Photo by Kinsee Morlan
Ginger Shulick Porcella
"I don’t just say things; I make them happen, too.”
With those words, Ginger Shulick Porcella introduced herself to CityBeat readers back in May of 2014. The then-newly hired executive director of the San Diego Art Institute didn’t disappoint. In the almost three years she served in the role—curating and coordinating dozens of shows inside the space—she transformed and reinvigorated the Balboa Park institution quite literally from the ground-up (it is, after all, a basement space of the Mingei).
“I mean, we’re not changing anything too drastically,” Porcella said back in 2014.
This statement turned out to be a lie, albeit one that is entirely easy to forgive. The changes were, in fact, drastic and were met with vitriol, scorn and anonymous threats from the old guard. The first time I met her was a few days after I was contacted by an angry SDAI member who had organized a demonstration against Porcella. Dozens of people gathered outside of the building and regaled me with stories of how Porcella was going to change SDAI from what it had become, which, looking back on it now, I can only describe as a pay-to-play-type space that would occasionally hold shows for member artists working in conventional styles and mediums.
The kick in the teeth is that the protestors were right, but to Porcella’s credit, she was open about her intentions when I met with her after the protest. The decades-long tradition of members-only shows was being chucked for a new vision: to create a contemporary art space in Balboa Park devoted to showcasing promising regional artists from both sides of the border.
Nearly three years later, and as Porcella heads to Arizona to take a position at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson, it’s clear that she accomplished just what she said she was going to do here. The San Diego Art Institute has become an art destination that is drawing both older and younger audiences out to see innovative and edgy programming in the heart of Balboa Park. I’m confident SDAI’s Board of Directors will hire someone to replace Porcella that will continue her unique vision.
One of more immediately noticeable things about Porcella was the large tattoo that was proudly displayed across her upper chest; “Permanence,” it read. She has, indeed, left a permanent mark on the local scene and she will be missed.