Meet Hill Street Country Club and Club Boutika: Oceanside gallery and art collective host High Tea event

Alofa Gould walks in and almost immediately bursts into tears.

Gould is an artist and musician who also happens to be in the service industry. Working on Father’s Day after a global pandemic has been a bit much. Just as quick as the U.S. celebrated “essential workers” during the pandemic, many of those same workers are on the frontline again, this time having to deal with crowded restaurants filled with often anxious and sometimes abusive customers.

But just as soon as Gould walks into Hill Street Country Club (HSCC), she is surrounded by her colleagues and friends, who offer her words of encouragement and hugs. She is in a safe space.

Along with Desiree Poellnitz, Gould is one-half of Club Boutika, a Black, queer-owned “culinary and craft collective” that is teaming up with HSCC to present High Tea, an inaugural arts, music and cultural gathering to be held just down the street at Oceanside’s Goat Hill Park. Spending a few minutes with the duo, it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t merely a side hustle, but the culmination of a nurturing, communal scene where their talents have been recognized.

“I think the connections we’ve made through Hill Street, along with working at our various service jobs in the area, has helped us network and meet artists and musicians,” says Gould.

Both Gould and Desiree are quick to point out that it’s been the latter’s older sister, and HSCC’s co-founder, Dinah Poellnitz, that’s helped nurture Club Boutika’s own creative drives. She’s also been been instrumental in creating a thriving and inclusive art space for creatives who, at best, often feel excluded from the art world or, at worst, tokenized and exploited.

“I’m used to the culture, and I’m learning to not care as much and let it go, but I’m still going to call it out when I see it,” says Dinah when asked about some of the institutional behavior she still encounters in the art and museum scene. “I’m not going to pretend that I don’t see it, because I don’t have an employer. I get to practice my autonomy whenever I want, mic drop and just walk away.”

Dinah Poellnitz is unabashedly bold in her speech, never one to mince words or soft pedal when it comes to her feelings on the institutions and people in positions of power in the San Diego art scene. However, her outspokenness, while important, has not always been written about in a fair way. That is, while a lot of attention is paid to her comments on matters of representation within the art community, as well as the failings of the institutionalized museum system, not a lot of attention is paid to what she is doing to actually combat those things.

“In North County, we’re truly the minority. We’re the minority to the minority,” says Dinah, who founded HSCC in 2012 with Margaret Hernandez as a pop-up gallery and has been in its current location (530 South Coast Highway) since 2016. “You don’t have a lot of choices to interact with your culture, musically or artistically. You have to create that for yourself and that’s something we’ve learned as a family — you have to create spaces for yourself.”

This commitment is evident when talking to the people who work in the space now. Along with Gould and the Poellnitz sisters, Addy Lyon, Delana Delgado and Astrid Gonzalez all say they’ve found a place where their ideas feel welcomed and their labor feels fulfilling.

Delana Delgado, Dinah Poellnitz, Alofa Gould, Astrid Gonzalez and Desiree Poellnitz

The forces behind the High Tea event: (clockwise from bottom): Delana Delgado, Dinah Poellnitz, Alofa Gould, Astrid Gonzalez and Desiree Poellnitz.

(Courtesy photo by Alejandro Arreguin Villegas)

“I really was trying to find a community, and this space, when I learned about it, it was something that I imagined myself building and would exist in the future, because I didn’t think it was a possibility here yet,” says Gonzalez, who works as HSCC’s videographer and social media manager.

Delgado had a similar experience. A southeastern San Diego native, she says she had a number of opportunities to work at other institutions, but took the position of HSCC’s programs coordinator and makes the commute up to Oceanside precisely because she believes in the HSCC ethos and what Poellnitz is building.

“We have so much that we’re trying to do and the more we put our brains together, the more we realize what we’re capable of,” Delgado says.

While the Hill Street Country Club gallery space has hosted a number of large art shows over the years, not to mention Poellnitz having started the Oceanside Art Walk, the High Tea event is inarguably the group’s most bold undertaking yet. The initial concept for the event, which happens July 11, was for something a bit more intimate: a gathering at the park that more resembled a supper club-style event with a few select guests. The “High Tea” name comes from the idea of “reclamation.” That is, when people think of a high tea service, they’re likely to think of gloved bourgeoisie sipping tea in a hotel ballroom and not, say, a picnic-style event at a public park that just happens to be next to a golf course.

“We’re talking about reclaiming spaces we once had no access to, and I think that’s the most powerful thing we can do,” says Desiree. “Also, I just love the idea of pâtisserie and dessert, and just the romance of it all. Like, we all have our own ideas of luxury and traveling. So we’re reclaiming something that looked like a luxury and that we didn’t get to have.”

Dinah has plenty of experience when it comes to reclaimative plays on words. The name Hill Street Country Club is meant to be a clever geographical indicator (the space is inside the same building a gold apparel company), but it’s also meant to be a tongue-in-cheek statement on the exclusionary history of BIPOC people from things like country clubs, resorts and, yes, even the arts community. She sees the High Tea event as HSCC’s own version of a fundraising gala.

“Usually at a gala, if you see people like us, we’re working or in the slides talking about the outreach in the community,” says Dinah. “So this is a great opportunity for us to have a gala that’s the best representation of us. BIPOC, universal, open and in public — it just feels like the right vibe.”

A gala without, as Delgado puts it, the “stuffy, art scene stuff.”

In addition to food, vendors, visual and performance art, and live music from bands such as Thee Sacred Souls and The Renters, Dinah hopes people will see the event as an opportunity to directly invest in a space and programming that aligns with their values.

“This is also us trying to communicate to our communities who don’t understand how this institutionalized world works. Why it’s important for them to be the investors in their own institutions,” says Dinah, who is planning to expand HSCC to City Heights. “So this is just as much about creating investors in our community and having patrons.”

“The goal is to try to get new people invested in that idea as well,” Dinah continues. “Because if you want spaces for you, you have to invest in them.”

High Tea

When: July 11, from 4 to 9 p.m.

Where: Goat Hill Park, 2323 Goat Hill Drive, Oceanside

Admission: Children under 5, free. Children 6-12, $35. General admission, $75. VIP, $250.

Online: thehillstreetcountryclub.org

Combs is a freelance writer.

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