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San Antonio is in the midst of an inspiring cultural surge. Looking back on 2014, there were an overwhelming number of exciting developments in our artistic landscape. Rather than sticking to their exclusive arrangements, we very often saw artists engaging in a sort of cross-pollination, turning up to absorb different art scenes more than once. There is a collegial vibe in our town. Artists and gallery owners alike reached out to each other, trading ideas and exhibitions and making 2014 the Year of Collaboration.
Here are a few examples of this spirit at work in the community:
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts
The long-awaited opening of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is perhaps the most visible example of this culture of collaboration. An alliance of the public and private sectors enabled the overhaul of the beloved but tired Municipal Auditorium. It has been transformed into the 21st century technical powerhouse that exists today.
The soul of this structure, however, consists of the resident companies that occupy it. All of these companies have the luxury of the home-team alliance. To once again have Ballet San Antonio, Opera San Antonio, and the San Antonio Symphony in motion and working together toward firm artistic viability in our city is a true gift and an opportunity to be nurtured. Small companies including Attic Rep or SOLI Chamber Ensemble now have the backing of a major network of support. The youth of our city have the chance to stretch their wings professionally in a world-class facility.
Blue Star Arts Complex
Blue Star Arts Complex continues to blossom with art and creativity overflowing. There were significant concerns a few years ago in the face of an artist shakeup. Added to that was the ongoing construction on South Alamo Street – a major headache. However, Blue Star is stronger than ever in 2014, with additions including Flight Gallery, Zollie Glass Gallery, Hello Studio, and UTSA’s new satellite space, Terminal 136. The funky vibes of Brick Marketplace and Tatum Originals add to the ambiance.
Perhaps the most energizing addition is at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, the first and longest running contemporary art space in the city. It is literally the spot that started it all. Executive Director Mary Heathcott heads up a fresh new team at the organization. This underscores the board’s commitment to making this institution ever more relevant, with programs including MOSAIC and the Berlin Residencies. Heathcott makes her first curatorial mark at Blue Star with Spatial Planes from Dec. 4-Feb. 15, one of four powerful exhibits running concurrently.
Contemporary Art Month
Contemporary Art Month (CAM) is on the brink of its 30th anniversary in March 2015. Many artists and galleries have come together over the seasons to make this fiercely independent event happen. CAM forgoes any funding from the city in order to maintain artistic independence and integrity. This celebration of the arts operates on a shoestring and relies on the willingness of the city’s artists to pull together and make it happen.
Roberta “Nina” Hassele is the much beloved Co-Chair/Director of this event. Awarded the status of “The Culture Maven” in the Current’s 2014 “Best Of San Antonio” list, Nina works tirelessly for artists year in and year out. She also serves on the board of directors for Attic Rep and curates the artists for Artpace’s successful community art event, Chalk It Up. She is always on the move. Just last week she was making studio visits in preparation for CAMx 2015. This event is being curated by Amy Mackie, curator of New Orleans’ PARSE, an art space and residency program that facilitates critical dialogue about contemporary art.
Luminaria changed date, location, and scope this year. Everything about the event was different. This is an example of an event that closed ranks organizationally in the face of a significant revamp, inviting some criticism. While local artists were still included by curator Ethel Shipton, many felt that the process was somewhat exclusionary.
The festival came off rather successfully over two evenings in November, and we saw the introduction of international artists such as Basco Vazko of Santiago, Chile, who has painted a wonderful large-scale mural on the south wall of the El Tropicano. You can view Ansen Seale’s time-lapse video of the first 11 days here. The new format had its ups and downs, but the concept is promising, and the art community of San Antonio looks forward to having an opportunity to further contribute to future success.
Read More: Luminaria 2014 Review: Hits and Misses
Texas A&M University Educational and Cultural Arts Center
The brilliant pink former Museo Alameda on Market Square has been reborn as the Texas A&M University-San Antonio Educational and Cultural Arts Center (an unwieldy name at best). Their inaugural exhibition, “Contemporary Latino Art: El Corazón de San Antonio,” which ran all summer, was an impressive opening survey of Latino artists in San Antonio. This was an opportunity to experience the work of young and upcoming artists alongside trailblazers, often working in obscurity, who did the heavy lifting to pave the way for them.
This genre is finally beginning to gain respect and attention from collectors and the art world at large, and it is about time. Curating the show with a panel of four contributors created a broad perspective of the field. It was an innovative way of looking at a complex cultural subject. We look forward to seeing how A&M integrates with the art community as we go forward with new generations of young artists pushing boundaries. Their worldview extends beyond the Latino culture, seeking to not necessarily be defined by it.
Gallerist Patricia Ruiz-Healy took her well-regarded private gallery public this year with a new location in Olmos Park. Ruiz-Healy hit the ground running with assistant Alana Coates, now representing local artists as well as those hailing from Mexico, Spain, and Germany. Ruiz-Healy is constantly on the move. In her wake, she is raising the profile of the San Antonio art scene with an outpost in New York City, international collaborations in Berlin and Madrid. Most recently, she made a foray into the craze of Miami’s Art Basel with her rigorously curated print collection.
Arguably, one of the hit exhibitions of 2014 was the gallery’s collaboration with the Southwest School of Art (SSA) in bringing the extraordinary works of Nicolas Leiva to the city. “Infinite Cycle” and “Infinite Cycle Under Fire” showed a selection of Leiva’s drawings at SSA, and his majolica ceramic works at Ruiz-Healy Art. The result was a comprehensive look at his most vivid, surreal outlook.
With the generous support of the Surdna Foundation, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center launched the first generation of Artist Lab, a two-year program for local San Antonio artists. This program provides an educational experience covering both creative and professional development. The work of Fernando Andrade, Kim Bishop, Nicole Geary, Daniela Riojas, and Luis Valderas will be on display through the end of January.
The artists represent a broad range and are all very talented. Some have been at it for many years and are seasoned mid-career teaching professionals, like Bishop and Valderas. Others are just getting started, such as young Andrade. Riojas, who presented a performance art piece at the opening event, successfully challenged our previous impressions of her maturity as an artist. That is the point. The artists are working with a team of creative advisers. The goal is for them to push outside their comfort zone and take themselves to the next level. We look forward with avid attention to how this program and the artists evolve over the next two years.
Last but not least, a discussion of the spirit of collaboration in our city is nothing without a shout-out to the growing communities of artist-run exhibition spaces. It began with First Friday and the King William neighborhood surrounding Blue Star, and has taken off in a big way in the past few years.
There is Second Saturday in the SoFlo/Lonestar Arts District. There are the artists of Beacon Hill who celebrate Second Friday with openings, including the Clamp Light collective on Blanco Road. There is also the cluster of spaces in Roland Briseno’s building at the 700 block of Fredericksburg Road that houses Uptown Studio, K23, and Jump-Start Performance Company. Studio tours in the spring and fall celebrate home-based studios not usually open to the public. These artists take their work seriously and are a significant addition to any discussion of what art means and how it exists in San Antonio.
Keep in mind, however, that while the spirit of collaboration reigned in 2014, this idea doesn’t negate the power of individual artists. It is fascinating to watch San Antonio creators at work, constantly reinventing themselves in a broad range of aesthetics. While this trend might be painted by some as a short-term streak, it’s that particular energy that gives San Antonio its groove.
*Featured/top image: Blue Star Red Dot 2014. Photo by Page Graham.