In the 1990s, 16th Street in East Village was a hub of independent art and culture. It was San Diego’s very own Greenwich Village, with coffeehouses and art spaces hosting poetry, jazz and visual art nightly.
Many businesses that once lined the street have closed down, leaving behind empty lots and misty recollections for those who used to frequent them. One of those people is trying to keep the memory of such places alive, however.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez started the 16th Street Project, an Instagram and Twitter feed that documents the lost art spaces from the 1990s that existed along the street. Search “16thstproject” on Instagram or @16thStProject on Twitter to see throwback photos from defunct spaces like 740 artist lofts; Café Chabalaba, which held art shows and live poetry and music; and the independent art space El Campo Ruse. There are also images of what’s replaced them. Photos are accompanied by captions that tell the history of the location and interesting tidbits or stories about the people who created there.
Guzman-Lopez, a member of Taco Shop Poets who spent many days and nights reading poetry and hanging out at 16th Street art spaces, echoes the words of fellow Taco Shop poet and friend Tomas Riley when he says the project remembers in order to inspire.
“We were only in our mid-20s in the ’90s,” Guzman-Lopez recalls. “Having gone to UCSD, I had read a lot about the Chicano art movements of the 1970s.... I had read a lot about the Chicano art movement in L.A., the Border Arts Workshop. Those were 10 or 11 years before. In the same way, we were inspired by what came before, we want others to be inspired to create innovative, inventive, poignant art that asks questions.”
El Campo Ruse, Chabalaba and 740 hold a special place in Guzman-Lopez’s heart. He speaks of them fondly, recalling the artists and musicians who created interesting work there.
“For us, the disappearance of these places was significant,” he says.
Last Saturday, he, artist James Watts, Taco Shop poet Adrian Aranciba and others visited the areas that were once home to the three art spaces and read poems dedicated to them. Eventually, Guzman- Lopez would like to do that again and invite musicians who played at these spots, including Daniel Jackson and Gilbert Castellanos.
“We took a bunch of marigolds, which are the traditional flowers of Day of the Dead,” Guzman-Lopez says. “We threw some on the sidewalk and put some of them on the fence. It’s part of the spirit we want to have with this project. Just like with Day of the Dead, for which we engaged in the past, we want to engage in these arts centers and remember the ideas, the spirit of collaboration and the huge artistic energy that could be found in these places.”
For now, the 16th Street Project will solely exist on Instagram and Twitter, but Guzman-Lopez plans to create a website that features interviews, photos and in-depth essays on each lost space.
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