A week before, folks likely thought it was going to be just another Thursday-night jam session at Voz Alta Project Gallery. That's not to imply that the music that sometimes emanated from 1754 National Ave. and into the Barrio Logan night was ever ordinary. Whether it was the rhythmic séances of Bill Caballero's Latin Jazz jam sessions or the dub-style electro and timbale drumming of Cumbia Machin, locals were used to hearing exotic sounds coming from the space. If this were another neighborhood, the cops may have been called. But here, most neighbors would just walk in, grab a can of Tecate and join the party.
On this Thursday, however, the crowd at Voz Alta was thick. Earlier in the week, the night had been rechristened as "The Last Show on Earth." The show flyer and word of the space's imminent closing had spread fast. And while patrons perhaps seemed more focused on the photography on the walls, the clear center of attention was Carlos Beltrán, Voz Alta's curator, co-creator and mastermind since opening the space in 2008.
Wearing a Voz Alta T-shirt with the project's cartoon logo of a house with arms and legs carrying a handkerchief on a stick, Beltrán was continuously hailed to take smartphone pictures with the mix of friends, poets and artists who showed up. If there was any sense of remorse, it was impossible to detect amid the tequila toasts and dancing in the gallery.
Catching up with Beltrán a few nights later, he was still reflecting on the evening and trying to articulate the mix of emotions after so many well-wishers had shown up for what they thought would be a more solemn occasion.
"I'm feeling good, and this isn't a sad thing," says Beltrán. "I just had to let people know we're still doing shows.
It's an art space, but this is Voz Alta Project, and that's where we're at: We're moving on to the next project."
Beltrán is quick to remind people that Voz Alta was never meant to end. Nor was it meant to be stationary. It started as a poetry space at 917 E St. until the construction of Petco Park all but forced it to move to another location in East Village. After three years of art, spoken word and music, San Diego City College bought the property and Voz moved yet again, this time to the Barrio Logan space. Beltrán sees the most recent closing as a way to get back to the movement's transitory roots—the closing of one chapter, the beginning of another.
"What can I say? I was just getting cozy!" quips Bill Caballero, who's now moving his Latin Jam night to the Mexican eatery El Zarape in Normal Heights after more than three years at Voz Alta. "I'll miss it being in the Barrio. It's as if that's where I belong, whether I want to or not, and I feel most comfortable there."
"The space was never meant to move so many times," says Stephanie de la Torre, one of the founders of Voz Alta and its program director until it moved to Barrio Logan. "For most of us directly involved, the fact that it lasted this long, I don't think we ever thought about it."
But she adds that, much like what happened with the East Village spaces, "gentrification and redevelopment" ultimately made it too difficult to stay. It's not exactly a new story: Artists move into a neighborhood, neighborhood becomes trendy, redevelopment starts, rents go up, artists move out. In Voz's case, it seems they've always been the harbinger for other arts spaces moving in later. For Barrio Logan, before there was The Glashaus, The Roots Factory and the recently opened La Bodega warehouse space, there was Voz Alta.
"I think Voz Alta did what it had to do in this neighborhood. It created something and inspired a movement," Beltrán says.
At the time this story was written, artist and curator Mario Chacon was considering renting the space and turning it into a live / work gallery and small gift store featuring the works of local Latino and Chicano artists. Chacon also wants to offer donation-based indigenous-music and -art classes for students and seniors. That deal fell through (Chacon is currently working to find a different venue in Barrio Logan), but hopes remain high that the building will again be a home for the arts. Chacon says the landlords would prefer leasing to an cultural organization.
"Whoever does move in, hopefully they'll keep something like Voz going," says Cesar Castaneda, who grew up down the street from the space and is in the process of opening Chicano Art Gallery, a new gallery at 2117 Logan Ave. "Voz Alta definitely inspired me personally."
As for Voz Alta's immediate plans, it seems the "Last Show on Earth" was not, in fact, the last. Beltrán believes that not having a physical space will be beneficial—it'll free up more time to focus on pop-up shows and new ideas as opposed to scrambling every month to make rent.
Voz Alta does have a space in Tijuana, or, as Beltrán lovingly describes it, a "compound with a big wall," where they'll host future shows, but with more of a focus on murals and street art, since it's located in an alley. There'll also be a Voz-curated show at Flying Panther Tattoo in Golden Hill in April with Ricardo Islas and Frankie Agostino, as well as a potential motorcycle-themed show at La Bodega down the road. Beltrán has also been talking to The Roots Factory about doing a photography exhibition.
"You know what?" Beltrán says. "We've been through this before. Our logo is a house moving. That's us. We've been without a house before, and we'll work on having another space when the time is right. But a space is just a space. You'll see us around. We're not going anywhere."
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