More than 1,000 arts professionals will arrive in San Antonio starting Wednesday for the annual Americans for the Arts conference, a reminder that good art is also good business. Art needs to be appreciated for art’s sake, but it also merits equal status with other economic development and marketing initiatives designed to enhance life for locals and attract quality visitors. Public support of the arts is an investment where the return is both an aesthetic and material one. The Rivard Report will be helping the AFTA visitors with good choices for where they go when their meeting day is done.

By Felix N. Padrón

This week, the San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs is hosting the Americans for the Arts conference where professional art leaders from all 50 states will gather to learn how San Antonio is playing a leadership role in the arts and culture within the region and across the nation.

The last time a national leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts came to our city was 39 years ago when rotary phones were the norm and an Office of Cultural Affairs was not even on the radar. And it is not by chance that they chose to come back and bring the national conversation to our front porch.

Tower of Americas and Instituto Cultural de Mexico- photo by Al Rendon
Tower of Americas and Instituto Cultural de Mexico- photo by Al Rendon

San Antonio is a city on the move and a perfect backdrop for the national conversation that is responding to “The New Normal” for the creative and cultural sectors.  Not to say that San Antonio is an anomaly, but we do mirror the physical, social, and economic issues that are defining the new America as well as the conversations that are dominating and shaping our future.  The art and culture sectors are shifting and adapting to new realities that are very much key to expanding economic investment and the quality of life for all.

The AFTA conference comes at an opportune time when San Antonio is looking ahead. The community’s SA2020 vision and the approved 2012 Bond have called for continued investment in the creative industry that employed over 30,000 people and registered an economic impact of $4.6 billion in 2010 according to the SABER Research Institute.

Luminaria at HemisFair Park. Photo courtesy of Luminaria 2011.
Luminaria at HemisFair Park. Photo courtesy of Luminaria 2011.

Four days of consecutive networks and informational sessions will focus on important topics such as placemaking, innovation, economic development and arts education.  Collectively they will bear value to the challenges that are before us to make our city even stronger and the creative community a part of the solution.

The conference brings together a national brain trust to engage in conversation along side thirty of our own local artists and cultural and business leaders.  Attendees will learn from San Antonians why our city is a great place where its cultural, historical and artistic traditions have positioned San Antonio with a strong civic identity and ripe for a return on economic development strategies.

I am most excited about the program OCA and planning committee has put together to ensure that attendees get an authentic experience.  The national leaders have been invited to venture outside the convention hotel to see up close San Antonio’s vibrant neighborhoods, diverse communities and artistic presentations.  From the Museum Reach to Mission Reach, from the Westside to the Eastside, they will visit with 31 of our local arts and cultural organizations to examine how they are defining our city and offering a diverse range of creative solutions.

Ramon Ayala at Tejano Conjunto Festival- photo by Al Rendon
Ramon Ayala at Tejano Conjunto Festival- photo by Al Rendon

Did you say eat?  Attendees have been given free range to satiate their own local appetite by giving them access to twenty-two of our top restaurants as part of the Dine Arounds program.   This is where colleagues and friend take time off to catch up and share old and new ideas in a comfortable and relaxed setting.

I forgot…the Alamo and the Riverwalk are also featured in the program.

I know the conference is slated to be a great success and much thanks to the support and hard work of the local partners including the sponsors, local artists and organizations and the hospitality industry.  San Antonio is truly a special place and I believe that we are in the cusp of leading the national agenda.

There is still time to participate and be part of the arts shaping the future of San Antonio.  Visit http://convention.artsusa.org/ and see the offerings and how you can make the conference a great success.

See you there.

Blue Star Contemporary Art Center. Photo by Al Rendon.
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center. Photo by Al Rendon.
Felix N. Padrón has led the City of San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs since 2001. During his tenure, OCA has evolved and is recognized as the public agency leading the San Antonio creative sector. Padrón works with arts and cultural organizations, artists and the business community to anchor the arts as an economic asset in San Antonio. Prior, Mr. Padrón was responsible for developing the City of San Antonio first Public Art Program and served six years implementing public art projects. He also works to increase the City’s international profile by implementing international cultural programs locally and abroad. More recently, OCA was tapped to lead the implementation of the Mayor’s SA2020 arts and cultural community vision. He is an accomplished artist and has been published in the New York Times and the New Yorker.
 
Felix Padrón is currently the Executive Director of the City of San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs. Visit sahearts.com , your guide to arts and culture in San Antonio and follow the Office of Cultural Affairs @SAHEARTS or on Facebook

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.