Let's face it, no university or research institute in San Diego is truly known for its performance or visual arts departments.
Oceanography? Sure, head over to Scripps.
Jesus? USD's got that covered.
Herpes? San Diego State's been keeping the topical-ointment industry in the black for the past quarter century.
UCSD has long led San Diego's education community in engineering and science, but this year the university is staking its claim as a premier arts institute in California. Along with rising visual and performance arts departments, the renowned La Jolla Playhouse theater, and numerous Grammy Awards won by faculty members, the school is making its foray into the competitive world of producing music.
As part of that latter pursuit, they've established Art/Power!, a year-long performance series with acts that range from string quartets and individual classical musicians to modern dance troupes and performers such as NPR's Ira Glass and comic author David Sedaris.
Martin Wollesen, creative director of Art/Power!, is in charge of luring undergraduates away from their pot-smoking, Friday night kegger rituals and into a concert hall to experience chamber music.
No small task.
His approach has been to book artists who also offer to speak to students in class, getting professors involved in the performances, and selecting performers who have an interest in both pedagogy and the arts (such as Random Dance troupe's Wayne McGregor, an experimental psychology researcher at Cambridge University). So far, Wolleson has managed to increase student attendance at concerts by more than 35 percent.
Usually between $20 and $30 (students often get in half-price), ticket prices are more than reasonable for quality performers like the Kuss Quartet and a particularly spectacular all-Mozart performance by San Francisco's Alexander String Quartet on Jan. 28. Four of the five dance troupes on their schedule are international acts making their debut at Art/Power!
Wollesen says his method for booking artists includes "discussions with the campus community, artists and colleagues to find new artists as well as internationally recognized artists who can supplement the classroom educational experience."
Thus, these are not your average classical musicians talking about chord structure and the evolution of Bach's fugues-although from the state of emerging garage bands and indie shitpop, it seems as though most new artists could use a refresher course.
Most shows are held are at UCSD's Mandeville Auditorium, which, unfortunately, does not lend itself to the intimate atmosphere Art/Power! is attempting to create. The outdated seats and large space between the first and second sections create too much distance between the audience and the artist. At times the young audience can show its age-like the couple to my left at the Alexander String Quartet show who played footsie throughout the first movement.
At one point during the same show, the passed-out septuagenarian to my right appeared to stop breathing, causing me acute concern. As I considered giving her a solid kidney punch to see if, in fact, she had passed on, grandma woke up, to my relief.These, however, are my only complaints. For a welcome respite from the less-than-notable loud, whiny, self-loathing white boys yelling down at local rock dives, throw on your Sunday best and get yourself some culture at UCSD. At the very least, you're not going to find a date-night this cheap and classy anywhere else in La Jolla.