New OB arts center seeks to create community focus
by Martin Jones Westlin
Published - 01/03/13 - 04:58 PM | 8315 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lynne and Paul Bolton, organizers of the Ocean Beach Center for the Arts said they intend for their venue to become exactly what the name implies — a focal point for the community’s artistic prowess, which until now has existed catch as-catch-can.                            Courtesy photo
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One Ocean Beach arts venue is so new that its spokesperson can’t rely on her estimates of a projected annual budget.

The theory behind it is so old that the locals might mistakenly think it’s been part of the area all along. The neighborhood, after all, has shown its artistic side since its founding in 1887 (if you call mail fraud —which landed then-Ocean Beach real estate trader and San Diego Mayor William Carson in jail — an art).

In recent decades, the venue has hosted commerce in the visual arts, outdoor recitations of passages from American history, staged readings and even a theater company that sold out a season’s worth of shows.

But organizers behind the nonprofit Ocean Beach Center for the Arts said they intend to become exactly what the name implies — a focal point for the community’s artistic prowess, which until now has existed catch-as-catch-can.

The center, at 4944 Newport Ave., has put in a modest recording studio and maintains the fledgling Ocean Beach Playhouse after having taken over the old Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1392 bar and thrift shop space two years ago.

“More than anything,” said director-proprietor Lynne Bolton of Point Loma, “we’re looking for a resident theater group. I’ve painted scenery at The [Old] Globe [Theatre] and I love it, but that’s not my idea of rising to the occasion. And the recording studio has been great for kids who want to spend the $200 on a CD and market their bands.

“But we’ve been around Ocean Beach for 30 years, and we’ve seen its potential for the arts with all these eclectic people and businesses,” she said. “What we want to do is give OB a really good name in the arts.”

It’s not as though Bolton is starting from scratch. She’s brought in Oceanside theater troupe Different Stages, which divides its performance time between the Playhouse and Swedenborg Hall in University Heights.

Her address’ extra-wide hallway serves as a makeshift art gallery, at which hang works for sale. And she and her husband, Paul, owner of the local landmark Electric Chair hair salon since the early 1980s, sought to give the neighborhood an arts identity in the late 1990s by launching a weekend exhibit program similar to North Park’s wildly successful Ray at Night artwalk.

The latter idea fizzled after several months — but Denny Knox, executive director of Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, said it wasn’t for lack of trying.

“[Bolton’s effort] was a lot of work,” Knox said. “The merchants thought it was a lot of trouble, and everybody just got tired and lost interest.”

So what’s the attitude 15 years later?

“We’ve turned a lot of things around,” Knox said. “Now, [the merchants] talk about how they love the arts and everybody wonders why there aren’t more of them.”

For 25 years, Knox herself was the owner of the former Cabrillo Art Center art gallery and picture framer, now a local shell and gift shop.

“But the arts center,” Knox said, “is in the same position [the] MainStreet [merchants group] was in when we founded it in 1978. We started out with a few businesses that first year. Now, we have 525.”

Those same merchants serve a community of nearly 30,000. But they didn’t all join overnight. Growth is slow, and it can also stunt itself. The Wild Parrot Players theater group, held together with nothing more than a wad of spit, hope and gum, put up a season of plays in 2001-02, reportedly selling out every single show. The future of theater in Ocean Beach looked brighter than ever until realities like funding and the grueling nonprofit application process set in. The Players would never perform again.

But amid its use of all art forms, theater is in a unique position to help rally visual and performance staff to Bolton’s cause, hence her desire to recruit a company.

The Playhouse sports a 100-seat gallery, modest table seating along the periphery and an extremely basic and limited fly space area.

Meanwhile, Bolton said, “We have everything we need to become a thriving arts community. We have the beach, we have the walkability and we have the history.”

And now, it has the driving force.

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