State of the ‘Arts & Ideas’: San Diego Center for Jewish Culture presents its entire season online

Singer-songwriter Perla Batalla kicked off the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture's 2020-21 "Arts & Ideas" season online.
Singer-songwriter Perla Batalla kicked off the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture’s 2020-21 “Arts & Ideas” season online.

The San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, a division of the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, began its 2020-21 “Arts & Ideas” season this month in an entirely virtual format designed to provide high-quality viewing experiences.

The Arts & Ideas program is slated to include about 20 performances from October through June, featuring musical concerts, dance performances, author talks, cookbook discussions, lectures and comedy.

Ryan Isaac, director of cultural arts at the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, said the decision to take the season online was made in June, which, at the time, “seemed a little aggressive.”

Isaac said he had to “consider the types of programs that would translate best” to an online viewing, noting that merely recording large-scale or ensemble performances wouldn’t equal high production value.

“We focused more on events that translate well [onscreen] and would involve one or two or three people but not an entire stage full of characters,” he said.

The cultural arts team also worked to ensure the performances would ones patrons would enjoy, even without the in-person book signings, meet-and-greets with performers or other experiences that Arts & Ideas has included in years past.

“It’s been fun to figure out how to deliver” the program, Isaac said, and finding “a method of delivering the product that is of equal value to the product itself, so the delivery doesn’t detract from the event.”

The performances selected were ones that best enabled virtual community building, he said, “where people can come together and enjoy Jewish cultural arts without being in a building together.”

Isaac said the program’s events are highly curated, ones that “resonate, and give people some happiness during these times. The subject matter is important; people need to be able to escape.”

The Arts & Ideas program is completely free, funded through a combination of underwriters who support arts at the JCC and private donations.

The season kicked off Oct. 8 with singer and songwriter Perla Batalla, a former backup singer for Leonard Cohen who traveled to the Lawrence Family JCC theater, where Batalla and a couple musicians live streamed their performance.

“It translated incredibly well,” Isaac said. “It was amazing.”

Comedic writer and stand-up performer Alison Leiby will appear Nov. 5 online.
Comedic writer and stand-up performer Alison Leiby, who has written for shows such as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” will appear Nov. 5 online.

Upcoming performances include “Inside the Mind of Miss Maisel” Thursday, Nov. 5, with comedic writer and stand-up performer Alison Leiby, who has written for television and streaming programming, including “The Opposition with Jordan Klepper” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

Saturday, Nov. 14, Encinitas-based dance company LITVAKdance performs suffrage-inspired dance, along with music from violinist Meredith Yayanos in the second of a three-part series celebrating the 100th anniversary of the certification of 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees American women the right to vote.

Cookbook author Deb Perelman, also the food blogger behind who penned a wide-reaching editorial over the summer about working parents during the pandemic, will appear in a discussion Sunday, Nov. 22.

Virtuoso jazz pianist Emmet Cohen performs an exclusive concert of jazz from Harlem Thursday, Dec. 3.

More events will be announced as dates are confirmed, Isaac said, with one benefit to an all-virtual season being more performers, normally hampered by distance and travel scheduling, are able to participate.

Remote events “gives us easier access to people,” he said. “The virtual world has connected folks, and also takes our audience from hyper-local to national and even global,” with audiences from all over the U.S. to locations as far-reaching as Europe and Australia. “That never would have happened before,” he said.

The theme of this year’s program is “represented through a slash,” Isaac said, showing the revamped logo for 2020-21 that reads “art/ideas.”

“It’s a season that celebrates the multifacetedness of all of us. We can’t be defined by one thing. We all take on different roles and responsibilities throughout the day. Each of those little things add up to a greater whole” he said. “We want to highlight and honor anybody who falls under this cultural arts umbrella who also happens to, during these times, use their voice for other reasons and causes.”

For information on tickets and performances, visit