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Candice Lopéz poster

Living the Design Life, Looking Towards the Future

Candice Lopez fosters collaboration and exemplifies the creative lifestyle in San Diego’s East Village.

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 12.56.38 PMCandice Lopez is a community leader, world traveler, and talented artist. She has channeled her energy into projects that often involve wide-scale collaboration and address issues both locally and abroad. Last week, we caught up with Candice and were able to hear about her life and work, while also picking up some compelling words of advice.

A resident of downtown San Diego for about 24 years (and a teacher at San Diego City College for more than 20), Candice says that she loves living in the city, and moved here when it was still “pretty edgy.” For her, watching the East Village grow and develop over time has been a fascinating process: “It’s come so far, so it’s been really exciting. I’m really stimulated by living in an urban environment and teaching in it. And the fact that I can walk to work is so great.” Did we mention that Candice lives a whopping five minutes from City College? Her 3,000+ square-foot loft is zoned for live-work and shared by her husband and 12-year-old son, who is “learning to live the loft life.” It was the first loft building that went for sale in downtown San Diego. When she and her husband purchased their ¼ of the somewhat run-down building (much to her parents dismay), they did so with the foresight that the space had great potential – potential that they were fully ready to invest in: “We had the vision where we believed we could take the space and rework it. We pulled the car parts out of the backyard, and really tricked it out over the years. We’re always tricking it out.” They have transformed the loft into a beautiful live-work home, which they utilize to its full potential.

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For Candice and her husband, the loft has become a space that they use to “build community.” They often open their home to a variety of visitors, for example, a busload of writers and artists from the Masa Museum who came through recently to see the loft. The Annual AIGI San Diego Y Conference is always a big event for visitors. Candice explains, “It brings international designers, artists, creative people together in San Diego. We often have the speaker parties at our loft, so we create synergy in the East Village. We want to create community and are very into that.” She says that the neighborhood is an ideal starting point for young designers: “It’s a great place to get your feet wet and get started, to be a part of the design community, because it’s a great community.”

Aside from working with artists from outside of her family, Candice also teams up on numerous projects with her husband, who has also taught at City College and for Art Center College of Design. “We’re both busy in our own careers, but we collaborate on a lot of community projects. He travels around the world speaking and painting murals, and I often get to go with him to organize things. I do a lot of writing and designing for him while he does a lot of illustrating for me. We don’t exactly do the same thing, but we’re very compatible in our skill sets.” Together, they have collaborated on projects such as the Urban Art Trail, and BenchMark. They have also worked on a number of murals together, many of which are located in the East Village. They have created a series of murals with children and families from the San Diego Cooperative Charter School. Candice encourages anyone who wants to get involved with local projects to connect with organizations: “I think being a part of organizations that are involved with a lot of public projects is always helpful. I would also tell people to check out the City College Graphic Design Blog. We’re always posting a lot of the dynamic events that are going on in town; community based stuff: Conferences, other things that are going on – so many free lectures and incredible speakers. It’s a great way to socialize and get plugged in with other people and get involved.”

Art collage

When they’re not teaching, traveling, hosting speaker parties, or working on community projects, Candice and her family spend three months each year at their home in the beautiful bohemian town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She describes their second home (located on a UNESCO World Heritage site) as a place where they recharge their batteries: “It’s an incredible bohemian art colony. It’s got really brightly painted, beautiful buildings, painted the color of the earth’s core. You have people from all over the world – musicians, writers, composers, and a ton of artists. We get together with some really amazing people. One of our best friends is a guitarist who played at Carnegie Hall last year, and we would have never met him if we hadn’t been down there. We take a lot of photos. We paint, we draw, we work in our journals. We eat amazing food and I love having that life down there.”

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No matter where she is, it can certainly be said that Candice puts her time to good use. Currently in the middle of a semester of teaching six classes at City College, she is looking forward to very exciting changes in the near future in downtown San Diego.  On her walking route to work each day, she passes by the city block where The I.D.E.A. District’s first mixed-use property is sited: “It’s between work and home, and every time I walk by the sign, my heart beats a little bit.” She says that the initiative is exactly what the city needs: “I think it’s phenomenal. I’m so excited and supportive because, first of all, it’s getting studio space for artists and designers; the idea of being really innovative and having design, art, education, all of those things mixed together. It’s about creating affordable live-work places. A place is only as good as the people that are there. My husband I have been here for 25 years, trying to help the neighborhood create a sense of place. The I.D.E.A. District is going to be incredible to just generate that fuel – to really be an active part of that, not only bringing people here, but cross pollinating with so many other areas. It’s exciting. I’m so happy, and it’s so close to my house!“

Candice goes on to explain that The I.D.E.A. District will fill a big gap in downtown San Diego: “There are a lot of gaps, and a place like this can help connect the dots. What’s sad is when in so many cases, artists move into a neighborhood, and they make it vibrant, but then they can no longer afford to live there. Then often, other people come in and it becomes homogenized and gentrified, and anything that gives it character is wiped out instead of being embraced and celebrated. Organizations, educators, colleges – these are all the think tanks where things are happening. I want City College to be a big part of The I.D.E.A. District. I see a lot of cross-pollination that could happen – then we get the general public more involved in it. That’s the idea.”

Candice Lopéz poster

Candice Lopéz poster

Keeping in mind the guaranteed influx of young, educated designers, artists and entrepreneurs that are certain to populate East Village as our vision becomes a reality, we asked Candice for some advice: How does someone enter into this new, thriving city, and succeed within the Creative Class? She said that the key is doing what you love: “I would say that for me, design is a way of life. It’s like breathing. I never think of working as a designer like a 9-5 job. I’m extremely passionate about what I do. I’m never bored. I never look at a clock. I live a design lifestyle. If I were to advise someone, I would say follow your passion. Don’t be afraid, have the courage. If you believe in your heart that something is right for you, to go for it. Be courageous, knock on every door, and open everything. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do and find out how they do it. I’m still doing that today.”


By: Julie Riggert