Give it up for ArtPower!'s eclectic new season at UCSD

By John Lydon


Summer may be drawing to an end, but there are consolations: UCSD’s ArtPower! is about to begin a new season filled with music, dance, film, food for thought and for the taste buds.

On Wednesday, the first day of autumn, the multi-art series’ 2010-11 season will get underway with a free screening at 8 p.m. on the East Lawn of UCSD’s Price Center. The Fresh Air Film event will present a “vintage vignette” followed by District 9, a science fiction thriller with political connotations about extraterrestrial refugees stranded in South Africa.

Before the film, a “snack-pack dinner” is available while local band Chairs Missing performs its blend of psychedelic, pop and folk music at 7 p.m. At 7:30, sci-fi writer David Brin and Kelle Anzalone of ArtPower! will talk briefly.

The blend of food, music and discussion setting the stage for a thought-provoking film wednesday is an apt introduction to the ArtPower! 2020-11 season, a veritable cornucopia of music, dance, film, food, special events, comedy and readings, parties, discussions, meetings with artists, and more.

Martin Wollesen, the artistic director of Artpower! since it began seven years ago, and the event coordinator at UCSD, agrees that there’s a lot going on.

“One of the common refrains I’ve gotten after people got the brochure is, ‘Wow, it’s so much stuff’” he said.

With the wide range of events planned, ArtPower! seems to have something for everyone. Take music, for instance. On the program for October alone is the opening concert of the chamber series with the world-class Emerson String Quartet, Saturday Night Live veteran Steve Martin playing the banjo with the Steep Canyon Rangers bluegrass quintet, Ethiopian-American jazz singer Meklit Hadero, and the Faure Piano Quartet. That’s not counting an assortment of seven or eight bands and groups playing in The Loft performance lounge.

Wollesen said that he had various themes in mind when putting together the programs for this season. One, he said, was that art is not separate from the world around us.

“It’s part of daily life. So we wanted to provide a conversation with artists about how they engaged their art in other areas of their lives.”

One outcome of this is the Arts and Activism series which will present conversations with performers whose art takes a stand on social issues in an effort to stimulate discussion and provoke thought.

On Oct 13, the all-male Senegalese dance troupe Compagnie Jant-Bi will present Waxtaan, a production that places traditional African dances in a new context, thus creating a commentary on the politics of the continent. The performance will be followed by an After Party.

ArtPower! has other plans involving dance this season. A dance festival is planned for the spring.

“Our goal is that for three days in the spring quarter we’ll have eight to ten companies performing on a three day weekend, as well as an opportunity for artists to connect and interact together,” Wollesen said.

An unusual feature of the ArtPower! is the fundamental role given to food.

“Food is very much part of our cultural and artistic experience when we allow it to be. We wanted to invest in that idea.”

One such initiative is the “Foovies.”

“We screen films that have a food component and then we serve dinners prior to the film that were inspired by the film,” Wollesen said.

A related initiative is a piano recital in March. Pnina Becher will play sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, an 18th-century Italian composer who left his homeland to live in Portugal and Spain. The sonatas will be presented together with fine wines of these countries selected by Becher that to her mind represent the flavor of the different pieces.

That Artpower! is able to put together such a wide-ranging series may seem surprising in the midst of such a strong recession. But not to Wollesen.

“There is something fundamentally of value about the arts when times are tough and people are seeking meaning in their lives,” he said. "... People understand that the arts provide a way to explore some of the challenges and issues that are in their lives.

We can think short term, that here’s the economic climate and let’s retreat. But we have to be focused on continually building for the future. ... There are audiences that are growing up today that need that connection.”


  • Tickets:$16 to $60 for performances; $8 for films. Student and UCSD alumni discounts available
  • Phone:(858) 534-TIXS
  • Box Officeat Price Center Plaza: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday