Thursday, January 18, 2024

Artists and Musicians Fill in the [BLANK] at St. Paul’s Cathedral

 By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. Photos by Maurice Hewitt

PROJECT [BLANK] co-founder Leslie Ann Leytham with baritone Jonathan Nussman beside an altar-like piece by visual artist Cat Gunn honoring Filipino elders and ancestors. The title, written in Tagalog, means: “I pray to the gods I will never forget you.” 

Back in the good old B.C. days--in fact the weekend just before Covid changed our world--we were lucky enough to see a special event at St. James Episcopal Church by the Sea in La Jolla, presented by a group we’d never heard of before: PROJECT [BLANK]. We had been to many concerts in the sanctuary, but this was a whole new experience, as we were guided through the chapel, library and courtyard, greeted by an array of imaginative pieces by sound and video artists, painters, sculptors and musicians.

At that time, PROJECT [BLANK] had some interesting works-in-progress, and I wondered when we’d be able to see them again. Then just a few weeks ago, I heard they were doing a three-evening event at another beautiful church--St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Bankers Hill--featuring artists and performers from both sides of the border. It promised to be “a pilgrimage through sacred spaces, profane realities, and everything in between!”

So at 6 p.m. on a cold Saturday-the-13th, we were there, at what they called Working Title. The pews in the sanctuary had been removed during the pandemic, replaced by folding chairs that could be appropriately spaced as needed. With only a scattering of chairs in the neo-gothic interior, there was plenty of room to wander around the artful installations.

This time, we had a chance to chat with Leslie Ann Leytham, who co-founded PROJECT [BLANK] with pianist Brendan Nguyen in 2019 “to provide new and exciting creative opportunities for local musicians, artists, and audiences.” They managed to live-stream programs all through the pandemic, but this was their first return to a real live event.

One of the highlights of the evening was hearing Leslie display her gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice onstage, in a contemporary piece by Sofia Gubaidulina inspired by the visions of Hildegarde von Bingen, a 12th-century German abbess, composer, writer, and visionary.  A second, jazzy part of the piece came from halfway across the sanctuary: a solo on double bass by Matthew Kline.

Another musical highlight: A meditative performance by percussionist Kosuke Matsuda and his electronically amplified water droplets.

Below are some of the artworks and artists we saw on this very special evening. Click here to find out about future events

And if you wonder, as I did, where the PROJECT [BLANK] name came from, here’s the simple answer from Leslie Ann Leytham: “Each event that we do is a ‘fill in the blank’!” 

This and the following image are from Triskele & The Monster’s Tools, a collaborative video installation by Ash Capachione, Maria Molteni, Laura Campagna, & Vin Caponigro including animation, sound, and hand-painted groundwork. 

Diana Benavidez, who co-curated the Working Title event with Leslie Ann Leytham, posed with her own piece, Even Guadalupe Needs a Break, a hand-sewn, star-studded crepe paper cloak for the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is also a piñata artist, whose giant-size rosary and sneakers were standouts at the Mingei Museum’s piñata exhibition last April. 

Moon Greeting, a unique little piece by composer/vocalist Akari Komura invited viewers to tune into the phases of the moon by making a phone call that promises an answer from a lunar signal.

Claudia Cano with Manto de Boda, a hand-stitched wedding cloak with hand-dyed feathers she made to celebrate her son’s recent marriage. In the center is a peony, the flower her daughter-in-law carried in her bridal bouquet.

One image from Rapture, a colorful 2-channel video by media artist/musician Nick Lesley that referenced stained glass windows with processed footage from a punk show mosh pit. 

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has been writing about arts and lifestyles in San Diego County for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

No comments:

Post a Comment