For cultural programs galore,
visit the Athenaeum
[San Diego's best-kept secret]
Published - 10/21/08 - 01:00 PM | 4089 views | 0 0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Whether your taste in art runs to the traditional or avant-garde, and your musical preferences tend to classical, jazz or contemporary, there's something for just about everyone at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in

La Jolla, located at 1008 Wall St.

This year's summer music season is shaping up to be

exceptional, since the usually sold-out Athenaeum Jazz is celebrating its 20th anniversary and the Summer Festival is marking its 10th.

There's even a full series of hands-on art classes for eager students, both adult and children, who want to learn new techniques or perfect existing skills at its School of the Arts. Best of all, many programs, including the art exhibitions, day-time Mini-Concerts and use of the library's collections, are free, although borrowing materials is

reserved to members, whose modest membership fee

includes program discounts.

La Jolla's Athenaeum may be San Diego's best-

kept secret.

“A lot of people don't know all we do,” says executive

director Erika Torri, who joined the organization in 1989.

“We're not only presenting classical music, jazz, the soundON Festival of New Music and art exhibitions, we're also not specialized. We show photography, painting, sculpture — we cover so many things. There's an interaction between art and music,” Torri explains.

Since her arrival, the music and arts library's public programs have expanded and improved exponentially, thanks to two expansions facilitated by both her vision and

fund-raising prowess.

In addition to ongoing annual fund-raising, Torri raised $5 million for the latest expansion, completed in January of 2007, which enabled the Athenaeum to connect, reorganize and remodel the organization's three historic structures, making them available for more arts programming.

The Athenaeum originated in 1894 with a small group of early settlers founding the La Jolla Reading Club. With a generous donation from pioneering resident Florence Sawyer, in 1898 the residents built their first facility, the Reading Room, at Girard Avenue and Wall Street, the organization's continuing home. A year later, they incorporated as the Library Association of La Jolla, a membership library, and elected as Board of Trustees President Ellen Browning Scripps, whose legendary philanthropy shaped many La Jolla and San Diego institutions.

When the library, then a privately supported general library, needed to expand in the 1920s, it was Scripps and her friends who funded architect William Templeton Johnson's design for a new Spanish Renaissance-style structure, which opened in 1921.

In 1955, after the City of San Diego took over the public lending library, the association recreated itself. Renamed the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, the organization engaged architect and artist William Lumpkins to design a complementary third building, opened in 1957. With its elegant rotunda and wood-paneled reading and music room, now the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Music Room, the Lumpkins building became the Athenaeum's signature façade.

While the Athenaeum remains at heart a subscription library, one of only 16 surviving in the country, serving 2,300 members, much of its focus is on wide-ranging public cultural programming.

Its art exhibitions began in the 1920s with its first addition. Now the library mounts eight new exhibitions a year, each featuring three artists, whose works remain on display about six weeks.

The Rotunda Gallery, Torri explained, usually displays the work of emerging or young community artists, including an annual show of San Diego State University Art Council's scholarship students.

The North Reading Room showcases books from the library's rare and unusual, often hand-made, artists’ book collection, which Torri started in 1991.

“We have books you can't find anywhere else, many one-of-a-kind, especially local book artists,” Torri said.

Torri, who doubles as art curator, usually fills the bright and expansive Main Gallery with local artists, to whom she feels a strong commitment.

“Local artists should be able to show locally,” she says.

Among the artists who have exhibited there are Zandra Rhodes, James Hubbell, Italo Scanga, Raul Guerrero and Ken Goldman.

Next up for the Main and Rotunda galleries is an extravaganza of pop culture and comic book art, running from June 21 through July 26, featuring the art of Jim Lee and Wildstorm Productions, which local artist Lee founded in 1992 and sold to DC Comics in 1999.

The Main Gallery also hosts the upcoming 17th annual Juried Exhibition, open to San Diego County artists, whose works are selected by local museum arts administrators. This year's show runs from Aug. 2 through 30.

Concerts first began at the Athenaeum with the free midday Mini-Concerts started by Glenna Hazleton in 1970. Now in their 39th season in La Jolla and 36th season at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza, they resume in September. These hour-long free concerts, featuring classical, jazz and world music, were inspired by the unexpected gift of a Steinway grand piano.

“Glenna really wanted to bring classical music (to the community) in an easy, affordable way,” Torri explains.

Hazleton, who died in 2007, was the volunteer music director of both Mini-Concert series.

In recent years, the Athenaeum's music programs have expanded to two other locations, the Neurosciences Institute and the Athenaeum School of the Arts on Park Boulevard.

Like the art programs, the music program's goals include presenting an eclectic mix.

The Athenaeum began its jazz programming in 1989.

“The concerts grew out of a series of lectures on jazz history. We take an educational approach on the programming. We try to offer a selection from a broad spectrum, ranging from late swing and bebop to free improvisation or contemporary styles of jazz,” explains Dan Atkinson, who has directed the jazz programming since its inception.

The Athenaeum now offers three distinct types of jazz programs. Summer and winter, including this season's Farrell Family Jazz, feature a series of four evening concerts of regional and local jazz artists at the La Jolla library. This year's concerts continue on June 28 with the Kendra Shank Quartet, July 18 with the Frank Potenza Organ Trio and July 31 with the duo of pianist Kevin Hays and saxophonist Eli Degibri.

The Neurosciences Institute hosts spring and fall three-concert series of nationally and internationally known jazz artists. Jazz at the Studio, at the Athenaeum's School of the Arts, presents jazz with a more urban flavor, including many vocalists.

The second soundON Festival of Modern Music, presenting “innovative new music” written and performed by an international potpourri of young composers and artists, including the NOISE Ensemble, will be held at the library June 19 through 21. In addition to performances, there will be open rehearsals with resident composers, panel discussions and a community workshop exploring incorporation of sounds of daily life into music.

This year's classical Summer Festival will again feature pianist and San Diego native Gustavo Romero. Titled “Ten Years, Seven Composers, One Pianist,” the four-concert festival will be held at the Neurosciences Institute on four successive Sunday afternoons at 4 p.m. from July 6 through 27. Romero will perform the works of Bach-Busoni, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms.

Other summer highlights include an August evening film and wine series as well as classes in many painting and drawing techniques and styles, ceramics, monotype, letterpress, sculpting, paper arts and collage.

For detailed information about the Athenaeum's programs, classes and tickets, visit, or call (858) 454-5872. The Athenaeum is located at 1008 Wall St..
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