Artists have families, too, which means they'll be too busy hanging with the kinfolk to worry about attending art receptions this week. But don't fret, art lovers, you can go out all by your lonesome and enjoy some art, as long as you don't mind not being fed the obligatory free cheese and wine. The two best shows happening right now are MIAO: Custom Vinyl Show, at Subtext (680 W. Beech St. in little Italy) through Dec. 7, featuring 50 cute little vinyl statues of kitties painted by artists from around the world, and Smoking Room, an exhibition of famed San Diego artist Jay Johnson's latest sculptures, on view through Jan. 3 at the Athenaeum (1008 Wall St. in La Jolla). www.subtextstore.com, www.ljathenaeum.org.
A real reading
The happenings at UCSD are pretty flabbergasting sometimes. Take the book reading that's going down at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 2, at the Atkinson Building Auditorium, for example. Geoff Ryman, the current writer-in-residence at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), will read his new short-fiction piece, which is set in the world built by Calit2's artist-in-residence, Sheldon Brown. Brown's creation, “Scalable Cities,” is, very simply put, an interactive visual-art project in the form of a computer program that starts as a scenic environment and builds itself into an urban environment based on a few basic algorithms. “Scalable Cities” will be projected on huge screens on the auditorium's walls, so listeners will feel like they're inside the story Ryman will be reading. After the audio/visual experience, Ryman will read from his newest novel, The King's Last Song. He'll be joined by UCSD alumni Kim Stanley Robinson, who will also read some of his recent works. Brown will be on stage, too, ready to answer the questions you're sure to have about his work. www.ryman-novel.com, www.calit2.net. Free.
The big to-do
Pilgrim's hats off to the organizers of the annual San Diego Thanksgiving Dixieland Jazz Festival for giving locals something to do this weekend. While everyone else is busy stuffing turkeys and candying yams, they'll be running around doing whatever it is event organizers do to put on a music festival with more than two dozen bands from around the world. This year's lineup includes San Diego's own Cash Kings, Dixie Express, Hayriders and Sue Palmer, plus Eva Emingrova from the Czech Republic, Tim Laughlin's New Orleans' All-Stars and Uptown Lowdown JB from Seattle. The festival takes place at the Town & Country Resort and Convention Center (500 Hotel Circle N. in Mission Valley) from Wednesday, Nov. 26, through Sunday, Nov. 30. Day passes range from $15 to $30. Check www.dixielandjazzfestival.org for the schedule and tickets.Now that's Americana: Tom Russell isn't what you'd expect from a man who places himself in the Americana, folk and country music genres. Just listen to his “Who's Gonna Build Your Wall?” song, a politically charged little ditty about the stupidity of the Minutemen and the ridiculousness of the border fence. Not only are the words not what you'd expect, but the music relies heavily on Mexican music traditions, adding in accordion and Spanish guitar from time to time. AcousticMusicSanDiego presents a show with Russell at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28, at the charming old church at 4650 Mansfield St. in Normal Heights. $22. www.acousticmusicsandiego.com, 619-303-8176.
CityBeat's annual Gift Guide comes out next week and we've gone with what seems to be the overriding theme this holiday season: shopping local, which means, in part, buying things directly from the people who make them. When Black Friday hits, feel free to scout the crowded malls and buy things made affordable thanks to cheap labor and terrible working conditions in Korea and Mexico, or head out to the Glass Ranch (20307 Beech Lane in Escondido) for the Semi-Annual Thanksgiving Weekend Sale and Garry Cohen Studio Glass Blowing Demonstrations. Glass artists Gary Cohen and Cherrie la Porte Cohen will show their hand-blown glass art, fused-glass sculpture and glass jewelry from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28, through Sunday, Nov. 30. Gifts start at $10. www.garrycohenstudio.com, 760-745-7020.Celebrate: Starting Saturday, Nov. 29, The New Children's Museum (200 W. Island Drive, Downtown) will add live music, a dance party and hands-on holiday-art activities and workshops to its already fun and interactive childsplay exhibition. The Saturday Celebrations, as they're called, will take place every Saturday through Jan. 6 during the museum's regular hours. Families who attend are encouraged to swing by the Ice Rink at Horton Plaza (open now and running through Jan. 4) before they head back to the 'burbs. www.thinkplaycreate.org, 619-233-8792.
Films for thought
From noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, and Sunday, Nov. 30, Balboa Park's WorldBeat Cultural Center presents Afrikan Mental Liberation Films, a festival featuring documentaries that explore the culture and people of Africa and African descent. Before you tell yourself you're not into educational films, check out the lineup. It includes Tupac Resurrection, a film about the life and death of the iconic hip-hop star; When We Were Kings, a doc about the drama surrounding the 1974 heavyweight championship fight in Zaire; and Black Survivors of Nazi Germany, a story about blacks subject to torture and medical experimentation under the Nazis. Check the shiny new WorldBeat website, www.worldbeatcenter.org, for times and the complete lineup. Free, but you're encouraged to register to reserve your seat.
Photographer Chen Shizhe has been documenting Chinese life since 1981, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any of his work online. Shizhe, who's now the vice president of the Quanzhou Huaguang Institute of Photography and Art, will show his work in a special exhibition at the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, 404 Third Ave., Downtown. The show, Quanzhou: The Beginning of the Silk Road of the Sea, will focus on Shizhe's photos of Quanzhou, an ancient port city in the Fujian Province. The museum will host an opening reception from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29. $2. www.sdchm.org.