Southwest School or Arts
Photo courtesy of Southwest School or Arts.

To all you San Antonio cynics out there: it’s time to open up your eyes and look around.  San Antonio is growing at a rapid pace.  Finally.  I for one have been waiting for this day since college.  Years ago, San Antonio was a bland canvas of ordinary strip malls, mild restaurant and retail chains, a mundane and overly touristy River Walk, which left little to be desired.  That has changed.  Organic grocery stores like Trader Joe’s (opening November 2nd), unique restaurants, hip bars, and innovative businesses are adding more vivacity to the city.  I ran into a mutual friend the other day at Local Coffee.  She was giving her friend from Austin, originally a San Antonio native, a tour of the new San Antonio.  Her friend told me she felt like a tourist here with so much unfamiliarity.  This is a sign of progress.

San Antonio has finally gained a reputation as a mecca for artists thanks to the active, ever-growing cultural art scene downtown and in surrounding areas such as the King William neighborhood.  Our very own Southwest School of Art, located on the northern edge of downtown across from the San Antonio Central Public Library, is doing some expansion of its own.  With school President Paula Owen leading the charge, Southwest School of Art, which has been in existence for more than 50 years will soon become an accredited independent art school.  The first of its kind in Texas, Southwest School of Art will continue to offer community classes for all ages but will be adding a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree for twenty-four lucky students in the Fall semester of 2013.

Southwest School of Art
Photo courtesy of Southwest School of Art.

According to the curriculum: The four-year BFA degree program centers on the process of making art as a form of inquiry and discovery with equal emphasis on ideas and skills.  Students will learn to value both traditional and innovative approaches and to move freely between the creation of one-of-a kind works and applied design.

This degree program is coming to fruition after two years of meticulous research into capacity, resources and facilities.

Southwest School of Art President Paula Owens.

“It’s been talked about for years because this is what we do – we are an art school, a studio education institution, a very high quality one – but it’s been community based,” Owen said.

Continuing the community program is of the utmost importance, she said, noting that it took many years to build the strong community connection.  The expansion was partly due to the fact that Southwest School of Art wanted to maximize the capacity of the resources available: a fantastic facility already equipped with the necessary tools, experienced and professional faculty, and a positive reputation with the community.

Everyone has heard of the Pratt Institute’s School of Art & Design in New York.  Just like any industry, there are several high-ranking art schools that prospective students recognize as a reputable institution.  Creating an accredited independent art school in San Antonio gives students an opportunity to gain a great education in Texas.  Not every student can afford to live in New York and maintain a lifestyle there while attending school.  Owen confessed, “Its time has come.  In Texas, there are a lot of cultural institutions and a lot of vibrancy.  That kind of vitality feeds on itself and builds.”

Michelle Garrigan, hired as a director of admission and recruitment, has spent months traveling to high schools and visiting with students interested in the program, concentrating her efforts in Texas and Oklahoma.  While in Corpus Christi, many students said they were excited about the art program, and about living in San Antonio with its diverse offering of events and art opportunities.

“This fits right in with the growing vibrancy of downtown with the new Museum Reach, the Mission Reach, the Tobin Center for Performing Arts, more residential locations and a higher interest in being downtown,” Owen said.

Southwest School of Art student - pottery
Photo courtesy of Southwest School of Art.

In order to recruit students, Southwest School of Art has been in contact with art teachers throughout the state.  The school also has acquired a list of students interested  in enrolling as art majors in college. She’s also opened up the facility to various tour groups from art-oriented schools and classes.

Areas of concentration include ceramics, drawing and painting, metals, photography, printmaking, sculpture and integrated media, and book arts and paper-making.  In the requirements created for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, two-thirds of the credit hours are in the studio – it’s a hands-on degree.  At Southwest School of Art, students will have the opportunity to exhibit their own work to the San Antonio community, and to interact with other professional artists with an exhibition.  This is the kind of public young artists find invaluable.

Southwest School of Art will host a visiting artists program to allow students to learn different techniques, skills, and advice in the art sector.  Because of the relationships the school has forged with other cultural and educational institutions in the city, students also will be able to pursue a wider range of internships. Best of all, undergraduates can enroll in a study abroad program that will be based at an art school in Florence.

Southwest School of Art student.
Photo courtesy of Southwest School of Art.

“Students who want to study art are an unusual group – divergent thinkers, non-conformists, very focused , know what they want to do, perfectly comfortable eating, breathing, sleeping art,” said Owen. “They don’t need some of the other things that other colleges offer, or need to be around like-minded people to flourish.”

School officials believe the large investment of time, energy and resources that Southwest School of Art has put into the accreditation, will pay off quickly.  Southwest School of Art will take its place as the city’s newest institution of higher learning, thus making San Antonio even more attractive to natives and newcomers alike, especially for young artists looking for a good university.

 Jessica Mattsson works for C.H. Guenther & Son, Inc. Follow her on Twitter @BenchmarkBrand.  You can also read her blog, Benchmark Brands, which recognizes forward-thinking companies differentiating their brand via innovative strategies.