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A patron of the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 25th anniversary exhibit views a piece of Middle East-themed art done by San Diego artist Doris Bittar. Photo by Steve Horn
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25th anniversary puts rarely shown pieces on display at arts center

ESCONDIDO — For some it’s a birthday and others an anniversary. But everyone who attends gets to see art rarely exhibited to the public.

The California Center for the Arts, Escondido has turned 25 this year and to commemorate the occasion, its fall exhibit features works held within its permanent collection. These are pieces the art museum portion of the Center for the Arts owns, but which do not generally go on display and have not been exhibited in this fashion in over a decade.

To kick off the exhibit, the Center for the Arts hosted opening night Oct. 4. Among those present were former Escondido Mayor Lori Pfeiler and former City Councilman Ed Gallo.

Jerry Van Leeuwen, the center’s executive director, said whether those present consider it a birthday celebration or an anniversary depends on their vantage point.

“As a staff, when we talked about our 25th season, we went back and forth,” said Van Leeuwen in remarks made in the center’s courtyard. “Is it a birthday or is it an anniversary? What is it? And it occurs to me that a birthday is a celebration of an event … and indeed, the center was born 25 years ago.”

Van Leeuwen then called for a toast of champagne for non-members, there for the celebratory aspect of the day. He next nodded to the dues-paying members to talk about the importance of anniversaries.

“They’re about commitment. You have a wedding anniversary,” said Van Leeuwen. “It’s not a wedding birthday, it’s a wedding anniversary and it’s based on commitment … and (hanging) in there through some good times and some not so good times.”

Cynthia Weir, chairwoman of the board of directors for the Center for the Arts, said in her remarks that the institution has played a pivotal role as a civic institution in downtown Escondido since 1994.

“Pablo Picasso once said, ‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,’ said Weiri. “And here in our everyday lives, we’ve had exhibitions that inspire us, art that moves us, objects that intrigue and delight, art that challenges us to feel and think and act. They’ve all washed over our souls.”

The new exhibit is broken up into four sections. At the center of it all and in the biggest room are the permanent collection pieces — a mix of paintings, murals and sculptures. What ties all of the pieces together is theme of California.

“The museum’s permanent collection pays particular attention to the art and artists of California from 1900 to the present, with an emphasis on collecting work from the Museum’s exhibitions and artistic residences,” reads a description of the permanent collection meant to introduce the works. “The goal of the permanent collection is to define the roots and progress of California’s visual arts culture as well as to develop a body of the most significant art of our time.”

Another section pays respects to past docents, staff and leadership at the Center for the Arts who have passed away since the center first opened its doors. It does so in the form of a Día de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, altar. The Center for the Arts also plays host to an annual Día de Los Muertos festival and this year, its 24th, will be Nov. 1.

Yet another section features pieces displayed during the very first exhibit shown in 1994 at the Center for the Arts.

Many of these pieces had a naturalistic theme, called Wildlife, paying tribute to what is now known as the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park and then called the Wild Animal Park. Other works from that inaugural exhibit include landscape paintings of California settings, while a third tier of pieces within it include abstract sculptures and paintings symbolizing various aspects of the Golden State.

And as is the case for every Center for the Arts exhibition, one section features the work of area K-12 youth displayed on the student wall. Among other works, students from Bear Valley Middle School in Escondido created a wide-ranging set of colorful flavors of papier-mâché slices of cake to fit within the birthday theme.

The 25th anniversary exhibit is open through Dec. 1. Museum hours are Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. Future exhibits for 2020 are slated to include two environmental-themed shows, as well as one featuring the works of artists who work as faculty at San Diego County colleges and universities.