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On View: Art and Culture Exhibitions

The Library’s exhibition program allows free access to visual art and cultural exhibitions, while promoting San Diego artists and creative community groups.


Public Exhibition Opportunities

For more information about library exhibitions, email us at OnView@sandiego.gov.

Library patrons viewing an exhibition in the Central Library Art Gallery.


Central Library Art Gallery

Call to Serve: Clara E. Breed and the Japanese American Incarceration
September 18, 2021 - January 30, 2022 | San Diego Central Library @ Joan Λ Irwin Jacobs Common

Black and white photo of Miss Breed lecturing


Clara E. Breed directed the San Diego Public Library for 42 years as a public servant advocating on numerous fronts, including the promotion of youth services, championing a child’s right to read by encouraging international and multicultural collections, undertaking an unprecedented expansion of the City’s Library system, and most significantly, advocating on behalf of the hundreds of Japanese American families that were incarcerated due to Executive Order 9066.

Breed was ahead of her time in her interest to promote cultural understanding and fight prejudice. Her steadfast commitment and activism broadens our insights about the role libraries play in working toward a more equitable, diverse, and inclusionary future.

Call to Serve: Clara E. Breed & The Japanese American Incarceration is co-organized by guest curators Susan Hasegawa, Linda Salem, and the San Diego Public Library. This exhibition was made possible by a collaboration between the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, the Japanese American National Museum, the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, San Diego State University Library, and Simmons University Archives. This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

WW-II Japanese American Incarceration Camp Replica

Photo of barrack installation



In 1942 the War Relocation Authority (WRA) had constructed ten centers in the harshest, most desolate places in California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Arkansas in order to house all persons of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated as enemies of the state after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Although there were no cases of spying or espionage by the Japanese immigrant community or their American-born children, approximately 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from and imprisoned in barbed-wire fenced camps.

Like thousands of young men eager to serve in the military and fight in WW-II, Frank Wada (pictured) volunteered for the army. Born and raised in Southern California, Wada was one of the first volunteers out of Poston, Arizona Incarceration Camp located on the Colorado River Native American Reservation. Wada joined thousands of Japanese Americans to serve in the highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Wada, his family and friends built this model barracks to tell the story of their WW- II incarceration.

This replica model, located on the ground floor lobby of the Central Library, was reconstructed as part of the Call to Serve: Clara E. Breed & the Japanese American Incarceration exhibition. This was made possible by the Wada Family. Special thanks to Frank Wada and his son, Greg Wada and Jeanne and Bill Elyea.

Previously On View

Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies
February 15 – May 17, 2020 

Fear No Art work

© City of San Diego Civic Art Collection

Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies, invites the public to consider artworks in the City of San Diego’s Civic Art Collection and the narratives that emerge when in dialogue with local contemporary artists. Together, these artworks represent a wide range of themes and approaches, which act as a provocation for the viewer to consider concepts such as institutional critique, the ability of art to effectively speak to and for the masses, the specificity of the Civic Art Collection, and the notion of a collection, itself.
Fear No Art is curated by Dr. Lara Bullock and features work by Eric Blau, Donald Borthwick, Mildred Bryant Brooks, Celeste Byers, Collective Magpie, Jung Ho Grant, William Hogarth, Robert Kelly, Leslie William Lee, Jacquelyn Hughes Mooney, John Parot, Cat Chiu Phillips, Charles Reiffel, Zoya Sardashti, Jean Swiggett, Terry Turrell, Jerry O. Wilkerson, and Joe Yorty.

Julius Shulman: Modern San Diego
September 28 – January 19, 2020

Black and white house photograph by Julius Shulman

© J. Paul Getty Trust

Recognized for his work in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, it is not widely known that between 1934 and 2007, architectural photographer Julius Shulman (1910 – 2009) shot over 200 projects in San Diego. His clients were architects, publishers, construction companies, and developers, and included notable San Diego architects Lloyd Ruocco, Sim Bruce Richards, Henry Hester, and Frederick Liebhardt. Shulman’s work, spanning several decades, documented the region’s evolving 20th century architectural landscape and he played an instrumental role in sharing California’s unique post-War modernism with a wide audience. Through a large number of publications and exhibitions, focused largely on his work in Palm Springs and Los Angeles for architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Pierre Koenig, Charles Eames, and Richard Neutra, interest in Shulman’s work continues to this day. However, his images of San Diego have not been widely shared or published.

