The two-day On and Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour offers ample evidence that San Antonio’s art scene is alive and thriving well outside of the neighborhoods of Southtown and the Lone Star Art District.

This weekend will mark the 13th annual installment of On and Off Fred, a self-guided, two-day tour of artist studios and galleries in the adjoining neighborhoods of Monticello Park, Jefferson, Woodlawn Lake, Keystone, Los Angeles Heights, Beacon Hill, and Alta Vista. The event kicks off with an autograph party and reception Friday night at Bihl Haus Arts, a community art space located on Fredericksburg Road just north of the Monticello Park historic district.

Kellen McIntyre, the founder and director of Bihl Haus Arts, estimates that more than 1,000 artists “of all stripes” either live or work in the areas covered by On and Off Fred.

“It’s a really strong magnet for arts professionals, but it really hadn’t been recognized before,” she said of the area. “No one really understood how rich the area was in terms of artists living and working here.”

This year, the tour includes 44 locations and more than 60 showcase artists, in addition to more than 200 guest artists who have been invited to participate.

Before and after officially establishing Bihl Haus in 2005, McIntyre met at length with dozens of area artists, arts professionals, and community members to establish goals for the space and build a sense of community ownership around it. 

These meetings not only helped set the course for Bihl Haus, but they also generated the initial concept for On and Off Fred, said McIntyre, who was an art history professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio at the time.

From the very beginning, McIntyre was interested in generating more exposure for the artists and arts organizations in the surrounding area. Through these roundtables, she was able to build a close-knit community that has enabled On and Off Fred to be consistent and to grow over the years.

“Everything we have done,” McIntyre said, “has been from the ground up, from the grassroots, from artists in the ‘hood.”

McIntyre, well aware that the sprawling tour might seem a bit daunting to newcomers, said that the first step for anyone interested in enjoying what On and Off Fred has to offer is to purchase a tour catalog, which is available in digital or hard copy.

The catalog, at more than 100 pages, includes a map, schedules, and information on all of the showcase artists. Priced at $10 to $15, the catalog serves not only as an essential tour planning guide and fundraising source, but also as a kind of filter to help manage the character of the tour.

“We do not want the studio tour to be a First Friday,” she said, referring to the monthly event at the Blue Star Arts Complex, which regularly attracts thousands to take in art, crafts, boutique offerings, and food. “We have serious people coming to look at art seriously, and, of course, to have fun while they do it.” 

“We want it to be about looking at the art and meeting the artists and not a sort of see-and-be-seen kind of thing,” she said, adding that she and her collaborators “are very careful and considerate of our neighbors. We do not want to be a generator behind gentrification.”

Selling the catalog, without which it may be difficult to get the most out of On and Off Fred, “ensures that we get people who are willing to make a little investment to take the tour,” McIntyre said.

Artist Richard Arredondo, who has been a part of On and Off Fred every year since its beginning, was quick to commend McIntyre for “cultivating an awareness of the 78201 zip code as the largest concentration of artists in the city.”

He said the event has the effect of boosting a sense of community and pride among area artists and residents alike. 

Michelle Love, a 10-year veteran of the On and Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour, in her studio. Credit: Courtesy / Eric Lane, On and Off Fred

Michelle Love, another artist who has participated every year, praised the tour for “providing a wonderful opportunity to meet art enthusiasts and connect with them on a more personal level than the typical gallery setting.”

McIntyre echoed this sentiment, noting that “galleries can be sterile, this is a different kind of experience that is way more refreshing and insightful and engaging.”

“Artists are so candid in this setting,” said McIntyre. “It’s not like a lecture in a gallery or something. … The artists are not on guard. They are in their element and very open and welcoming.”

Love also said that the tour has “had a positive, revitalizing effect on the area,” noting that, in her estimation, “there are considerably more galleries and small businesses and shops in the area now.”

Both artists stressed the intimate, communal, and casual feeling of On and Off Fred as something that keeps them participating year after year. 

For McIntyre, this is exactly the point of the tour: to “affirm or reaffirm the abilities and knowledge and work of the artists, and when you start from that, then attendees develop the same attitude.”

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.