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Rising Stars of Balboa Park & Hillcrest

The heart of our mission at the SD Voyager is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our city. In the recent weeks, we’ve had the privilege to connect with some of the San Diego’s finest artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with our city’s incredibly deep talent pool. Check out inspiring stories from Balboa Park & Hillcrest below.

Elliott Niezel

It started when I was around five, I was introduced to hiphop and other music I had never heard by my neighbor in San Luis Obispo. We had moved up north from Santa Barbara because my father was working at Cal Poly University. While in San Luis, our neighbor put me on to rappers like Kool Moe Dee, Melle Mel, Big Daddy Kane and music like Parliament-Funkadelic. Fast forward ten years, and I’m in high school, high in my friend’s car, and come to find out I can freestyle. Unfortunately for me, I then drove myself right into a pit of drugs and alcohol. I got involved in some highly sketchy activities and other risky business adventures. My lifestyle took over my personal desires. I got deep enough to lose sight of the light, but by the grace of God, I was able to make it out. God sent me my beautiful wife 14 years ago. Read more>>

Olivia Espinosa

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a theater actor. As a kid, I’d put on plays with my cousins, sing with my Uncle and perform dance routines for family or anyone who’d watch! Now, my love of performing has grown to include playwriting, directing and teaching. I often call myself a “Jane of all Trades” since, as an artist, it’s necessary to be adaptable and have a vast number of skills in your back pocket. These extra tools have been essential, both during downtimes (to keep me busy when work is slow), as well as in the rehearsal room (like that one time I gave Reiki to a stage manager suffering from allergies). Reiki is a Japanese healing technique that can help people relax, meditate, and improve the flow of energy in the body to promote physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing. I became interested in harnessing this healing energy after teaching playwriting at a Juvenile Detention Center. Although it was a rewarding experience, I found myself feeling cloudy headed and tired every time I left the facility. Read more>>

Cody Griffith

When I was born, my folks lived in La Mesa here in San Diego, and then we moved to Italy, where we lived in Nepals for three years. I spent my formative years on the Gulf Coast in Mississippi — a small town called Ocean Springs famous for its resident artist, Walter Inglis Anderson. I attended The Mississippi School of the Arts; the stories of which could fill a book. My college years were spent in Baltimore at the Maryland Institute College of Art. It was an amazing four years living a little too dangerously and meeting some of the coolest people of my life. I lived in The Copycat Building: A massive warehouse full of creatives of all kinds making their homes and studios works of art. One apartment had a tattoo shop, another had a theatre, one even had a full half-pipe. Dan Deacon, Beach House and Future Islands to name a few were playing house shows at the time; it was a great time in a beautiful city. Read more>>

Julianne “Julie” Sombillo

It’s been a long journey for me as far as how I wanted to pursue my passion for cooking. Starting from age 20 (I’m now 26), I went from interning at local restaurants to starting a cooking/recipe blog– to rebranding entirely. Over summer this year, my cousin Micah pushed me into revamping my Instagram account with all the latest dishes I’ve created, and we have an Instagram entity known as “@Meanpickle.” We’re currently doing a lot of work trying for our community by doing catering/commission services, organizing pop-up events, collaborating with local small business shops, and organizing fundraisers by providing snack-boxes. Micah is the woman behind the curtains and operations. I’m ‘talent.’ Together, we’re just having fun and seeing where it takes us. Read more>>

Amanda Lopez

Hi! My name is Amanda Lopez and I am a Bay Area native currently loving life in sunny San Diego. Growing up, I always considered myself a creative person. I sang in the choir and did musicals. I saved magazine clippings, ticket stubs, and anything that I thought I could use later to make collages or put in scrapbooks. But, I never quite knew how this urge for all things creative would materialize as I got older. In college, this transformed my studies to include a minor in Art History, learning about the classic European painters of the 20th century, Abstract Impressionism, the Pop Art movement’s cultural punch, and much more. Fast forward to nearly three years ago when my brother gifted me painting classes at art on 30th in North Park for Christmas. Since then, I have immersed myself in the wonderful world of not just studying painting… but doing it. Read more>>


To start off, I’d like to disclose that JingJing’s daughter, Jae write these responses. Answers are in my perspective (I’m my mom’s biggest fan!) with the maker herself’s help. I’m currently on FaceTime with my mom as she preps for holiday orders and as we go over these interview questions. We’re going to take it back to the Philippines really quick — for as long as I can remember, my mom has always showed her love to family and friends through her foods. Read more>>

