La Jollans attend comprehensive arts forum


La Jolla Arts organizations provide historical overview, preview of things to come

While firmly rooted in the past, La Jolla’s arts and cultural organizations are as robust as ever, constantly evolving (often working collaboratively) and branching into the future in bold new ways. This was the overarching message conveyed during La Jolla Town Council’s (LJTC) forum highlighting eight of La Jolla’s major cultural institutions.

About 80 people attended the event June 4 at Warwick’s Bookstore, a fitting venue given that it was established in 1896 and remains the country’s oldest family-owned and -operated bookstore in business — there for the birth and expansion of even the oldest of La Jolla’s cultural mainstays.

“I consider art and culture a defining part of our community identity, spirit and vision,” said store owner, Nancy Warwick, whose high-profile events program this year brings to town authors Simon Winchester, Salman Rushdie, Elizabeth Gilbert and Isabelle Allende. “I hope this evening will serve to deepen awareness and involvement in La Jolla’s diverse and vibrant arts scene. After all, art and culture thrive when people participate.”

Representatives from the featured arts institutions addressed the audience in the order of their organizations’ founding: The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library (1899), Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (1941), La Jolla Music Society (1941), La Jolla Playhouse (1947), La Jolla Symphony & Chorus (1954), La Jolla Historical Society (1963), Stuart Collection (1982) and ArtPower! (2003).

Athenaeum: The Athenaeum has been at the corner of Wall Street and Girard Avenue since La Jolla visitor Florence Sawyer purchased a lot there in 1899, built a cottage and stocked it with a piano and $1,000 in books.

“She wanted to give it to La Jolla but there was no legal entity to accept it, so six industrious ladies got together and formed the Library Association of La Jolla,” said Athenaeum executive director Erika Torri.

Its first president, La Jolla benefactress Ellen Browning Scripps, provided primary funding for the Athenaeum’s main building and rotunda, designed by William Templeton Johnson in 1921.

The Athenaeum — one of only 16 membership libraries remaining in the United States, Torri noted — has provided library services in La Jolla for 116 years, more than 30 of those years also renting space for La Jolla’s public library (located on Draper Avenue since 1989).

Through the years the Athenaeum added its exhibition program (1921), free concerts (1970s) and art school (1986). It now also boasts a jazz program and chamber music series, and oversees the Murals of La Jolla public art program and its world-renowned collection of artists books.

“We are presenting more than 70 concerts annually, close to 24 changing exhibitions — mostly featuring San Diego artists — and we have many lectures and events all pertaining to music and the arts,” Torri said. “There’s something going on almost every night.”

The Athenaeum plans to open an art center at the Bread and Salt gallery in San Diego’s Logan Heights area this fall, where it will offer small concerts, alternative classes (such as letterpress printing) and neighborhood outreach.

MCASD: Charles Castle, deputy director and chief financial officer of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), touched on the museum’s founding on Prospect Street, on land where Ellen Browning Scripps once made her home, noting that today her art patronage is honored through a variety of programs, including free museum admission for all guests ages 25 and younger (part of an effort by all of the presenting institutions to cultivate the next generation of audiences and patrons).

This summer, MCASD will offer its Family Art Lab, where families are invited to collaborate with artists and one another to create sculptural portraits inspired by the work of American painter Nicole Eisenman. In August, the museum will also offer art camps for ages 5-15. It is currently exploring the feasibility of an expansion of its La Jolla campus, designed by Selldorf Architects (more at and For more information about the museum’s programs and exhibitions, visit

La Jolla Music Society: Many attendees were eager to hear La Jolla Music Society (LJMS) president and artistic director Christopher Beach discuss the society’s new Performing Arts Center “The Conrad,” to be developed on Fay Avenue, featuring a 500-seat concert hall, offices and 150-capacity multipurpose and cabaret space (read more at To read more about offerings in its 47th season, including LJMS’s SummerFest chamber music festival (Aug. 5-28), visit

La Jolla Playhouse: Founded in 1947 at La Jolla High School by actors Gregory Peck, Dorothy McGuire and Mel Ferrer, La Jolla Playhouse has served as a launching pad for internationally acclaimed works, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “I Am My Own Wife” and the Tony Award-winning musicals, “Memphis” and “Jersey Boys.”

Despite its success, however, don’t expect to see “Jersey Boys” grace the Playhouse stage again, as long as artistic director Christopher Ashley and managing director Michael Rosenberg are at the helm, Rosenberg assured.

“We’re an organization that is very much committed to what is new and next in American theater,” he said. “You’re never, ever going to see the same thing twice. We really want to be pushing the envelope at all times.”

Rosenberg predicts audiences will be pleased with the risks La Jolla Playhouse is taking this season, including its current production, the world-premiere rock-inspired musical, “Come From Away” (through July 12), based on the true story of 38 planes forced to divert to an airstrip on the island of Newfoundland, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Other upcoming Playhouse productions include the world premiere musical “Up There” (July 28-Sept. 6), with music composed by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the husband-and-wife team who composed the score for Disney’s animated musical “Frozen.”

“If you’re at all interested in expressing your opinion about that ‘Let It Go’ song, I encourage you to come see the show in its first two weeks of performances, because they will be here in our theater and you can tell them in person what you think,” Rosenberg joked of the song repeatedly sung by children around the globe.

Further in the season is “Blueprints to Freedom” (Sept. 8-Oct. 4), an ode to civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin, the gay man who served at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s side through his crusade of non-violent civil disobedience. “He was the architect for Dr. King’s March on Washington that culminated in the ‘I Have a Dream Speech,’ ” Rosenberg said. “This is an extraordinary man who’s been written out of the history books.”

