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San Diego’s arts and culture scene is basking in the national spotlight and benefiting from record-breaking philanthropic investment — check out the buzz around The Rady Shell, The Conrad, the re-envisioned Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego and much more!
San Diego has long been a city that pulsed with artistic energy, but a welcome wave of both new and reimagined spaces and places has brought fresh excitement to the region's arts and culture scene. These developments — and the capital committed to them — are a clear sign that the arts are thriving here. From launching Broadway hits to hosting the globe's top entertainers to boasting a world-class symphony in its own gorgeous waterfront venue, San Diego offers year-round artistic wonders in a stunning setting. Here's a look at some of the most buzz-worthy additions to San Diego's arts and culture offerings.
Combining visual pizzazz with acoustic perfection, The Rady Shell is the majestic jewel of the San Diego waterfront. The outdoor home of the San Diego Symphony rises from the Embarcadero just steps from the bay, and is a supremely inviting place to take in a concert, watch summer fireworks or just enjoy a picnic on its broad swath of lawn (the entire venue doubles as a public park when events are not going on). Built for some $85 million and opened in summer 2021, The Shell has been called San Diego's answer to the Hollywood Bowl, and already has become a signature of the Downtown cityscape.
Officially the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, this elegant collection of performance spaces is the permanent home of the La Jolla Music Society, which hosts the world-renowned SummerFest chamber-music festival annually as well as a vibrant variety of concerts and other events throughout the year. The centerpiece of the $76 million center is the 481-seat Baker-Baum Concert Hall, whose curved seating area draws inspiration from European opera houses. Acoustics for all four of The Conrad’s spaces were designed by the same master acoustician commissioned for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
A revered contemporary-art institution with an 80-year history in San Diego, MCASD has re-envisioned its flagship La Jolla campus through a five-year, $105 million renovation that has doubled the museum’s previous exhibit space. The expansion serves not only to showcase the museum's 4,700-piece collection, but also its stunning setting on the edge of the Pacific, with natural light pouring through windows that frame exquisite views of waves and water.
Balboa Park’s beloved Mingei — dedicated to folk art and more — boasts additional exhibit space, a new courtyard and outdoor terraces and a flexible theater space, thanks to a three-year, $55 million transformation. The museum also offers two new dining options, both presided over by the accomplished Urban Kitchen Group: the sleek ARTIFACT, inspired by ancient methods and ingredients and taking its cues from the museum's exhibitions; and the more casual Craft Café, with a range of made-to-order and grab ‘n' go items. (Insider tip: Plan a late Sunday lunch on ARTIFACT’s outdoor courtyard and enjoy music from the nearby Spreckels Organ Pavilion’s 2 p.m. public concerts.)
The Timken, opened in 1965, has long been a Balboa Park favorite for its impressive Putnam Collection of European old masters, American art and more, as well as its policy of always-free admission. A two-year, $3 million renovation has updated the museum’s midcentury-modern “jewel box” of a building, improving it as a showcase for masterpieces from around the world — including the only Rembrandt painting on public display in San Diego.
A $7 million renovation has transformed the former East County Performing Arts Center into a sleek, 1,200-seat performance space hosting everything from top pop acts to comedy and beyond. State-of-the-art sound and visuals lend performances at The Magnolia plenty of dazzle, and the El Cajon venue's plaza and other outdoor spaces add an extra dimension of entertainment, hosting movie nights, beer festivals, street fairs and more.
What was once a military outpost where generations of Navy recruits were trained is now a thriving hub of culture and community that hosts some 120 galleries, museums, artist studios and flexible spaces. Arts District Liberty Station is both an events destination and a place for people of all ages to engage in their own acts of creation, thanks to everything from pottery studios to dance and theater courses. The district’s offerings are showcased monthly at a First Friday celebration, and summer also brings an outdoor music series. And all of it is housed within the larger Liberty Station, a former Navy base transformed via an $850 million redevelopment project into a sprawling center for retail, dining, recreation and much more.
University Heights’ Diversionary, founded in 1986, takes pride in its distinction as the third-oldest LGBTQIA+ theater in the country. A $2.5 million renovation has expanded the theater’s lobby and stage and brought improved seating, upgraded sound and lighting to the venue, as well as a new cabaret space. Diversionary, which has hosted several key premieres, is a vibrant and active part of San Diego’s fertile theater scene, along with such companies as the nationally prominent La Jolla Playhouse and Old Globe.
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