Crafting Opportunity: Mid-Century Work from the Collection of Mingei International Museum
May 11 – July 28, 2019

Crafting Opportunity exhibit poster

Crafting Opportunity: Mid-Century Work from the Collection of Mingei International Museum is an exhibition of ceramics, furniture, fashion, fiber art, jewelry and metalwork that explores the robust artistic output that followed World War II. Mid-century craft and design in America is a study in creative pluralism, a blurring of the lines between fine and applied arts, craft and production, rustic and modern, functional and conceptual.
The exhibit includes notable works from craftspeople Ellamarie Woolley, Jack Lenor Larsen, Arline Fisch, Maria Martinez, Douglas Deeds, Berta Wright, Harrison McIntosh, Kay Whitcomb, Laura Andreson, and Charles and Ray Eames - many on view for the first time.

The Artist Portrait Project: San Diego Artists 2006-2016
Dec. 15, 2018 – March 17, 2019

Artist Portrait Project exhibition poster

Photographer Jennifer G. Spencer spent ten years trying to capture the “creative spirit” of leading San Diego artists through environmental portraiture. The result: An historic record of 50 artists who significantly contributed to our region’s creative culture. The exhibit included additional works from artists Kenneth Capps, Jean Wheat, Helen Redman, Susan Osborn, Joseph Bennett, Jeanne Dunn, James Watts, Anne Mudge, Nilly Gill, Cindy Zimmerman, Robert Treat, and Polly Giacchina.

A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitude
May 26 - Sept. 16, 2018

Methods for Reaching Extreme Altitudes exhibit graphic

Featuring the work of eight San Diego artists exploring space art, ranging from scientific to science fiction and otherworldly curiosities. Artists Adam Belt, Matthew Bradley, Sheena Rae Dowling, Andrew McGranahan, Arzu Ozkal, Cheryl Sorg, Jones von Jonestein, and Melissa Walter traverse the outermost reaches of space through diverse mediums and concepts. Their creativity, paired with their search for knowledge, exemplifies the human desire to understand the world and universe we live in.

Local Arts

Allied Gardens/Benjamin Branch Library- Nanzi Muro
Recordando a mis seres queridos.| Remembering my loved ones.
Currently OnView through mid-November 2021

Nanzi Muro day of the dead photographs

Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) is a time to reflect on and honor the lives of those who had passed by preparing and laying out food that they liked while they were living. In addition, other traditional foods such as sugar skulls and pan de Muerto, “dead bread,” are part of the tradition. This tradition is about remembering the good and happy times one had with their loved ones. It’s not a sad tradition whatsoever; it is a warm family ceremony.
The purpose of this exhibit is to honor the lives of my loved ones who have departed this world. Each artwork is colorful and exemplifies the good times I had with them before they left this world. However, they still live in my heart and memories. I want to continue this practice of celebrating this tradition every year. For this purpose, I aim to inspire my community and others to create an altar at home to remember their loved ones. Also, I want to pass down my cultural experiences and teach the importance of keeping Dia de Los Muertos alive.

Mission Hills Branch Library- Christy Ross
Pandemic Escape
Currently OnView through November 2021

Elephant at sunset

All of Christy Ross’ paintings in her exhibit were created during the pandemic in 2021. In between helping her son with distance learning, Christy would be inspired by images from Facebook on her phone. The irony of this exhibit is that Christy has never been to any of the places in her paintings. In some cases as with “Liberation Elephant” she combined a friend’s zoo outing photo of an elephant with her old boss’ image of an Encinitas sunrise. The lilies are from a college friend’s backyard as Kailua is a view in Hawaii she hopes to see in person when it’s possible. Because with art anything is possible.

