned cities that continually top the list of performing arts hot spots — New York City, Chicago, London, Berlin, Rome, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Paris, to name a few. San Diego’s popularity in the realm of artistic attraction tends to ebb and flow, but that hasn’t stopped a recent spate of new blood from rolling in with intent to put San Diego squarely on
“It’s thriving, and vibrant,” explains David Bennett, recently appointed General Director of the San Diego Opera, “and led by many cultural leaders who have recently relocated to San Diego. Artistic quality and support for the arts is already very high, and with new leadership, the possibilities are even greater.”
Bennett comes into his new position after several years at The Gotham Chamber Opera in New York City, where he gained popularity by thinking outside the box, presenting unique performances in alternative spaces. For many, his hiring comes at a crucial time, after the Opera announced it would close its doors just last year, only to be saved by a successful fundraising effort.
The Opera is steadfastly behind Bennett’s ability to appeal to the community at large with his innovative thinking. And San Diego, he says, is just the place to employ these measures. “The large cultural institutions here are just beginning to grapple with how to speak more relevantly to all of the various populations that make up San Diego. That’s an exciting opportunity: to create art that touches all of our residents.”
Bennett says he will begin by augmenting large-scale opera at the Civic Theatre with chamber opera, concert opera, and musicals in venues throughout San Diego County. “And we will be spreading out the Civic Theatre season throughout the year, beginning in the fall and ending in late spring,” he adds.
At The Old Globe, Barry Edelstein made the journey from New York City in 2012 to take over as Artistic Director. Considered one of the nation’s leaders on staging Shakespeare, he says that while San Diego is not quite at the Big Apple’s level, he emphasizes that it is certainly a contender. “San Diego’s theatre scene fights way, way above its weight,” he says. “The work on the stages here on any given night is as good as anything you could see in the leading theatre capitals around the world. I really mean that.”
Aside from being a testing ground for Broadway-bound plays, The Old Globe remains a popular attraction for the community thanks to local seasonal favorites like How the Grinch Stole Christmas. “One huge difference between here and [New York] is the way that the Globe in particular is rooted in the community in San Diego,” say Edelstein. “It’s very much like a family member, woven into the very fabric of life here, a fabric that’s unimaginable without this institution. You don’t get that very often in
By incorporating new cultures, new diversity, and new ideas to the arts scene, visibility and attendance can only grow. “I came from Chicago, where there was also a very diverse cultural scene with organizations large, small, and in-between,” says Martha Gilmer, who came from the Windy City in 2014 to replace Edward Gill as CEO of the San Diego Symphony. “Culture was part of what attracted visitors to the city of Chicago, and that is what I want to assure here as well.”
Gilmer mentions she will experiment a bit with the Symphony in order to maintain an upswing in attendance, including changing program format by collaborating with a dance company (this season with John Malashock’s Dance Company), adding interactive programs like the upcoming “Beyond the Score” performance in January in which the Symphony will present a “live-documentary” about a piece of music that was originally created for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and incorporating a month-long festival around a central concept or idea. “The orchestra is so open to new possibilities and ideas, that I really look forward to seeing just where our combined energy and curiosity will take us,” says Gilmer.
Just last month, the La Jolla Music Society introduced Kristin Lancino as its new President and Artistic Director. Lancino also came from New York City, where she was the Executive Director of IMG Artists, overseeing the Artist Management divisions for North and South America. With over three decades in the arts, Lancino arrives in the wake of the LJMS’s announcement they will introduce a new concert hall in downtown La Jolla, The Conrad, which will open in the next few years.
“There is a real palpable desire here to learn about new arts as well as honor the historic,” she says. “ I observe, in these very early days, that San Diego is poised, in its unique way, to offer all of that and more — the “more” being a reflection of the San Diego perspective and communities.”
Lancino is bringing in a host of exciting performances for the season, including Moves by the New York City Ballet, the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour.
As for how all this new blood will affect San Diego’s global arts impact, Lancino stresses it’s best to take it in stride. “Whether we’re a global contender is best answered by others outside of San Diego. I do know that the best thing to do is not to look left, right, or behind. Just go forward and immerse oneself into what is creative and strong artistically. That is what excites our many San Diego populations — the young, the new professionals, and the already-engaged arts lovers.” RYAN THOMAS
Barry Edelstein: Photo by Doug Gates Martha Gilmer: Photo by Lauren Radack Kristin Lancino: Photo by Paul Body