“‘Nobody cares about your shitty arts organization.’ Those were her exact words,” recalls United Artists of San Diego chief executive Tatjana Zogovic, who goes by the name Tasha Zogo. She’s referring to a phone call she got a few months ago from local arts writer Kinsee Morlan then of CityBeat, currently of Voice of San Diego.
“The establishment sees us as a threat because we’re not part of their small, tight circle of cronies,” Zogo says. “We make them nervous because we’re telling the truth about what’s been going on in the San Diego art community.”
Zogo’s claims that a handful of elite, local arts organizations, not least among them San Diego Art Institute, keep philanthropic and government money away from struggling artists.
“The establishment groups are ignoring artists while taking money from philanthropists and the government in the name of art and doing nothing but making the establishment and companies that put on street fairs richer,” says Zogo. “Meanwhile, artists are slaves to their day-jobs, and they’re forced to pay big money for booths at street fairs, where they’re lucky if they sell a single painting or sculpture.”
Street fairs, says Zogo, enjoyable as they may be to the public and as lucrative as they are for event producers, “keep artists in the dark ages.”
A multimillion-dollar downtown space that no doubt has developers and entrepreneurs salivating sits between the two camps of San Diego’s bickering arts groups. That coveted space has been vacant for nearly two years — since before the city’s central library got its rakish new, dome-topped digs adjacent to Petco Park in 2013.
“We have a vision for the old central library,” says Zogo. “It’s going to be an incubator — a kind of lab where educators, entrepreneurs, and artists can all come together to make a better community. We see art, science and economic opportunity all together under one roof. We want the surrounding neighborhood to be part of our vision too.”
United Artists of San Diego’s proposal is now before Civic San Diego, the city’s quasi-governmental nonprofit organization overseeing redevelopment of the nearly 145,000-square-foot former central library building. The group’s idea sounds a lot like the kind of project mayor Kevin Faulconer says he wants to see take shape inside the vacant building, which has become an eyesore in East Village.
“This is a real opportunity for the city and one of the ideas I’m personally excited about is an incubator lab,” Faulconer told the Union-Tribune. “It would attract brilliant minds to come together and new companies could grow out of it and spread.”
Though a sizable group of San Diego artists and community leaders say they want the old central library building, on E Street at Eighth, turned into a community-driven arts center for exhibitions, education, and live performances, there’s no guarantee an arts program will be included at the site at all. “If the arts do not end up with a place in the revitalization of the old library, it will be another example of failure by the old establishment and the people at the top like Kinsee Morlan and Dana Springs,” says Zogo. Springs is the executive director for the City of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture.
“They do almost nothing to help the larger community of artists,” Zogo continues. “Why aren’t they out front shouting from the rooftops, ‘Give the old library to artists!’?”
If Morlan and Springs won’t shout from the rooftops, Zogo will and is doing just that — at least figuratively. Even if her organization’s plans for the old library aren’t adopted by the city, she’s already shaken San Diego’s arts establishment up.
Morlan bristled at being lumped in as part of the establishment, noting that she works at an alternative weekly— “the very definition of antiestablishment.”
“Everyone knows the community wants art and educational opportunities in East Village,” says Morlan. “All communities and neighborhoods need those opportunities in order to thrive. I just don’t think Tasha Zogo is the right person for the job.”
Morlan, who recently took a new arts-writing job as Voice of San Diego’s engagement editor, says she regrets what she said during her phone call to Zogo. At the time, she was on maternity leave, holding her newborn in one arm, her cell phone in the other hand, all while trying to tend to her upset two-year-old. She says Zogo demands immediate attention when she decides on a plan. She says anyone who doesn’t respond promptly and affirmatively to Zogo will soon know her wrath.
“How about just a little patience?” Morlan asks. “I mean, come on, you can’t expect me to just drop everything because you sent an email. I mean, these people started slandering me on Facebook because I didn’t reply according to Tasha Zogo’s timetable.”
One of United Artists of San Diego’s members, and one of Zogo’s most ardent supporters, showed me screenshots of Facebook posts meant to illustrate Morlan’s alleged favoritism to artists who are “in” San Diego’s so-called arts establishment, and hostility toward those “on the outs.”
However, those screenshots as well as group emails did as much to illustrate the upstarts’ hostility toward the establishment as they did the opposite.
“Why would I call you?” reads one post to Morlan from a United Artists of San Diego member. “You obviously have mental problems.”
But another post from the San Diego Artists Facebook page — which was purportedly established by the city’s Commission on Arts and Culture and was handed over by Dana Springs, who once moderated the page, to Kinsee Morlan — seems to confirm one of Zogo’s complaints. In fact, the post seems to confirm at least anecdotally that there is a tendency among established members of the local arts community to limit, even stifle, local artists trying to make a living by selling their creations.
“Please refrain from posting these types of things,” Morlan’s post begins, continuing with a three-bullet list of no-nos on her San Diego Artists Facebook page. “Show event/announcements, art-for-sale announcements, self-promotional content/friend-promotional content.”