It Takes A Village

By David L. Coddon / Photos by Jeff "Turbo" Corrigan

The futuristic dome of the new Central Library isn't the only landmark of change in downtown San Diego's East Village. Not far away, on 15th Street, a black silo emblazoned with the letter "M" marks a distinctly urban community space where the creators of Makers Quarter hope to nurture the city's creative culture. In East Village, art is "in." The paramount question is whether urban sprawl and what artist Cheryl Nickel calls "the urban frontier" can co-exist and evolve together.

Confidence is high among the visionaries behind Makers Quarter, a five-and-a-half-block, mixed-use neighborhood situated within developers David Malmuth and Pete Garcia's 93-acre I.D.E.A. (Innovation, Design, Education, Arts) District. Connecting members of an emerging community with the arts is a critical aspect of the Makers Quarter mission, says Stacey Pennington, who is urban planner for the project. Already this year, Makers Quarter has hosted the Warehouse 1425 Art and Music Exhibition inside a warehouse converted into a gallery; and in September, a two-day San Diego Film Festival preview was held at the SILO space (at 15th and F), once the site of a lot used for loading cement trucks.

When built out, over a period of seven to 15 years, Makers Quarter is expected to include office and retail space, residential housing and a central plaza, with space throughout the area dedicated to the arts. The SILO event space, says Pennington, is a prime example of what's to come - "robust programming," as she describes it.

"As long as we keep up the great ideas and engagement in the events and continue to make Makers Quarter relevant to people's day-to-day lives, it's only going to get better," she says.

Infrastructure financing of Makers Quarter, valued at $900 million, is ongoing. Meanwhile, for the Space 4 Art warehouses - which boast 32 artist studios, live/work spaces, a gallery and more - a pending relocation is unavoidable.

"We can't afford to stay here," says Cheryl Nickel, co-founder (with Robert Leathers and Chris Warr) of Space 4 Art. "People who are doing experimental work usually can't afford these market-rate rents."

The 3-year-old East Village art center is likely bound for a location in nearby Sherman Heights, and Nickel is pragmatic about the move, emphasizing that Space 4 Art is "an incubator" for ideas and excitement that are transferrable. "We believe in nurturing creative thinking, which we believe is an essential part of a creative economy."

Despite the move, Nickel still believes in the viability of East Village. "This is going to be the area with the density that can provide vitality," she says, "if it supports creativity."

Creativity is certainly the idea behind RAD Lab, a 30,000-square-foot project on the corner of Park Boulevard and Market Street. This live/work/play space will occupy that corner for only two or three years under an agreement with the City of San Diego, the leaseholder. Capital raised for the project - $608,000 is targeted for the first two years; the third year would be an extension - would be recouped and applied to whatever new site RAD Lab might inhabit next.

"Art is a big part of our project," says David Loewenstein, chief operating officer and one of four New School of Architecture and Design graduate students who conceived RAD Lab. "We want to make sure that, from one month to the next, it doesn't stay the same, and we want to give these young artists a chance to show what they're capable of. The whole idea of 'everchanging-ness' is something we're trying to convey."

The movers and shakers in East Village are counting on that idea. "We knew from looking at other cities," says Makers Quarter's Pennington, "that people are thirsty for unique, unpretentious experiences."

With the Gaslamp Quarter directly to the west, East Village has a chance to forge its own identity and personality, and there's an artistic community primed to be part of it.

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