Park & Market: A new division of UC San Diego Extended Studies fuses intersectional cultures at a new hub of art activity.
The new building at the corner of Park Blvd. and Market Street, downtown, blends all too easily with the rest of the high rises, offices structures, and other new additions to the cityscape, redefining the city core. Yet the building at that address houses a new and very different kind of function belied and obscured by its outward appearance. UC San Diego’s Park & Market held its grand opening in May 2022; its purpose is to be a central arts and culture hub that connects the core of the city and its creative classes to UC San Diego as well as creative types of all kinds in cultural developments here and throughout the region, including south of the border. It will also develop and house a kind of private/public arts, economic, and perhaps social coalition of organizations to shape the cultural outlook of the region. After 60-plus years in La Jolla, UC San Diego has made a bold outpost in the city and this region’s future.
The driving force behind Park & Market is the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies. That office, led by Mary Walshok who is now retired, recognized the changes in San Diego’s demographics—and where the culture comes from—and created a new site to help facilitate it. Funding for the project came from local businessman and philanthropist Malin Burnham and his wife, Roberta, who committed a $3 million to support the partnership between the Burnham Center for Community Advancement and UCSD.
To some, it may be an odd move; downtown features no end of homeless, and the grim surrounding area gives newcomers pause, especially if they ride in on the trolley that stops across the street. But UC San Diego takes a long, clear view that doesn’t stop at the border; its new cultural center describes itself as a social and intellectual “civic collaboratory,” where great minds might mingle and present ideas to an interested public, and where some of that public might create something of their own within their walls. UC San Diego statements assert Park & Market’s purpose as “a cultural, intellectual, and applied research hub where San Diegans can come together across social and economic boundaries to learn from each other” and “a reaffirmation of our responsibility to nurture inclusiveness, create access to our world-class resources, and build vital connections locally and globally.”
An informal structure for learners (not “students”) is foreseen, which dispenses with formal enrollment and registration in UC San Diego. Interested public might attend Helen Edison Series lectures by some of the finest minds of our time or sign on for other programs as desired. Park & Market will be less a campus and more of a hive to boldly create, shape, and exploit the nexus among arts, creators, and movers and shakers in society.
San Diego may finally have a powerful arts organization able to push forward the kinds of culture favored by UC San Diego and its partners, one that can help establish people and perhaps movements that make a deep mark on the cultures of future generations, relatively free from the constraints that so often cause arts to suffer. The goals that Park & Market represent are enabled by some of the most prominent names in culture here, and some original plank owners include Mainly Mozart, the Digital Gym, San Diego Opera, Camarada, and, perhaps most intriguingly, San Diego Jazz Ventures, headed by Daniel Atkinson, a Grammy-nominated producer with decades of success in producing jazz happenings (read Daniel’s cover story in this issue). It is significant that jazz inaugurates the first happenings at Park & Market; a series of performances that began in May offers dazzling sounds in Senses Human Bistro, the new cafe on the ground floor. Senses Human Bistro is what many in San Diego’s cultural scenes have long hoped for: an expansive and classy place with a well-handled kitchen coupled with a first-class espresso bar and a soon-to-follow full bar along the east wall of the otherwise almost raw space alleviated only by a grand central staircase that shields a grand piano adjacent to a welcome station at the building’s entrance. Hidden behind and to the side of the venue is the Guggenheim Performance Theatre, said to hold up to two hundred seats, depending on the production medium; this will give Senses Human Bistro perhaps an added draw as a kind of dinner theatre. The potential is very exciting.
The Intersections Series began in January, curated by Andrew Waltz. It hosts concerts of global music and is becoming a preferred spot for local jazz artists to air their talents. Their calendar is impressive. Gilbert Castellanos, Adam Del Monte, Fred Benedetti, Gustavo Romero, and others have performed there; recently we caught up with Irving Flores and his band at Tuesday night’s “Between the Notes” Jazz Feast Series. Flores, one of the first musical artists to perform in the Intersections Series, has started his own weekly jazz series on the first floor at Sense Human Bistro. This meet-up was simply epic; Flores spreads excitement and life’s essence just by being in the room before he and his band begin to light the air on fire and rivet the audience to what he and his band is doing.
Flores was in company with Fernando Gomez on drums, Will Lyle on bass, Daniel Felman on bongos, and Matt Hohn on trombone. Their sound was pure gold. The energy was fierce, and one’s ears felt like a million long before the evening was over.
The “Between the Notes” Jazz Feast Series does not feed the ears alone. The event offered an excellent fare guided by owner Amanda Gerson Caniglia and chef Nicola lately of the Bella Vista Social Club & Cafe at Torrey Pines, itself a well-loved home for Thursday Sunset Jazz. Though the kitchen downtown Senses Human Bistro is as new as the room is, patrons’ tastes were well tended to by staff that ran a gauntlet of packed tables from a distant kitchen. Their work was equal to what those who know have come to expect from the Bella Vista—this is saying something, since what that cafe does it does extremely well. An espresso service is already in operation and a full bar is planned to go alongside it later. All of this points to a vital future for the venue; perhaps the only challenge for patrons is to find a spot from which to enjoy the evening free from sound issues caused by the echo of concrete pillars and lack of insulation. But this is a minor concern—it added some fun to wander the room and note the changes of sound flow. It’s certainly easy to go there, where you can park for a pittance in the bottom of the building or take the trolley that stops a block away.
UC San Diego Park & Market is a place to celebrate a future where arts, creative thinking, and innovation about civic and cultural exchanges convene, and it’s time that San Diego gets to know what Park & Market offers. Its earliest art forms that present to the public are of high caliber and point to an energy and sophistication long fugitive from the area. Discover them soon.
Park & Market is located at 1100 Market St. at the corner of Park Blvd. For further information, visit https://parkandmarket.ucsd.edu/