“Healing Wars” (Sept. 29-Oct. 25), a multimedia dance theater piece directed and choreographed by MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Liz Lerman, explores the practice of amputations through the recent wars in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the American Civil War, where amputations first became a viable medical practice. On the way to their seats, audience members will be routed through “the underbelly of the theater,” Rosenberg said, where they will meet veterans, doctors, dancers, actors and historians — “all helping to give you a context before you see the actual piece unfold before your eyes.”

“Indecent” (Nov. 13-Dec. 10), a world premiere work by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Paula Vogel, explores one of the most successful and controversial plays ever written, 1918’s “The God of Vengeance.”

“When it was done on Broadway, the theater was raided, because people thought it was pornography,” Rosenberg said. “It was about an Orthodox Jewish man who was running a brothel, and, in an attempt to get legitimacy, he tried to fund and support a temple. The temple said, ‘No,’ and this caused a crisis in his family … where his daughter ends up running away and falling in love with a lesbian prostitute — all in 1918. This really becomes one of the first major conversations and lawsuits in our country around art and censorship.”

La Jolla Symphony & Chorus: Currently wrapping up its 60th season, La Jolla Symphony and Chorus (LJS&C) was founded in 1954 by Romanian conductor Peter Nicoloff, who fled his position conducting in China at the onset of the Chinese Communist revolution. He soon after found himself in La Jolla, forming a chamber orchestra with a group of talented amateur musicians at the Congregational Church on Cave Street.

For 13 years they performed modest seasons at La Jolla High School and Sherwood Auditorium as the La Jolla Civic Orchestra.

Although the organization nearly dissolved after Nicoloff stepped down in 1967, it was given a new lease on life when faculty with UC San Diego’s nascent music department decided take the fledgling organization under its wing.

“They played for the fun of it then, and we’re still playing for the fun of it now,” said LJS&C’s executive director, Diane Salisbury. “We are a true community orchestra and chorus. That means these are talented amateurs. Each year, we perform six concert pairs in Mandeville Auditorium as well as two to three concerts out in the community.”

Although the musicians and vocalists are not paid, Salisbury noted many of them have advanced degrees in music, though ultimately chose another vocation.

“We have oceanographers, two nuclear physicists, doctors and lawyers,” Salisbury said. “This is a very talented, high energy, type-A organization — and they put all that effort into their music. “

LJS&C’s offerings include classic compositions, contemporary commissions and premieres, the latter of which Salisbury said make up about 40 percent of its programming. “We are known for our adventurous programming,” she said.

LJS&C’s honorary board of directors includes composers Philip Glass, John Luther Adams and David Lang, among other luminaries.

Salisbury credits the organization’s continued success to the leadership of its music director, internationally acclaimed percussionist and UCSD distinguished professor Steven Schick, and its longtime choral director, David Chase (who will take the chorus on its seventh international tour, to Spain, in July). More at

La Jolla Historical Society: Executive director Heath Fox noted that the society’s new exhibition, “Archive La Jolla” — featuring photographs, paintings, documents and other ephemera — opens June 12 at its recently renovated Wisteria Cottage gallery on Prospect Street.

“As the name implies, all of the material in this exhibition is drawn from the La Jolla Historical Society archives,” Fox said. “We group those together to tell different stories, from different time periods in the community’s history.”

Stuart Collection: Mary Beebe, director of Stuart Collection at UCSD, spoke about its upcoming installation by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams. It follows 2012’s “Fallen Star,” a tiny cottage perched precariously from the seventh story of Jacobs Hall (the collection’s 18th installation at UCSD).

Founded by James Stuart DeSilva, the Stuart Collection has as its potential canvas the entire UCSD campus to install sculpture and other arts projects, though the university does not provide funding beyond Beebe’s salary.

“Jim DeSilva gave a generous donation in the beginning — he didn’t believe in endowments — but we ran out of that money and he wasn’t able to give more, so we’ve been raising money for every project as we go along,” Beebe said.

Stuart Collection has been working with Adams for five years on his new piece, which involves installation of “sound gardens” in the trees and landscaping surrounding La Jolla Playhouse. Nearby ambient sounds will enter a computer program and then be re-emitted as music through speakers in the trees.

Beebee said she was intrigued by Adams’ work after hearing him collaborate with Schick and La Jolla Symphony & Chorus.

“He uses sounds from nature, sounds from the street … influenced by the wind, the sun, the Earth, the rustle of the trees and traffic —and he works as a composer with those sounds,” Bebee enthused. “It’ll be different sounds all the time, 24/7. … It’s gotten more complex than we ever thought. People warned us, but we always march forward. Our goal is to fulfill the artist’s vision, and so that’s what we’re trying to do here.”

ArtPower! Finally, Jordan Peimer, the new executive director of ArtPower! spoke about the most nascent of La Jolla’s arts institutions, formed in 2003 by its former artistic director, Martin Wollesen.

ArtPower! provides educational outreach to both university and high school students, focusing on underserved schools.

Peimer declined to disclose details about ArtPower!’s new season, only saying that they are under wraps until June 14, when tickets go on sale. “We do the whole gamut from chamber music to jazz, global music, dance (and film).

“We’re going to be making some inroads into the world of theatrical performance (this season) … participating with the La Jolla Playhouse and also with the Stuart Collection,” Peimer said. “We continue to do our film series, which this season is going to be connecting to cultural heritage months.”