San Diego Art Institute

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The San Diego Art Institute
SDAI Logo.svg
Motto Art Local and Alive
Founded May 1941 by Walter W. Austin in San Diego
Type Non-profit
Services Media attention, exhibition, community outreach, research, education
Fields Education Fine Arts
2,000 members and supporters
Key people
See list (Claire Slattery, Interim Executive Director; Joe Nalven, Chair, Board of Directors)

The San Diego Art Institute’s “Museum of the Living Artist", with its main gallery located in historic Balboa Park, is a center for the visual arts for the Southern California /Baja California region. The institute functions much like a municipal gallery for the city/county. It is their vision to promote San Diego as a living arts community that fully integrates visual arts into everyday life through their three-fold mission of education, exhibition, and outreach.


Early in the year 1941 a group of San Diego business and professional men met in the office of Reginald Poland, then Director of the Fine Arts Gallery in Balboa Park. These men were interested in forming a group, which would have as its chief objective the painting of local characteristic and historical scenes of San Diego and vicinity. Following the organizational meeting, invitations were issued to painters known to be interested in preserving the memories of the fast disappearing early landmarks of San Diego County. In May 1941 a re-organizational meeting was held, at which time the name “San Diego Business Men’s Art Club" was adopted. The first president was Walter W. Austin, former Mayor of San Diego. The first instructor of this group was Maurice Braun, well known in all of southern California for his mellow California landscapes as well as for his unusual teaching ability. Otto Schneider, Alfred R. Mitchell and many others also acted as instructors of this enthusiastic outdoor painting group. Exhibitions of the work of club members were held at various places and created considerable interest. The first one-man show to be held by a member of this original group was by Charles Small in Bohnen’s Studio at Fifth and Laurel Streets.

Landscape by Maurice Braun

In 1942 the San Diego Business Men’s Art Club negotiated with the City for studio quarters in the Spanish Village in Balboa Park. However, before this arrangement could be consummated, World War II intervened and Balboa Park was requisitioned for use in the war effort. During the war the Club was relatively inactive, with the exception of a member exhibition in the La Jolla Art Center in June 1944. After the end of the war, interest in the project was revived and the club was reorganized at a meeting held on April 4, 1947. During this year increasing activity was generated and many fine outdoor painting sessions resulted, including one at the Pine Hills ranch of Fred Heilbron, one of the original members. Several exhibitions of paintings by old and new members were held, one of which was at the San Diego Club with an attendance of more than 140 people. During this year E. H. Pohl and Ben Vaganoff were added to the list of club instructors.

The original San Diego Business Men's Art Club, circa 1947

During 1948, increased interest and enthusiasm was manifested by alternate Saturday painting trips by the membership to various sites in San Diego County. The all-county Art Mart held in November of that year at 6th and Laurel streets was under the chairmanship of one of their instructors, Alfred R. Mitchell. Most of the members of the San Diego Business Men’s Art Club participated in this activity, which greatly increased the public interest in the organization. For a number of years following the 1948 Art Mart this activity was under the chairmanship of a member of the San Diego Business Men’s Art Club.[1]

In 1949 the efforts of the club were increased and expanded. Exhibitions were held in numerous business establishments, hotels and schools. In 1950 these exhibitions were extended to outlying locations such as the Hoberg Hotel in Borrego Springs and the Carlsbad Hotel in Carlsbad.


The San Diego Business Men's Art Club had grown in activities and public relations to such an extent that a headquarters and gallery were sorely needed. During World War II the Fine Arts Society of San Diego was forced to evacuate its galleries in Balboa Park and move to 2030 Sunset Boulevard, a fine old home which was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Marcy to the Fine Arts Society for use as its wartime temporary headquarters. Following the return of the Fine Arts Society to its galleries in Balboa Park after the war, the Sunset Galleries were left vacant. Through the kindness of E. T. Price, one of the Art Club's members and at that time president of the Fine Arts Society, the use of the gallery at 2030 Sunset Boulevard was offered to the Art Club for its headquarters and gallery. The Art Club happily accepted, and many exhibitions, social affairs, classes, lectures, and educational and cultural meetings were held there. Exhibitions of the work of the club were held continuously and the show was changed at monthly intervals. Also, many visiting exhibitions were held during this time, not only of paintings but of photography and other arts and crafts. Field painting excursions continued every other Saturday under the supervision and instruction of one of the faculty members. During this time Alfred E. R. Van de Veide, Carlos Verharen, J. Milford Ellison, J. Roland McNary and Earl Schrack were added to the faculty, while Elsey Taft became curator.