Mission Valley Branch Library- Words Alive
Concentric Community
Currently OnView through October 2021

Painting of multicolored circles

Inspired by painter Alma Thomas’ masterpieces, and developed in collaboration with ArtReach, Words Alive's 2021 Art & Lit Exhibit engages students in creating “Identity Circles” that help develop mindfulness habits and emotional awareness through a connection with reading and art. Recognizing students have crossed the threshold of a full year of social distancing, this year’s selections of anchor texts feature characters battling loneliness on their journey to discover themselves. When students read about characters who face similar challenges with resilience, courage, and kindness they develop their ability to understand their own tribulations and improve their coping skills. Enhancing that connection between books and the world, art serves as a vehicle for self-expression and communication that transcends language.

Point Loma Branch Library - Leslie Jenness
Diversity in the Ocean
Currently OnView through December 2021

Abstract blue and green painting

“I have always been interested in topics around diversity throughout my work life and as I began painting four years ago I was drawn to the wide diversity in the ocean. Each painting here today is left up to the viewer's interpretation of what they see. That is why the paintings don't have a title but just a number.”

Rancho Bernardo Branch Library - Janet Keto and Joan Bonetti
Texture: Two Visions
Currently OnView September 10, 2021 - December 31, 2021

Artist paintings of flowers

Artists Janet Keto and Joan Bonetti explore the use of painted collage papers and pastel in their colorful, captivating interpretations of our world.

Rancho Peñasquitos Branch Library - San Diego Audubon Society
King Tides: The Future Is Now
Currently OnView through October 2021

Photo of King Tides in La Jolla

King Tides: The Future Is Now is a collaborative photography and video project to promote action to combat climate change in San Diego, California by visualizing the impacts of coming sea level rise. King Tides are the highest tides of the year and they preview what the future holds as rising sea levels along our coastline threaten and flood our infrastructure and natural habitats. Sea level rise and climate change are existential threats for many birds, other wildlife and, ultimately, human civilization itself. These photos and the companion video were made by 21 volunteer photographers along the San Diego coast and in our bays.

Central Library - Cheryl Sorg
Book Portals
OnView on the 2nd floor through October 2021

Photo of multicolored eyes artwork

Cheryl Sorg creates with tape—collages, drawings, and wall installations, as well as a street art project, Portals of Hope. Her work is inspired by forms in nature, as well as by stories, particularly stories of change and metamorphosis, and uses color and shine as an antidote to the (abundant) ills of the world. Literature, and its ability to transfix and transport, has served as the inspiration for my work for a number of years.

Central Library - One Book One San Diego
Patient No More
OnView on the ground floor Popular Library section through December 2021

Photo of people holding signs

In celebration of the 2021 One Book One San Diego adult title selection Being Heumann by Judith Heumann our exhibit “Patient No More” explores the history of disability civil rights and the fight for Section 504 legislation. Exploring intersecting conversations on disability rights, the arts, education, and social justice, Patient No More tells the story of people with disabilities deserving of civil rights and fighting against the “medical model” of disability which labeled them as “patients” who can be fixed through medical interventions.

Behind the Scenes

Inter-disciplinary artist MR Barnadas of Collective Magpie sits down with us to discuss her work Who Designs Your Race? in the Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies exhibition.

Check out our virtual exhibition of Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies curated by Dr. Lara Bullock.

Performance artist Zoya Sardashti speaks about her work "To Be Seen & Unseen" in the gallery's exhibition Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies curated by Dr. Lara Bullock.

Multi-disciplinary artist John Parot sits down with us to discuss his current work "Chromosexual" in the Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies exhibition.

This week in 'Behind the Scenes' illustrator and muralist, Celeste Byers, discusses her work "Survivor Love Letter" with curator Lara Bullock of Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies.

Curator, Lara Bullock of Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies sits down with interdisciplinary artist Joe Yorty to discuss his work "Stage".

Curator, Lara Bullock of Fear No Art: Civic Engagement, Histories, Currencies sits down with contemporary artist Cat Chiu Phillips to discuss her work "Entertain".