The Parallel art event held in the Community@ Mi Apartamento apartment complex in Barrio Logan was the subject of an arts-and-culture editorial ["Down in the Barrio"] published last month in CityBeat. While many felt the article brought up valid points about the future of Barrio Logan, the owner of the property, L.W.P. Group, Inc.'s Greg Strangman, believed the article unfairly criticized the event's true intentions of promoting local artists.
Strangman agreed to revisit the topic in an interview (along with Voice of San Diego's Kinsee Morlan) at L.W.P.'s headquarters, which will soon double as an art gallery, on National Avenue in Barrio Logan. Below is an edited version of the conversation between CityBeat and Strangman.
CityBeat: I've often said that I know your heart is in the right place, but the Parallel art party just had this feeling of art for the sake of commerce. That it was planned and staged for the sake of promoting these apartments, but you've maintained that the event was purely to promote the artists, yes?
Greg Strangman: Well, this wasn't the first time we had done this. This was actually the fourth edition of the event. We're completely hands-off when it comes to this thing. We do the financial underwriting...My financial partners have always asked me, "Why do we do this?" and I've always told them that it's a certain part of me that loves art, loves culture and loves to see people experience things in San Diego that maybe they're not used to experiencing.
CB: So why were there posters up informing people on how they could rent one of the apartments?
GS: After fielding questions at the first three events I decided to put up four posters, because, for once, I just wanted to be a patron on this night. I wanted to celebrate the art and wander around. I didn't want to have to answer a million questions about why we did this or on rental information...I thought it was very open-handed, but if that was an issue, I wouldn't do it again. That's not why we do the events.
CB: You also felt that the article was unfair to characterize the event as a sign of gentrification.
GS: We don't want to come in and change the neighborhood. We want to come in and integrate. We as a company had many choices as to where we wanted to be located and we chose Barrio Logan because of the history here. Because of the people here.
CB: A mark of gentrification is that developing companies displace the small businesses and the low-income families that have historically been part of that neighborhood. Is it even your job to worry about that, or how people view you?
GS: I consider myself to be an investor and a redeveloper. I feel like we create better spaces in communities. A founding principle of our company is we will not own or be a part of a development or project unless we're not willing to live in it ourselves.
CB: Do you feel like these art shows, both this one and the ones in the past, have helped you connect with the community?
GS: I think so. Every show we've ever done, it's a lot of the same artists in that community showing their latest and greatest works. My argument is that if these artists really felt like this was a commercial endeavor, that I was somehow leveraging art for my company's benefit, I think these artists would give me a big middle finger.
CB: But doesn't this type of event still help your business?
GS: It doesn't hurt. Think of it this way: Companies like Qualcomm or Sempra Energy on a much more broad level make a $100,000 donation to the Museum of Contemporary Art and they're still getting some PR out of it, right? Personally, I don't see anything wrong with it, but I also want to say that it was not our intent.
CB: What's next for Barrio Logan for the next 10 years now that you're so vested in the community?
GS: I think what's going to happen is you're going to end up with more art galleries and more art studios here per capita than anywhere else in the city. I think that's cool. What'll happen...Well, hopefully, we won't get any more coffee shops [laughs]. We need more food and fruterias. I think it's going to grow, and it's going to grow organically. I just don't see it as something where someone will come in and tear it down. I could be wrong. Maybe a Charger stadium could change the whole dialogue.
CB: God, I hope that there's never a Target here.
GS: Oh, no, that won't ever happen.