Posted by: cantmisssd | October 14, 2010

Chicano Park

In my years in San Diego, I couldn’t even begin to count the number of long-term residents that I took down to Barrio Logan- and Chicano Park in particular- to reactions of “I’ve never been down here. I didn’t even know this park existed. This neighborhood is so cool.” Chalk up part of it to everyone’s tendency to the familiar and the routine, but it also underlines the stark social divide of the 94. The various circles in this town just don’t overlap very often to unite communities around the park to communities further south.

So when Richard Gleaves in a post yesterday noted that the city’s first public art purchase was 1989 (via Kelly Bennett), it seemed like an opportune moment to recall that the history of public art in San Diego starts much earlier… Even if it took the city a while to get on board.

Back in 1970, the plan was to build a Highway Patrol station under the 5/Coronado bridge interchange on what was then a vacant lot. Neighborhood residents and Chicano activists protested the plan, occupying the space in a showdown with developers and construction vehicles. The land was turned over to the community to become a park and the Chicano Park Steering Committee was formed to, as the placard at the north corner notes, “oversee the continuing development and expansion of Chicano Park and to ensure the park would be deveoped in a Chicano/Mexicano/Indigenous style.”

Since then, murals have spread throughout the park, and art has appeared on walls throughout the community. Chicano Park has become a shared community space for church events and neighborhood gatherings. A place for basketball, soccer, handball and other sports. And, perhaps most importantly, an anchor for a community identity. In this case, it came by fighting power- which has fed into that identity. Poor, minority communities have long been at odds with the mechanisms of power, and the park provides a healthy outlet for those frustrations and a way to memorialize the history of struggles in that community. And in the process, some incredible art for everyone to enjoy, and (once new development takes root), hopefully a cultural rallying point that will attract increasing numbers of local and out-of-town visitors.

Public art can have great power. Chicano Park illustrates that it’s an opportunity to unite communities, and that the government’s role can be both as facilitator and inspiration without being imposing.

(I took Natalie on a Barrio Logan adventure a while back and she took way better photos than me)



  1. The CP murals are on my to-do shortlist: I’m calling them the first and best public art in San Diego.

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