The San Diego Business Men’s Art Club had by this time reached a position of considerable recognition in the community and it was felt that activities and memberships should no longer be confined to men. Accordingly, at a reorganizational meeting in 1951 the membership voted to incorporate under the name of “The San Diego Men’s Art Institute" and to accept women as associate members. The corporate details were ably executed by Attorney Edwin R. Jeffries, and the Institute’s membership promptly rose to more than fifty regular members and more than one hundred associate members. With the advent of women as associate members, activities of the Institute increased markedly. New interest, more classes, and greater activities were at once apparent. After the Sunset galleries became available to the organization, increased quality of the work submitted for exhibitions was noted. All members could now study the technique of each exhibit and profit therefrom.

Permanent collection[edit]

During 1950 and with the acquiring of the Sunset galleries, a permanent collection was started. This exhibit included gifts of paintings by well-known artists as well as some from the Institute's membership. This collection continued to grow and has become a very important part of the organization.

In 1953 the Sunset galleries were sold by the Fine Arts Society, and the San Diego Men’s Art Institute was forced to find other quarters. Temporary galleries were set up at 904 E Street in a building formerly occupied by the City Library. After a few months of occupancy of this building by the Institute this location was also sold. By this time negotiations had been completed with the City for occupancy of the present galleries in the House of Charm on the Plaza in Balboa Park, the present headquarters.

For some time it had been felt that the corporate name did not truly express the nature of the membership. It was believed that the name “San Diego Men’s Art Institute" was a misnomer because of the large number of female associate members. It was also apparent that the Institute had now arrived at a place in the community where it represented a rather important segment of the cultural interests. Accordingly, early in 1955 the membership voted to change the name of the organization to “The San Diego Art Institute," thus deleting the word “Men’s" from the corporate name.

In 1956 San Diego initiated the Fiesta del Pacifico. The San Diego Art Institute had for several years previously sponsored an all-county art exhibit which was held in the Institute’s galleries. With the advent of the Fiesta del Pacifico this all-county show was sponsored by the both the Fiesta and the Institute. In 1956 the first co-sponsored exhibition with 213 objects of art were selected by the jury. These consisted of oil paintings, watercolors, graphic arts and other media including sculpture.Cash, merchandise and purchase awards were granted by both the Fiesta and the Institute as well as by local business firms, industrial corporations and individuals. Numerous awards of distinction were also made. Again in 1957 a similar exhibition was co-sponsored by the Fiesta del Pacifico and the San Diego Art Institute. 229 objects of art were selected by the jury for exhibition and similar awards were made.

Organization of the San Diego Art Institute[edit]

The San Diego Art Institute functions much like a municipal gallery for the city/county. It is their vision to promote San Diego as a living arts community that fully integrates visual arts into everyday life through their three-fold mission of Education, Exhibition, and Outreach.


  • The creative process is essential for a healthy quality of life.


  • To see the Visual Arts elevate San Diego to a world-class creative and vibrant community.


  • To develop artists and supporters of the Visual Arts through exhibition, education and outreach with innovative programs, first-class facilities, and select partnerships that reach out to schools, business, government and our global community.

Museum of the Living Artist[edit]

The San Diego Art Institute's (SDAI): Museum of the Living Artist (MoLA), located in the House of Charm, features a new exhibition of works by San Diego artists every four to six weeks in this 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) gallery, dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts through outreach, education, and exhibition. Solo artist exhibitions are also featured. With more than 30 shows a year, the San Diego Art Institute aims to be a supportive center for local emerging artists. The Institute also offers many outreach and educational programs. The David Fleet Young Artists' Gallery showcases art done by students at regional elementary, middle and high schools, while the Outreach through Exhibition Series calls upon artists to address community issues in their art. The museum also hosts art classes in about as many media as are shown on its walls.

