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The Summer Salon Series Experience

Having lived in San Diego for more than six years, I’ve seen many friends move on to other cities they deem more intellectual or artsy. You know, Boston, Chicago, New York.

I wish those friends could go to a Summer Salon Series event at The San Diego Museum of Art. Maybe they’d see a different San Diego.

Inspired by the art and life of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the museum started hosting the European-style salons last summer. The nights mix visual art, poetry, music, crafts, and panel discussions to spark conversation and showcase San Diego’s emerging artists. This year’s series has a specific theme of “What does a city need?” with events in the series addressing shelter, consumerism, identity, civic space and other topics you might not have pondered since a sophomore year sociology class.

The Salon Series has been on my to-do list since June but I finally went last night, and naturally left regretting that I missed so many of the events earlier in the summer.

Last night focused on access to resources. When I arrived, there was a small crowd of visitors in the rotunda browsing information tables about organic produce and community supported agriculture. Off to the side, people scribbled on index cards to answer questions about education policy and practices.

Back in the museum’s IMAGE gallery, families were getting silly while making paper masks. Unlike Culture & Cocktails events that draw mostly young, stylish professionals, the Salon Series attracts an audience of all ages.

I then wandered upstairs and found a volunteer standing shyly in front of what looked like a perfume display. She encouraged me to look at pictures and spray a bottle of each scented substance to experience the smells in tandem with the art. One smelled of saffron, slightly metallic, meant to accompany an image of a home built out of a storage container. The other had a more rustic scent to go with the Gustav Stickley exhibition. While the whole concept was new to me, it was nice to experience art in a different way and have an excuse to chat with a museum volunteer.

Downstairs, about 40 people had gathered for the poetry reading that was about to begin. Local poet Bruna Mori, a lithe young woman with a voice made for bedtime stories, stood in the darkness of the Asian Court with a projector behind her. Using images from photographer George Porcari, she told stories of the suburbs – stories of apartment buildings, children’s playhouses, and strip mall churches. She contrasted Carmel Valley and Gardena, a suburb of Los Angeles, drawing laughs as she commented on the “beige, beige, beige” nature of the areas.

After the poetry, the room was reconfigured for a panel discussion about locally-sourced food (hello Linkery’s Jay Porter!) as the sound of string instruments began to trickle down from the upstairs concert of The Tree Ring. Realizing that I got the gist of the panel discussion (essentially, food tastes better, is better for you, and you feel better about eating it when you know where it comes from) I traipsed back upstairs to find a packed house for The Tree Ring. I could see why: the music gave me chills, reminding me of the first time I saw Arcade Fire. The sound transfixed the crowd, producing a powerful finale for the evening.

Next week’s Salon Series event, the final one of the summer, will focus on virtual cities and utopian visions. Find details on the museum’s website.