DEL MAR — Call Richard Carter an impossible dreamer, a Don Quixote of the arts who tilts endlessly at the demon of cultural apathy.
Carter once tried to promote the arts "all over San Diego" through a cooperative. But he became frustrated. San Diego County was too large to influence, and he retrenched his one-man campaign.
Today Carter still wants to see the arts in every San Diego community. But now he believes the way to do it is through an arts park, an idea he is testing in a 30-by-60-foot prototype park here.
Carter hoped Del Mar residents would find the park a place to "go to to relax and do something they haven't done before." Ideally, he said, it would be a town gathering place where artists could exhibit or perform works, and where a sense of community could be built.
"The key is, the Arts Park is trying to facilitate expression," he said, in a community where that doesn't happen often enough for Carter. The only problem is the Arts Park, three years in planning and three years in building, hasn't caught on. Businesses and individuals have not lined up to back the project. So far, Carter has paid for every event himself.
"I have to admit, I'm trying to do something that's a little bit on the unusual side," said the 39-year-old commercial artist who gave the park a rousing opening in August, 1983.
"Three bands played. There were four fashion shows and two performance art pieces--really avant garde--by young kids, kids from high school. And it was videotaped."
Another Arts Park event that year was the "incredible punk fashion show. It was just intense," Carter said. "The wildest thing that's ever been here."
Carter has since presented art exhibits, community dances, Girl Scout Christmas carol concerts, fashion shows, dances and concerts. Most of the events were also broadcast live over Channel 37, Del Mar's public access station. Last week he gave an old-fashioned tea dance Saturday and a jazz concert Sunday. More than 200 people showed up for each.
Carter decided to build the park after working in an arts cooperative known as Sirius in the 1970s. Sirius presented a variety of mixed-media arts events at venues around San Diego, but Carter felt that the shotgun approach could have little impact. He settled on working with the arts in Del Mar.
It took more than three years to get the Arts Park through the city's design review board once Carter convinced owner Adelle Charnholm that he could beautify the land in front of her building along Camino Del Mar. In the process, he created the Arts Park, which Charnholm paid for and her tenants endorsed.
"It was just dirt," Carter said. "I made it beautiful." The landscaped plaza combines flower beds with performing spaces, jacaranda and eucalyptus trees with a grid for lighting instruments. It blends with the surrounding environment of offices, sandwich shops and beauty parlors.
Carter saw that the park is wired for television, and built wooden platforms for TV cameras and seating for audiences.
Pouring himself into the project, designed by architect Steve Adams, Carter laid the 5,318 red bricks himself.
"When I was putting those bricks in, I felt like a Renaissance artist doing something that people don't understand until it's done," Carter said. "I don't mean the brickwork, but this is a canvas people can dance on."
Now he's not sure whether Del Mar residents understand or whether they just don't want an Arts Park.
"I've heard complaints through the grapevine that I was catering to too many young people," Carter said. "I was absorbed, unfortunately, with helping the young people because I can remember what it was like when I was a teen-ager."
Carter is trying to serve the other end of the spectrum and has enlisted the help of businessmen who hope the park will create a bridge between the business world and artists.
"Richard is a visionary in many ways concerning how the arts relate to the community," said Sam Borgese, a local businessman and former Chamber of Commerce president. "He wants to have a place to bring the indigenous arts of the community. I don't think a community can survive without showing what its cultural tastes are. They show the heart and spirit of the community."
Borgese thinks that once others understand Carter's ideas, businessmen will begin to underwrite the events.
Carter has also been hampered by problems of a more practical nature, such as artists refusing to exhibit their paintings outdoors. And there's the traffic noise. Cars, trucks and motorcycles whoosh by on Camino Del Mar just feet from the Arts Park. Del Mar traffic during the day has increased dramatically since Carter envisioned the park. But at night, when most of the events are held, the street is almost deserted, he said.
Carter, a co-founder of Channel 37, publishes a newsletter that he mails to 1,000 readers, although only 17 have subscribed. He has scheduled a dance for Aug. 30 featuring jazz musician Peter Sprague.
"I think it will get there," he says. "Remember, this is the prototype--just the R and D, man."