The House of Charm[edit]

The House of Charm was called the Indian Arts Building when it was originally created for the Panama-California Exposition in 1916. The lath and plaster structure was renamed the Russia and Brazil Building in 1917, the Exposition's second year. It acquired its current name, the House of Charm, during the California Pacific International Exposition in 1935. Like many other Exposition buildings within the Park, the House of Charm was taken over by the military during World War II. In 1996, because of deterioration, the building was torn down and rebuilt to its original appearance. Represented on the National Register of Historical Places, the House of Charm is now home to the San Diego Art Institutes's Museum of the Living Artist as well as the Mingei International Museum and three full-scale rehearsal spaces belonging to the Old Globe Theatre.[1]


Regional Exhibitions[edit]

The San Diego Art Institute's most visible activity focuses on showcasing the work of San Diego emerging area visual artists through a program of over 30 juried shows a year (regular show, a one-foot show, special outreach shows, youth art & others). Different art professionals are selected as jurors for each show assuring exhibitions of high quality and great variety. Juror's Choice and Honorable Mention certificates are awarded at monthly public receptions.

Annual International Award Exhibition[edit]

Since 1955 SDAI has produced the "Annual"—a juried show drawing interest from artists all over the world. A different internationally known juror is invited each year. This show is juried by slides and makes available international competition to regional artists. Awards are presented at SDAI's annual Gala Celebration.

Outreach Through Exhibition[edit]

A call to artists to respond to social and community issues. This is a unique visual art venue that marries the artist's talent with community awareness. Some previous exhibitions have been:

  • "Winged Victory -- Transcending Breast Cancer"
  • "Art Without Frontiers/Hasta La Raya"
  • "eARTh"—environmental awareness
  • "Our Healing Arts"—AIDS awareness
  • International Youth Art Exchange.

Social outreach through the visual arts continue to be an important part of the San Diego Art Institute's mission.

Youth Art[edit]

David Fleet Young Artists' Gallery The mission of this gallery is the exposure to the creative process of the youth of San Diego within the curriculum of the school.

  • The "Fleet", on a monthly basis, showcases youth art by regional elementary, middle and senior high schools. SDAI liaisons with the City of San Diego / County Art Educators Association for curators, school participation and selection.
  • SDAI recognizes by certification all participating youth artists.
  • SDAI regional jurors choose the SDAI Youth Achievement Awards each month.
  • Presentations for Certificates and Achievement Awards occur at our public receptions for each exhibition.
  • Youth Art Month: A regional award show (in collaboration with the City of San Diego/ County Art Educators Association).
  • Storytelling: An interactive program using verbal and visual skills.

The San Diego Art Institute Youth Tour: A docent tour of the SDAI galleries aimed at young audiences. Exposure to living regional artists (and peers in the "Fleet") brings greater awareness of the possibilities in self-expression. The San Diego Art Institute maintains a separate facility for art education. Classes in life drawing, painting, watercolor, children's art, and photography are a sampling of the SDAI art educational programs offered. SDAI also offers comprehensive computer classes in multimedia and animation plus various workshops on specific computer programs.


  • Baldridge, Charlene. San Diego: Jewel of the California Coast. Northland. May 25, 2003. ISBN 0-87358-838-X
  • Dower, Rick. From deepest, darkest Balboa Park: our own Marlin Perkins. San Diego Business Journal,volume 11 Issue 38 Page 10(3), September 17, 1990
  • Hudsen, Andrew. The Magic of Balboa Park: Special Millennium Edition. Photo Tour Books, Inc. ISBN 0-9653087-6-6
  • Marshall, David. San Diego's Balboa Park, CA (Postcard History Series). Arcadia Publishing, July 30, 2007. ISBN 0-7385-4754-9.
  • Martin, Don W & Betty Woo. San Diego: The Best of Sunshine City.DiscoverGuides: 2nd edition. May 21, 2002. ISBN 0-942053-37-0
  • Puplava, Kathy. Trees and gardens of Balboa Park .California: City of San Diego Park and Recreation Dept (2001). ISBN 0-938711-73-3
  • Sanders, Rebecca A. Day Outings from San Diego on a Tank of GasPremier Publishing: 4th edition. April 2004. ISBN 1-928905-00-5


  1. The City of San Diego, Balboa Park Museums, Features and Attractions
  2. The San Diego Art Institute Archives 2008
  3. Maurice Braun, American Painter, 1877-1941
  4. San Diego Art Institute Archives
  5. Field, Timothy J. (1998). "Art colloquialism in context". The San Diego Art Institute Journal 12 (2): 1–8. 


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°43′51.98″N 117°9′3.65″W / 32.7311056°N 117.1510139°W / 32.7311056; -117.1510139