CARLSBAD — The Winter Wonderland arts experience at the Westfield Plaza Camino Real mall hit a few bumps along the way in its efforts to bring contemporary art out into the community.
The art project is part of the Exploring Engagement initiative presented by the Oceanside Museum of Art and supported by funds from The James Irvine Foundation.
The concept of the project is to bring high-level art experiences into a retail setting during the holiday season.
Oceanside Museum of Art reached out to artist Armando de la Torre and suggested he apply for the project grant.
De la Torre was selected as the resident artist and had one month to plan and coordinate the project.
In late November he set up the project space in a vacant shop on the first floor of the mall. The finished space mirrored a Christmas tree lot. Flocked trees lined the space and de la Torre built in a ski chateau-like viewing deck and performance stage within the space.
De la Torre also incorporated an undertone of the pull between ecology and public consumption into the project space by creating it out of all repurposed materials.
“It was a backdrop for things to happen,” de la Torre said.
He then worked with numerous artists to create art experiences for shoppers who stopped in.
A contemporary musical performance, photography workshop, printing workshop and shadow poem performance were some of the experiences held between Black Friday and Dec. 22.
A couple of the performances did not sit well with mall shop owners and visitors. Winter Wonderland was shut down for a day following the first musical performance.
Neighboring shopkeepers deemed it too loud. Anti-consumerism language in the songs also created some discomfort.
“I was brokenhearted that I got shut down,” de la Torre said.
During the closure de la Torre built a gingerbread house facade to enclose the performance space and reduce noise to neighbors.
De la Torre, Oceanside Museum of Art staff and Westfield mall representatives reviewed what would go on in the space and agreed on noise limitations and other good neighbor practices.
Following the reopening of the space de la Torre received further objection to the planned Santa for Adults photography workshop.
In this case discussion dismissed the mall’s concerns that the experience may be racy or compete for business with the mall Santa.
The Santa for Adults workshop taught children photography through taking photos of their parents sitting on Santa’s lap within the Winter Wonderland space.
“It (the Winter Wonderland project) challenged the belief system of the public,” Daniel Foster, executive director of Oceanside Museum of Art, said.
“People didn’t see it coming. We got all kinds of responses.”
Despite a one-day shut down and numerous discussions between the artist, museum and mall after the project was approved, most agree the project was a success in bringing contemporary art into an unexpected public space.
“He (de la Torre) is a great guy,” Foster said. “I enjoyed working with him. He had an amazing residency.”
De la Torre, who has worked on performance art projects with several different museums, said he felt there was a lack of effort and foresight by some Oceanside Museum of Art staff members to develop a solid relationship with the mall and him as an artist, and that led to further tensions.
“We can learn and move on,” de la Torre said.
Foster said lessons were learned in management and community response to art with the Winter Wonderland project, which is the first of five planned artist in residency outreach projects.
“With the best creative acts you don’t know where it’s going to take you,” Foster said.
Foster added the museum would continue to take risks and bring contemporary art experiences out into the community.
Both de la Torre and Foster agree the project was an evolving process.
A panel discussion of the Winter Wonderland project will be held at Oceanside Museum of Art Feb. 4 as part of the museum’s First Tuesday Lecture Series.
“We’re really excited about the aftermath of this project,” Foster said. “It’s an opportunity to discuss the journey of this residency and is going to be one of the most exciting conversations. We’re learning as we go.”