Three hundred local artists have come together to collectively create a portrait of San Antonio’s evolution from its Spanish colonial origins through today.

Artpace is hosting the first part of Common Currents, a months-long Tricentennial exhibit. Fifty different art pieces at a time will be shown through May 7 at six partner locations: Artpace, Blue Star Contemporary, Southwest School of Art, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Carver Community Cultural Center, and the Mexican Cultural Institute.

In 2016, the six organizations began working on what planners call an artist-driven showcase. Each organization invited two artists to take part. Those artists then invited two artists, and so on.

The invites wound their way through the arts community, chain-letter style, until 300 artists had signed on.

The artists were randomly assigned a year between 1718 and 2017. Each artist researched a year and came up with a project.

Artpace is hosting works that interpret something or someone symbolic of San Antonio’s first 50 years, 1718-1767. The participating artists are listed here.

Thirty artists joined officials from the City and the Tricentennial Commission for a press conference Friday at City Hall to promote Common Currents.

“We are happy to be here to share our cultural heritage, commemorate our shared history, recognize our progress and, most importantly, collaborate on our bright future,” said Cynthia Teniente-Matson, Tricentennial Commission president and president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of the City’s Department of Arts & Culture, said the official Tricentennial artistic events and projects “reflect the vibrant pulse of the community.”

“The City of San Antonio and Tricentennial are proud to invest in these types of arts programming, such as Common Currents, to innovate, engage, and showcase the authenticity of San Antonio culture,” she said.

More than 400 people gathered at Artpace on Thursday for the exhibit opening. Artpace Executive Director Veronique Le Melle thanked the partner organizations for helping execute a unique collaboration.

“This has been two years in planning,” Le Melle told the crowd. “This has been a labor of love for all of us, and it has been a chance to work with 300 incredible artists.”

A large crowd is drawn to the Common Currents show at Artpace.
The Common Currents show at Artpace draws a crowd. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Several artists in the Artpace portion of Common Currents attended Thursday’s opening.

Artist Joe Vega’s project, tied to the year 1745 and titled Acequia MDCCXLV in D-flat Major, provides an audio experience. It consists of a sound-effects machine connected to rubber pads atop a bamboo wood table.

A visitor dons headphones and taps on a pad. Each tap produces a brief, sudden sample of sound designed to convey a slice of life from San Antonio 1745. That year, Vega said, was when Spanish soldiers and native slaves finished building the Espada Acequia, a canal that brought river water to the Spanish colonial missions.

Vega said he sought to create an interactive piece that reflected genocide and forced labor of the time.

“But the bottom line was the toughest part, to hear how the natives’ history was erased,” Vega said. “I tried to put myself in that place and time and figure out how to bring that to now.”

Jennifer Datchuk created the 1737 Collection, a set of wooden and ceramic household objects such as cooking utensils, candle holders, and fire tongs. Datchuk researched Juan Banul, the lone blacksmith living and working at Presidio de San Antonio de Béxar.

“Daily use of objects is a key component to my personal artistic practice,” she said. “While it looks visually and aesthetically so different from my work, I was really in love with going back to that traditional training I have and focus on objects.”

Joseph Montano’s work relating to the year 1735, The Last of the Famous International Faithboys, invites visitors to maneuver a mirror housed in an open box atop a table. When turned, the mirror reflects different colors painted on the box’s interior, and words of a poem scribbled on the mirror become masked.

Accompanied by a musical composition, the interactive piece examines the connection between the resettlement of the Spanish presidios to San Antonio, and Spain’s overwhelming influence on local indigenous people.

“The point of it is to reflect on the culture of presidios in San Antonio, but also how their moving here was a result of them dying out in other parts in Texas,” Montano said.

Blue Star Contemporary will host works relating to the years 1768-1817 from Feb. 1-May 7.

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.