The Virgin of Guadalupe mural, in the form of a giant prayer candle, outside of the Guadalupe Theater.
The Virgin of Guadalupe mural, in the form of a giant prayer candle, outside of the Guadalupe Theater. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

This story has been updated. Este artículo también está disponible en español.

A story in today’s edition of the New York Times reported that philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and husband Dan Jewett have given $2.74 billion in gifts to 286 organizations.

What the story did not mention is that the round of giving will have a significant positive impact on San Antonio’s Latino culture.

The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (GCAC) announced that it has received a $1 million gift, alongside gifts of $1 million to the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center and $6 million to the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC), which is headquartered on the West Side of San Antonio.

“It’s every executive director’s fantasy,” said Cristina Ballí, GCAC executive director. “And I’ll admit to it, that we all dream about ‘What would I do with a million dollars?’ This is like winning the lottery.”

Organizations did not have to apply for the funds, which are unrestricted. The only requirement was to send three years of annual reports for the organization, Ballí said.

Scott did not identify specific amounts given to the organizations; NALAC announced its $6 million gift in a Tuesday press release.

“The unrestricted gift will bolster our capacity to promote and cultivate the Latinx arts field for generations to come,” NALAC President and CEO María López de León said in the release. “I want to thank the artists, for they are the inspiration for our work as well as the community of supporters and the NALAC team, past and present, for their many contributions that built this legacy organization.”

Ballí and GCAC board Chair Celina Peña found out about the donation June 3 via a phone call from Scott’s foundation, which asked for secrecy until the major announcement was made. Ballí said the only person she told was the organization’s accountant, also sworn to secrecy, simply to explain why there was suddenly $1 million in the account.

Ballí said now that the full board knows about the donation, planning for how to spend the funds can begin in earnest. She already has concrete ideas, however, about how some of the money can be best put to use.

“My main priority is to strengthen our fundraising apparatus,” she said, toward a capital campaign to improve the seven buildings that make up the center’s campus.

Most immediately, the third and final phase of remodeling the former pharmacy building across Guadalupe Street from the Guadalupe Theater can begin, she said.

The Esperanza Center also received $1 million, which Executive Director Graciela Sánchez said she considers recognition of the work of her mother Isabel Sánchez, who died unexpectedly Monday evening.

Her mother found the first building where the center established itself back in 1987, and served as a consistent connector to the West Side community throughout subsequent decades.

“Her legacy is the Esperanza. This million dollars is about my mother’s values, and the continuation of what she taught me and taught the community.” Sánchez said. “I’m excited to see that the fruits of our labor are being recognized, by people who I don’t even know.”

Sánchez will work with board members to determine spending priorities, which she said will include the recently-opened Museo del Westside, and adding to the $300,000 received from the San Antonio Housing Trust for the Esperanza Community Land Trust, which refurbishes properties so longtime homeowners can stay in their neighborhoods.

Scott announced the round of gifts on her blog, where she identifies herself as “Mom, writer, advocate.” Scott is divorced from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and received a portion of stock in the company in the settlement. To date she has made donations amounting to $8 billion from her fortune, estimated at $36 billion in value.

Among the $2.74 billion were gifts to 2- and 4-year colleges and universities, which include the University of Texas at San Antonio and San Antonio College.

Of the donations to arts and culture organizations specifically, Scott wrote, “arts and cultural institutions can strengthen communities by transforming spaces, fostering empathy, reflecting community identity, advancing economic mobility, improving academic outcomes, lowering crime rates, and improving mental health.”

Ballí said she was not aware who recommended the GCAC for a gift. Scott wrote that she, her husband, and “a constellation of researchers and administrators and advisors” evaluated “smaller arts organizations creating these benefits with artists and audiences from culturally rich regions and identity groups that donors often overlook.”

That three Latino organizations have received such significant gifts is important for San Antonio culture, Ballí said.

“It looks like we are getting noticed, on the national scale enough to receive this kind of investment,” she said.

“This is a story about the Latino arts organizations in San Antonio, all three of us. It’s really amazing. These three organizations have been around for a long, long time, and doing work consistently for decades. To me it’s just so incredible that somebody recognized that.”

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...