Itinerant artist and curator – and former Artpace resident – Heyd Fontenot began a six-week residency at Sala Diaz this week as the 2019 Casa Chuck Resident. His plans for his time in residence, which officially concludes on November 30, are not exactly traditional. 

Fontenot said that his residency will not be centered in his studio practice but in his social practice. As such, his time at Casa Chuck will be “more about an engagement and an experience than an object or product.”

Sala Diaz is a small but internationally recognized venue for the creation and display of contemporary art nestled on sleepy Stieren Street in Southtown. It was founded in 1995 by artist Alejandro Diaz.

The Casa Chuck Residency program was established in 2011 as a way to honor beloved San Antonio artist and arts advocate Chuck Ramirez, who died in a 2010 bike accident. The residency program – which names a new resident every two years and offers freedom for various creative endeavors to critics, curators, and writers – runs out of Ramirez’s old apartment, housed in the same domestic structure as Sala Diaz.

Sala Diaz director Anjali Gupta said that the residency program’s “primary goals are to preserve Chuck’s home as a site of social connectivity and exchange, foster the careers of exceptional artists in our community, and generate meaningful and lasting interaction between San Antonio and creative communities abroad.”

She’s excited about Fontenot’s residency because “unlike former residents who did traditional studio visits as well as community driven events, Fontenot has chosen a totally freeform approach, tasking the community to generate events in the pursuit of finding artists who share his grassroots ethos.”

“It’s a rather ingenious and egalitarian approach to familiarizing himself with – and making connections within – the arts community.”

“Socially engaged art,” she said, “is a phenomenon that is predicated upon participation, so this is really a call-to-arms to the community at large. I believe it will be rewarded in kind.”

Fontenot’s project is centered around a mystical and permanently in-flux concept that he first dreamed up at a recent residency in Tulsa: The Lodge of St. Reborlaro. 

The name itself is a kind of “white magic,” traditionally a catch-all term for referencing the use of magic and supernatural powers to selfless ends, that reverses the spelling of Oral Roberts.

The idea came to Fontenot as a direct reaction to the controversial legacy of the Oklahoma born Charismatic Christian televangelist Roberts, whose name and spirit loom over Tulsa, where Oral Roberts University is located.

“I personally feel a bit of damage, as a practicing Catholic growing up,” Fontenot said. “Though I had massive problems with the Vatican and the way the church was, I still wanted to have a spiritual life. And since I was raised Catholic that’s what I knew, that’s what felt most authentic for me.”

“I feel that missionary work [a cornerstone of Roberts’ teaching] is harmful; it brings with it the colonial impulse, it erases culture, it stokes xenophobia and often homophobia,” he said.

Fontenot said he laments the ways in which Christianity has been “weaponized” and used to “estrange people.”

That’s why the Lodge of St. Roberlaro looks to create a communal “space for people that is more democratic, more truly welcoming.”

“There’s no dogma attached to The Lodge, but I want to acknowledge three tenets: community, mental wellness, and spirituality,” he said.

So he’s inviting artists, writers, teachers, seekers, and all the rest to help him create this community that recognizes and celebrates the fact that “art making is a spiritual practice: you’re meditating, you’re focusing your energy, you’re manifesting something… there’s a lot of spirituality to being a creative.”

The end result will not be an exhibition or an installation but more of a lingering feeling or sense of renewed and rejuvenated community.

“I think it’s somewhat rare that people have the space and time to connect with people on a deeper, more intimate level,” he explained.

So he sees his movable mystical community as a way to provide and keep “space for social interaction between a variety of people… it’s something I am orchestrating to a point but also trying to leave open-ended, so the participants have a lot more sway in what happens.”

He refers to it as an “experiment,” rather than a clearly delineated project.

“I will try to steer it and shepherd it but I am also very interested in the things that happen that aren’t about my design,” he said.

In the fall of 2020, Fontenot will offer up not an exhibition from this community but, in some form that has yet to fully be decided, he will offer up the community itself. 

The first official event of Fontenot’s residency will be a meet and greet and brainstorming session Saturday, Oct. 19, from 7-9 p.m. at Sala Diaz. What follows will be largely up to the San Antonio art community.

Anyone wishing to get involved can check out the guidelines and prompts at the Sala Diaz website.

James Courtney is a freelance arts and culture journalist in San Antonio. He also is a poet, a high school English teacher and debate coach, and a proud girl dad.