San Diego Art Institute

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1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
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Open:
Tuesday - Sunday 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
See examples of contemporary art at the San Diego Art Institute. This museum, partnering with community artists, brings unique exhibits to the area.
San Diego Art Institute
Southern CA Artists
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Focus on Local Southern California Artists

The San Diego Art Institute (SDAI) is located in the city's lush Balboa Park. The institute celebrates contemporary art and focuses on supporting local artists from the Southern California area. Visitors to the art museum can find experimental and groundbreaking pieces of art and a rotating display of exhibits of contemporary American artists.

Founded in 1941, SDAI has experienced many changes since its beginnings as the San Diego Business Men's Arts Club. Eventually, it moved to its current headquarters in Balboa Park in a historic building called the House of Charm.

In 2014, the SDAI changed its focus to exhibit primarily contemporary art from the work of artists in the Southern California and Baja Norte areas. The main exhibit area of the building features 8,000 square feet of space.

The location of the art museum is in one of the most beautiful spots of San Diego. The museum is surrounded by stunning gardens, fountains, paths and native foliage. There are plenty of restaurants, outdoor picnic areas, cultural sites and other museums nearby to explore.

The museum sponsors an artist-in-residence program and has helped local talent find success in the art world. It also features a rotating set of exhibits in its space that typically follow some sort of unifying theme.

Past exhibits in the museum include art that explored Swedish and Californian combinations of indoor and outdoor spaces, interactive family-friendly pieces, the stories from letter writing, deconstructed landscapes and video pieces about the moon's cycles. At the end of each artist's residency, the artists-in-residence display an exhibit of their work.

Visitors enjoy touring the museum to experience a different voice and new perspective in American contemporary art. Most exhibits are only featured in the museum for a short period of time, so each visit can feel like a new experience.

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What to Expect When You Visit

Visiting the museum is convenient because of its close proximity to a variety of other top San Diego attractions. There is ample parking in Balboa park for people driving to the museum. There is also a San Diego Trolley stop nearby via the City College trolley stop and a transfer on the Number 7 bus.

The museum is optimal for students, families and people who don't know much about contemporary art. It offers educational experiences and guided tours. Guided tours last about an hour and are led by visiting artists or staff members.

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Exhibits & Attractions

The current exhibit housed at the museum is called Illumination: 21st Century Interactions with Art, Science and Technology. The next exhibit coming up in 2021 is Contemporary Indigenous Art of the Pacific Coast.

Illumination

The Illumination exhibit was featured from February until May 2020. After the museum temporarily closed, it was relocated online for visitors to access remotely. The exhibit was a partnership between 26 artists in the California area and seven scientific research organizations.

Art and Science

The exhibit explored the connection between art and science and strived to show visitors a new way to look at various topics in the scientific community. The creators of the exhibit hoped to educate the public about issues such as sustainability, global health and climate change. They combined various experimental mediums, such as light, sound, metal and plants, to create the artwork.

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Did you Know
The San Diego Art Institute was initially founded in 1941 as the San Diego Business Men's Art Club. In 1950 the name was changed to the San Diego Art Institute, and three years later women were allowed membership into the organization.

Technology and the Touch Screen

One of the three important themes of the art installation was Technology and the Touch Screen. Art from three artists was displayed to give visitors an experience with this concept.

One piece featured LED lights, metal, mirrors and the idea of surveillance. Another piece from this set was a magnified nano transistor, giving audiences a way to see something that is normally microscopic. A painting in this set used light and color to capture the idea of a video screen.

Global Health and Discovery

Global Health and Discovery was another big concept that the artists wanted to convey to audiences. One of the pieces aimed to emulate the idea of the brain's neurotransmitters.

Next, visitors could see the effect of cancer on DNA in a sculpture that illustrated the damage. Another piece attempted to make an allegory of the devastation of Alzheimer's Disease on the brain.

Climate Change and Sustainability

The last theme of the exhibit was Climate Change and Sustainability. Artists worked with scientists to develop artwork that made a meaningful statement about this topic.

One piece showed the impact of pollution on the environment. Another used rice to portray the struggle of getting misinformation about climate change. The final piece in this theme used a series of stills that expressed the challenge of being a consumer in today's confusing world.

Educational Programs

The museum places much of its efforts on art education for the community. It provides support to K-12 teachers with art curriculum connections through visits to the museum.

Each summer, the SDAI offers summer camps for young students. Students are taught by artists and staff at the museum and learn some of the experimental art techniques that are on display. Previous camps provided art instruction in stop motion animation, photography, magazine making, printmaking and murals.

The SDAI also gives young artists opportunities to display their artwork in Balboa Park. For adults and working artists, the museum provides professional development opportunities that allow those in the art career to collaborate and network and find more ways to be successful.

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Know Before You Go & Tips

Before visiting the SDAI, here are tips and things to know:

  • The building that houses the SDAI, the House of Charm, has its own unique history. Take some time to look around the building and check out its unique architectural features, which were erected in 1916 for the Panama-California Exhibition.
  • Check out the current exhibits and programming before coming to the museum to get an idea of what's in store during the visit.
  • Museum patrons can support the artists around the Southern California area through the SDAI's RAM program. This is the museum-sponsored artist marketplace that brings artists together with potential buyers and helps these creative people make a living.
  • Buy tickets ahead of time. You can get a discount on tickets to this museum and most of the other museums in Balboa Park as well as over 55 attractions and activities including the San Diego Zoo and even whale watching tours by purchasing the Go San Diego Card. You can get an additional discount if you purchase the Go San Diego Card from via our website.
  • The SDAI is also available for private event rental for groups of up to 75 people.

The San Diego Art Institute commemorates the unusual and unique world of contemporary art. Visitors to this museum can help support the community's local artists and learn more about what makes art.

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The Bristol Hotel
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Hilton San Diego Gaslamp Quarter
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from $176 / night
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