Che Cafe is far more than an indie rock venue
Jul 23, 2014 | 1200 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Editor's note: A preliminary-injunction hearing on the fate of UCSD's Ché Café arts/entertainment venue is scheduled for Aug. 1. If the Ché prevails, it will remain in operation until a final settlement is reached on the breach of contract matter that fuels the latest in an ongoing series of flaps over the facility's future. Below is a response by San Diegan Dirk Sutro to our June 27 editorial that advocated the Ché's permanent closure.

Your “opinion” piece against the Che Cafe [La Jolla Village News, June 27] is disappointing and misguided. It is clear that you do not appreciate the importance of the Che Cafe as part of San Diego’s and UCSD’s historical/urban/cultural fabric. To say that it is a “poor man’s Student Union” and to cite a few past performances by indie rock bands as a key part of its importance is to completely ignore the many important reasons why it should be preserved.

Yes, the building is run down. However, there is no other independent, edgy, rootsy location/hub for UCSD students. The Price Student Center is a very nice place, but opportunities for a variety of student performances there do not meet demand, particularly for site-specific dance, performance art and multimedia events.

The murals at the Ché are an essential part of the venue's history and ongoing value. This art is much more significant than the venue’s relevance as an indie rock venue. They depict Chicano history, and they were painted by prominent artist and activist Mario Torero — who also did murals in [San Diego's] Barrio Logan. In a city where Chicano culture is barely represented, the murals are essential. Torero’s San Diego art is on the order of importance of historical (white) San Diego artists like Alfred Mitchell and Charles Reiffel. I am certain that if Torero were a member of the white/Euro art mainstream, UCSD and community leaders would be bending over backwards to preserve the Ché and Torero's murals.

When Marshall College was founded at UCSD in the 1970s, its central mission was to add multicultural curriculum and identity to campus. Unfortunately, that mission was partially subverted by naming it after Thurgood Marshall instead of after a revolutionary figure; by low-budget buildings that do not meet UCSD’s generally high standard of design and materials; and by a lack the institutional will necessary to sustain a significant multicultural mission.

$700,000 is a drop in the bucket in the overall UCSD budget. Many recent new buildings on campus cost $30 million or $50 million or more. In other budgetary spending categories, for line items that do not seem very significant, the amounts are much more than $700,000. UC Berkeley’s football coach is paid about $2 million per year. Total revenue for UCSD in 2012-13 was estimated at $3.44 billion. Expenditure for Student Services was $85 million.

The Ché occupies one of the few remaining buildings from the days when the UCSD campus was Camp Matthews, a Marine base. As such, it represents the kinds of modest and functional buildings which were the predominant centers for education in the campus’s early years. I suggest you Google ‘Camp Matthews’ to get a better idea. These old and unpretentious buildings illustrate how an important university is often born with innovation and creativity, not with fancy architecture. A few UCSD faculty were here in the late '60s, and they fondly recall those days of creating a new university from scratch on the West Coast, in a setting very different from the East Coast Ivy League.

I really don’t understand your motivation for advocating a tear-down of the Ché, but you omit many vital facts, and your arguments seem to be based on your personal experiences and biases, rather than an informed view of the Ché’s importance to UCSD and San Diego culture and history.

Dirk Sutro

San Diego

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