The newly appointed Vicki Estrada gives the California Arts Council a unique voice


This morning Vicki Estrada will virtually attend her first California Arts Council meeting. On July 7, the state Senate appointed the South Park resident for a four-year term to the eleven-member body that oversees a newly expanded $ 128 million budget for the arts.

Estrada, 69, is a veteran landscape architect best known as the author of the 1989 Balboa Park Master Plan and has volunteered on San Diego Arts Boards, Commissions, and Committees for many years. Estrada said her goal with the CAC is to give the region’s most underserved communities more money for state art.

“There is an interactive map with red dots on the CAC website that shows where the grants have gone in the past,” she said. “There is a large core in the southeast of the county where I noticed a lack of points. My goal is not to wait for applications, but to go into the community and say that there is money and we need you to apply. ”

Vicki Estrada, member of the California Art Council, in her Estrada Land Planning Office in San Diego on July 16.

(Brittany Cruz-Fejeran / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Because of her origins, Estrada has a big heart for amplifying the voices of the unheard.

Born in Nogales, Mexico, she was 3 years old when her family emigrated to the United States. Growing up in City Heights, she didn’t speak English until she was 5. She also has the unique perspective of working in the arts, architecture, and land planning fields, first as a man and for 15 years as a transgender woman.

After undergoing gender reassignment surgery in 2005, Estrada discovered that her new female hormones were helping her see colors and spaces in new ways. She said she became a better listener and worked better with others because her former male ego was no longer in the way.

“As a designer you start to ask these questions when I design a square, will I design it for men, for women, for Mexicans or for Inuit? They all use the space differently, ”she said.

Estrada is the President and Founder of 36-year-old Estrada Land Planning based in downtown San Diego. In addition to creating the Balboa Park master plan for future development, which she expanded in 1992 with the Central Mesa Precise Plan. Estrada designed the Plaza de Panama Fountain in Balboa Park, the Barrio Logan Community Sign, Palm Avenue Street End Plaza in Imperial Beach and much more.

She also served on the San Diego City Arts and Culture Commission for nine years, seven years chairing the San Diego Public Arts Commission, four years chairing the Public Arts Commission of San Diego International Airport and chairing the Media Arts Center. which produces the San Diego Latino Film Festival.

“Being an art commissioner here has changed my life,” said Estrada. “As a designer, I realized that I’m much more rigid. As an art commissioner, I’ve learned that people perceive, see and feel things in so many different ways because their needs are so different. “

Estrada said that many people don’t understand how landscape architecture and art are related. However, she said the best-planned public spaces are those that start from an artistic standpoint.

Instead of dropping a work of art in a finished project in public space, she likes to incorporate the artist’s ideas into the conceptual process at an early stage. Her collaboration with a Tucson artist at Ocean Beach’s wave and sand dune-inspired skate park in 2000 won an Orchid Award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation. And her work with San Diego artist Anne Mudge at the San Diego State Trolley Station Plaza won the 2007 Grand Orchid Design Award.

Victoria Hamilton, who served as the founding director of the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture for 24 years, is pleased to announce that Estrada has been named a CAC.

“She gives and gives and gives,” said Hamilton of Estrada. “She is so passionate about her job and this San Diego community. She stubbornly holds on to it and is also so passionate that she successfully brings people along. “

The California Arts Council has 11 members. Nine are appointed by the governor and one each by the State Assembly and the State Senate. Estrada was nominated by Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins of San Diego. Estrada fills a void left by another Atkins officer, longtime San Diego art master Larry T. Baza, the CAC chairman who died of COVID-19 in February aged 76.

“Vicki Estrada has played an essential role in the planning and design of some of San Diego’s most popular landmarks and public spaces,” Atkins said in a statement. “An expert in blending beautiful design with utility in large public projects, I know Vicki will help support the Arts Council’s ongoing work to support and engage the California communities through art and culture.”

Hamilton said she is particularly pleased that Estrada can help shape the future efforts of the CAC, which has been granted a significantly increased budget for pandemic recovery programs for 2021-2022. The CAC will receive $ 128 million, including $ 40 million for creative youth development and $ 60 million for the CA Creative Corps pilot program. These two new programs are designed to use the arts to educate youth, heal communities, and preserve cultural heritage.

Estrada said she was honored to join the CAC at such a critical time as the state is recovering from the pandemic because, “We need art more than ever.”

Born Steve Estrada, he grew up in the multicultural community of City Heights. Estrada was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo a year before graduating in architecture when he heard about the newly introduced major in landscape architecture, which spans multiple design disciplines. He graduated with this degree in 1975 and founded his company a decade later.

In the early 2000s, Estrada led a “pretty normal life” with a woman, two children, two dogs and a cat. But it wasn’t an authentic life and it had to change. During an interview with KPBS in 2005, he announced his plans to switch from Steve to Vicki and never looked back. During the transition, Estrada divorced and lost some clients, but her children and most of her colleagues – especially in the art scene – accepted her decision. Today she is remarried to a woman named Lynda and is close to her son and daughter, who are now over 40.

“I’m not hurting myself. I’m celebrating that, ”she said. “I’m not ashamed and people need to know. I’ve changed people’s minds that it doesn’t matter. Vicki is who she is. it can still make a contribution to society. ”


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