Patty Ortiz (center) observes the Grupo de Danza Azteca Xinachtli performing a blessing over WestFest on June 21, 2014. Photo by Katie Nickas.
Patty Ortiz (back, center) observes the Grupo de Danza Azteca Xinachtli perform a blessing over WestFest on June 21, 2014. Photo by Katie Nickas.

As I entered the newly-restored Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center on San Antonio’s Westside, I was greeted by a colorful array of pink and orange linear buildings rising amid a surreal landscape of palm trees, cacti and the pregnant blooms of crepe myrtle trees.

I cruised by a brilliant wall-length mural displaying the words “Familia y Cultura es Vida,” painted on the western wall of La Chiquita Bakery, before turning onto El Paso Street to park.

It was Saturday, June 21 – the first day of summer. The heat was already rising but it didn’t keep people from bringing their families to the Center to experience WestFest 2014, a three-day community event celebrating the completion of the sidewalks, streets and Guadalupe Theater parking lot improvements.

It’s all part of the Guadalupe Cultural Corridor Initiative, a project that’s about five months in the making designed to connect the Guadalupe neighborhood with the center of San Antonio to showcase the Westside.

After the Grupo de Danza Azteca Xinachtli offered a blessing with singing and incense, I joined Sandra Garcia, the director of communications for the Center, in the cool interior of the historic Guadalupe Theater, but not before a young man in sunglasses hails us down. He had found a large handcrafted marble hidden outside the building. He told me it’s one of the projects of an artist involved with the Center to design the colorful spheres and hide them around San Antonio. You can join the marble hunters on the Facebook group Esferas Perdidas.

The free street celebration was just a preview of the day’s festivities, Garcia said. Saturday night, more guests arrived for the WestFest Gala and Outdoor Concert — ticketed events featuring artists including the Mexican Institute of Sound that raised money for the Center.

Garcia takes me outside and shows me La Casita, a little purple house on Brazos Street that will be the future home of the Hecho a Mano Tienda, and the multi-colored Museo Guadalupe, which houses the Center’s administrative offices. There’s the Guadalupinita Café, an old San Antonio mainstay, which organizers hope to reopen soon. On the north side of the grounds, a fuschia building is stacked next to a tangerine one and flanked by purple and blue-tiled gates, giving off the bright look of a modern art lab.

As I walked around the outdoor complex, I was struck by how, like other architecture in San Antonio, the buildings at the Guadalupe Arts Complex honor postmodern style and classical design elements. The corridors are painted in bright indigo, orange and other reflective hues and glimmer against the blue sky as I walked through them. Follow their sharp angles, I’m met by a round amphitheater and a large depiction of el virgin de Guadalupe, standing like an enormous Roman candle over the theater.

The atmosphere at Guadalupe feels both sublime and secure — a great combination for a place whose focus is not only on fostering the careers and livelihoods of artists, but providing them with a place to create art with friends and family with support and educational resources at their fingertips.

Patty Ortiz, the executive director and curator of exhibition space for the Guadalupe Arts Center, tells me that it offers a huge educational program for artists to be part of a curriculum and compete on national fields.

“We are one of the largest multi-disciplinary arts centers in the country,” she said. “We stay close to our traditions, but we support the new visions of artists. We want to start a dialogue with different kinds of art and be a voice and vision of the Latino art community.”

“Today’s celebration is about opening the streets,” Ortiz said. “We’re lucky to have a large campus, but it’s been run down over time. We wanted to revitalize it and keep it historically correct. This is a walking community and we knew we needed to make the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Complex friendly and inviting to surrounding areas.”

When I venture back outside, it’s clear to see that people of all ages and backgrounds are enjoying the day’s offerings. In the corner, two young women are riding a painting machine powered by a bicycle while children in sunglasses choose an item from an old record collection to write their own poems on the sleeves and vinyl. I snag a copy of “San Antonio Rose” and sit down to circle words on the album jacket that will be inspiration for my poem.

Lucky for me, inspiration was easy to come by.

*Featured/top photo: Grupo de Danza Azteca Xinachtli performs a blessing over WestFest. Photo by Katie Nickas. 

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Katherine Nickas was born in San Antonio near Fort Sam Houston but grew up in southern Indiana. In 2007, she began working for Indiana AgriNews where she covered topics ranging from corn and soybean production...