Sea change

Creative collaboration in the Oceanside Cultural District

Sunset Market in the Oceanside Cultural District.

Oceanside is a coastal town with incredible personality and energy, both in its art and its people. And for more than 100 years, the Oceanside Public Library has served as the cultural heart of the city.

Oceanside Public Library has empowered the community by promoting literacy, information access, civic engagement, cultural inclusiveness, and openness to new ideas. Through genuine knowledge of the community and work to create connections through author events, art exhibits, theatrical presentations, concerts, and festivals, we know Oceanside as a culturally rich place with a generous, creative spirit, making it worthy of its designation by the California Arts Council as a California Cultural District in June of last year.

Since then, we’ve been bringing the same generous and creative spirit that earned Oceanside a spot as one of the state’s first cultural districts into its growth and development.

The Oceanside Museum of Art, one of three partners for the district.

A team effort

Oceanside Cultural District has been a group undertaking from the beginning. Oceanside Public Library, overseeing the City’s Arts Commission, joined forces with the Oceanside Museum of Art and MainStreet Oceanside, a downtown business organization. Together, this trio strikes the right balance of community connection, quality artistic experience, and business strength that a cultural district deserves. The partners have created an Executive Committee along with Visit Oceanside, the local tourism entity, and are forming a Steering Committee, made up of business owners, planning department staff, artists, citizens, and supporters to create a solid foundation on which to grow and succeed.

Creativity has played its part in finding resources as well. Seeking a strong online presence, the district turned to a local Mira Costa Community College Marketing class for help. Designing high-quality videos and building a webpage to market the district became part of the course curriculum. Students gained experience and became a part of the collaborative process for the project.

Oceanside sought the skills of local community college students to create videos and design a webpage.

First time for everything

The library is finalizing its work on a Master Plan for the Arts, the city’s first cultural plan in its history. This plan started with extensive input from the public and elected officials to articulate a vision, goals, and strategies to help the arts and creativity flourish. It focuses on arts as a civic problem-solver, its economic impact, and the importance of equity and inclusion. It outlines the need for cultivation and growth of the emerging Oceanside Cultural District, and the importance of leveraging assets for success.

This year, the Arts Commission is also undertaking an Americans for the Arts Economic Impact study that will examine the city, and a separate study to examine the economic impact of the district itself.

The shape of things to come

Time will tell what shape the Oceanside Cultural District will ultimately carve for itself, much like the coastline where it resides. But the work of the partnership thus far has no doubt strengthened our momentum and sense of direction. The Oceanside Public Library and Oceanside Museum of Art just completed an incredibly successful National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant project, with dozens of programs and displays made free to the public in celebration of the written word, artistic exploration, and community dialogue. The Oceanside Theater Company has partnered with the Oceanside Museum of Art’s Artist Alliance to provide theatrical experiences along with fine art displays. The museum and the library have partnered on an additional grant to provide 3rd graders “Literacy Through Art” learning experiences, which encompass “art literacy” and “written literacy,” using a common vocabulary.

Children learn Shakespeare’s works through games and activities as part of the district’s NEA Big Read project.

Events are in abundance — most recently, the SuperGirl Pro Surfing championship, the only large-scale all-girls action sports competition in the world, and the Oceanside International Film Festival, a yearly opportunity for independent filmmakers to show their films.

The Noche Mexicana Festival, the Filipino American Cultural Organization Festival, and Pride by the Beach are three of the largest grassroots events held in the district each year. The monthly First Friday Oceanside ArtWalk features the best of local emerging artists and creatives in Oceanside. The Oceanside Surf Museum, the Oceanside Historical Society, The Arcade Oceanside Tattoo, and historical theaters the Star and Sunshine Brooks add to an already eclectic experience.

Oceanside’s designation as a California Cultural District has proved to be an opportunity to explore and share who we want to be collectively — to place leaders of cultural organizations, arts venues, historical groups, and city leaders in the same room to honor our numerous assets and the hard work done within the community.

CJ Di Mento is Principal Librarian at Oceanside Public Library. To learn more about the Oceanside Cultural District and the California Cultural District program,