Anthony and Elaina DiCola

My husband Tony DiCola started making beautiful wood and resin treasure boxes as gifts for family and friends. Many friends of our family and friends were requesting custom boxes, as well as signature live edge tables. We decided to make a business of it, and eventually joined a San Diego local artist store. We were in the store for approximately two months before they closed their doors. We were so disappointed, as we loved the store and respected and appreciated the artists in the store and their beautiful work! We met with many of them, and asked them if they would be interested in joining us if we were to lease the space of the store, we were in. Read more>>

Fiona Buckley

I’ve always been a highly creative person and have expressed myself in many ways, including playing music, drawing and painting. I got the desire to get into photography when I was about 11 years old on vacation with my older cousin in Maine. He was taking a macro photo with his DSLR of a spider in its web right by the lake. The way that he portrayed something that’s around us every day in a completely different light by highlighting the beauty of the details like the water droplets, shimmers and pattern on the spider opened up a whole new world for me. I “bugged” him to let me take pictures with his camera for the rest of the trip. As I got a little older, I started experimenting with film photography, Photoshop and then found a whole new passion with video. Read more>>

Ronald Scott

I’m originally from Brooklyn, NY and spent the first 18 years of my life there. I moved to Georgia for my college years and it quickly became a second home while living in the Atlanta Area. In September of 2019, I eventually relocated to the San Diego area while seeking out new experiences and growing my photography business. When I was much younger, I fell in love with arts and creative expression. I grew up playing the piano, drawing, painting, and always seeking out new ways to express my creativity. At around the age of 16, I picked up my first camera and found my new love! The camera was nothing special, but it opened my eyes to see the world in new and interesting ways. Read more>>

Ángela Quijada-Banks

Ángela Quijada-Banks is an American author, spoken word artist, activist and purpose coach. In 2016, she began publicly advocating locally and nationally for young people in foster care is right, interdependence and overall revolution of the foster care system. In the spring of 2017, she worked alongside senator to Tamara Barringer to pass house bill 630: Rylan’s law, Family/ Child Protection & Accountability act. By the summer of 2017, she was selected out of 300+ applicants from all over the country to co-lead a group of over 100 young people and stormed the streets of Washington, DC. Together, meeting congressional members from their home district and coining the hashtag, #fosteryouthvoices. Read more>>

Karen Meisels

I started my career as a casting director. I worked in TV, film and theater in LA and New York, and I did that for 14 years. I loved casting ensembles and discovering raw talent. But there was a general lack of integrity in business practices in the industry. After working on a couple of projects where contracts were not honored and I didn’t get paid for the work I did, I left that industry despondent, in debt, and feeling like a failure. I was lost and did not know how to move forward. I knew I wanted something more, to have a greater positive impact on people’s lives. But I felt stuck and unfulfilled. It was at that time I found a spiritual program that allowed me to go inward and heal from past toxic relationships and experiences, look at my own behaviors and codependency, and take personal inventory in order to grow and lay the foundation to live by spiritual principles in order to lead a life of intention and purpose. Read more>>

Sergey Gornushkin

My public art career spans a decade during which I have worked for various municipal and private institutions and clients to provide large-scale sculptures, murals, landscape designs and bas reliefs. I am extremely proud of my work to benefit the younger generation as I have installed large-scale sculptures on school campuses across San Diego County and Baja California, Mexico. In San Diego County, I have been working with the San Diego Unified School District and San Dieguito School District to design, fabricate and install large-scale campus sculptures at Roosevelt Middle School, Jefferson Elementary, Walter J. Porter Elementary, Bird Rock Elementary, and Canyon Crest Academy. Roosevelt Middle School has three large-scale sculptures including the Jr.Seau memorial bench and monument which is an interactive fiberglass structure covered in mosaics which is utilized by thousands of children on a daily basis. Read more>>

David McCullough

Through high school years, I saw myself going in two possible areas of personal interest, architecture or economics. My senior year, my high school counselor, Mrs. Weed broke the bad news to me that, 1. I was not a minority (this was during the nationally enacted law called “Affirmative Action”), and 2. My grades were average at best. Mrs. weed also mentioned that these two fields were very impacted and that my chances of acceptance anywhere were nil to none. She suggested that I proceed to community college. OK I said, great, I’ll enroll at Ventura College work on my grades, and more importantly to me at that time, surf. Read more>>

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