Raising the Barrio


Story by Michael Benninger / Photos by Jeff “Turbo” Corrigan

Fueled by generations of struggle and under the threat of arrest, Mexican-American muralists painted scenes on the walls in Barrio Logan’s Chicano Park in the early 1970s. At the time, the Chicano Art Movement was gaining momentum in barrios throughout the Southwestern U.S., as artists of many disciplines used their creativity to express their culture’s hardships and establish a unified identity.

Today, the artistic works beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge comprise the nation’s most massive mural collection and San Diego’s largest public work of art.

Barrio Logan’s artistic evolution continued in the early 2000s, thanks in part to the opening of East Village’s underground art space, Voz Alta. That space is gone, but its legacy survives in a series of similar galleries to the south, including The Roots Factory, La Bodega and The Union. And beginning in 2008, commercial artist collectives such as Bread & Salt, The Bakery, MakeFab and Glashaus cropped up, bolstering the neighborhood’s position among the West Coast’s most active art scenes.

Barrio Logan has become a magnet for artists from the world over, with more than 900 painters, musicians, sculptors, dancers, chefs and beer brewers calling the neighborhood home. “The community has many organized and unorganized groups, all trying to make Barrio Logan a better place,” says Mike Fuller, owner of Barrio-based business, Fuller Lighting & A.V. Designs. “With a unified community, residents can become a resource for each other, recommending services, planning events and rallying for support.”

The key unifying force? “Art,” Fuller says, “which isn’t prejudiced and is universally accepted.”

This past spring, Fuller helped form the Barrio Art Association (BAA), of which he is chairman. “We hope to establish Barrio Logan as the arts district of San Diego,” he says.

Benjamin Nicholls, the BAA’s executive director (and a consultant for the Hillcrest Business Improvement District) is overseeing the development of the organization, which strives to protect and support local artists while also promoting their work.

“The BAA is a growing group of old-school muralists who broke own fences and were arrested for their cause,” says Nicholls. “It’s a powerful group with history, and once the BAA gets them all together, they will be a force for art.”

The BAA is already benefiting local artists by hosting networking events and bringing the Barrio’s artists into the City’s grant programs.

“We also plan to build a public art fund to enable artists to practice their craft in the neighborhood,” say Nicholls. “Our goal is to grow the arts scene in the Barrio in the face of new development and established interests.”

“Barrio Logan is one of the last strongholds for original art and culture in San Diego,” says Fuller. “Local residents, artists and businesses do not want to be gentrified because of the growing economy creeping in from downtown. A unified community will stand a better chance at reducing the impact of metropolitan development.”