Performance artist Mari Barrera works from home. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated, in part to clarify that the 1906 Second Saturday Artwalk in Southtown on March 14 has been postponed. The galleries in the surrounding area remain open.

As cities shut down public gatherings in response to the coronavirus pandemic, San Antonio artists of all kinds are suffering loss of audience and revenue.

Many are moving online to express solidarity, hope for a reasonably quick return to normal, and to share their work in a time when social distancing prevents performances and exhibitions from being seen.

The performing arts sector is particularly hard-hit in the immediate term, with cancellations of scheduled performances ranging from small theater productions, chamber music concerts, and fundraising events, up to major performances by the San Antonio Symphony.

Ronnie Sanders, director of the South Texas Symphonic Orchestra, said the orchestra’s May 17 free concert at Judson High School might need to be canceled, but the uncertainty is creating difficulties. Scheduling changes usually require a six-week advance notice, Sanders said; though as professionals maintaining their non-musician careers, “Our folks are resilient and will come back full force when, if we cancel, it is safe,” he noted.

Moving Performance Online

In response to a Facebook post asking how artists and performers are dealing with the crisis, violinist Marisa Bushman of string quartet Agarita said that with an April 16 concert postponed, the quartet is currently streaming the group’s inaugural 2018 concert.

“Currently we feel we need to lift spirits and bring art to everyone without any financial boundaries,” Bushman said.

As with many nonprofit arts organizations, including the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, Agarita accepts donations on its website, but they are not required. “It’s a scary time for artists out there,” Bushman said in regards to the uncertain future facing arts groups, with further postponements and cancellations possible.

Performance artist Mari Barrera is organizing a Facebook Live performance series, for artists to submit streamable works. Part of the purpose, she said, is to acknowledge the costs to artists of a general citywide self-isolation protocol, and to create “a way to promote and diversify funding streams” and encourage donations.

“We acknowledge that individual artists are deeply hurt by the coronavirus economy of isolation,” Barrera wrote. “I don’t want to sit and watch ‘this’ all pass without doing something. What do you want to do?” Her podcasts, Tejuana Rasquacha, and The Donkey Lady phone line, will continue.

Barrera is currently accepting proposals online, and plans to stream two to four performances each weekend night, beginning Friday.

Musical Bridges Around the World (MBAW) is broadcasting via its website “the entire Gurwitz 2020 competition for everyone to experience,” according to executive director Anya Grokhovski.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center’s monthly Noche Azul concerts with Azul Barrientos, normally standing room only, will stream live on Facebook Saturday at 8 p.m.

Virtual Art Experiences

For visual artists, the situation can be both stifling and an opportunity. “No art sales, no teaching gigs, but lots of time to make! It’s got its pros and cons,” said Kim Bishop, who started a chain post for small business owners to post images of their offerings in hopes of attracting customers.

Painter Tony Pro offered a bleak assessment, not only of the coronavirus pandemic but of its potential economic consequences: “Painting sales will cease until economy normalizes. Bad time to be an artist right now.” The postponement of the popular 1906 Second Saturday Artwalk in Southtown on March 14 attests to the difficulty of artists and artisans reaching potential buyers.

Glass artist Gini Garcia, who maintains a downtown studio with several employees, said several orders have been canceled. But “we are shifting our focus and keeping a positive attitude … for as long as we can,” she said.

Drawing artist Lisette Chavez said her planned solo exhibition at Freight Gallery, set to open April 11, might have to be canceled, despite months of work. However, she understands the context, saying, “Everyone is trying to survive daily life, stressed and depressed at home. It seems trivial to think about my exhibition.”

 The show “will probably go virtual,” she said, although she worries an online-only version will limit the usual productive feedback she receives from viewers experiencing her work directly. “It’s a conversation that extends my concept through their perspectives,” Chavez said.

Glasstire, an art website based in Houston, is asking for artist submissions of exhibitions currently unable to be visited due to gallery and museum closures, for a new virtual gallery called “Five-Minute Tours” to be posted on its homepage.

Locally, Unfiltered SA is offering an “online exhibition gallery for shows affected by #COVID19.” Interested artists can get in touch by emailing info@unfilteredSA.com. Contemporary Art Month (CAM), launched March 1 at multiple venues but most shows have since been shuttered. In response, the organization has invited affected artists to share their shows through virtual tours, and instituted online voting for its annual CAMMIE awards, though the awards ceremony has been canceled.

While the Briscoe Western Art Museum has closed for the moment, its annual Night of Artists sale has moved online, and is currently accepting absentee bidding.

In the midst of their spring semester, art students are unable to work hands-on for their studio classes. Many of them now wonder how class requirements will be fulfilled with little or no access to their school’s resources.

At the University of Texas at San Antonio, most classes are moving online with accommodations made for assignments to be completed with easily accessible materials. As of today, labs and studios remain open but with limited hours and a maximum capacity of 10 persons.

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UTSA student Rebekah Hurst said, “I understand all of these things are preventative measures and help everyone, but … it’s very jarring trying to function outside of the system.”

The Southwest School of Art has extended its spring break through March 23 as questions on how to continue studio-based classes get resolved, said Chris Sauter, interim department chair and professor of drawing and painting.

Update: Blue Star Contemporary has just posted a resources page for artists, with information related the COVID-19 emergency, including unemployment assistance, food bank, and other resources.

Pandemic as Topic

Meanwhile, Attic Rep‘s Theatre for Social Change is using the opportunity to address the coronavirus pandemic directly. Director Rigoberto Prestigiacomo was in Italy recently collecting immigration stories for an upcoming production, when the virus hit that country. He began gathering stories from people affected by the virus, and has continued since returning home.

While in a CDC-recommended 14-day quarantine after returning to San Antonio, Prestigiacomo continues collecting stories via social media, toward a future performance at Trinity University.

Portrait photographer David Salinas said his practice has been “shut down” due to health risks, but he’s taking advantage of the opportunity to go through “years worth” of negatives to print images toward a future exhibition.

In a Tuesday Facebook post, Freight Gallery and Studios acknowledged the gravity of the current moment, while offering broader perspective:

“We may be a little dusty, a little bloody, a little rattled but we will come out on the other side of this bigger, badder, and stronger. … Now is the time to think bigger picture, to think about each other. Things will get better, business will resume and this whole thing will be a memory.”


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Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...