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Contemporary flair hits the Alamo City

Contemporary flair hits the Alamo City – City beat: San Antonio

Jessica Norman

Forget the Alamo–if only for a moment. Although the historic monument stands in the heart of downtown San Antonio, a new wave of creative energy is making its mark on this lively city. Steeped in culture and romantic history many cite San Antonio as the art corridor to southwest Texas, where contemporary art meets a Latin-rich heritage.

“In San Antonio, what you have is a vibrant arts and culture community” said Felix Padron, executive director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. “The preservation of traditions is the foundation of our creativity. Layered on that are the events and activities that enhance that infrastructure.”

With a population of more than one million, San Antonio has metamorphosed from the small mission settlement of the early 1700s. These days, the Alamo City is famous for the River Walk, which winds through the heart of downtown and offers a myriad of boutiques and flavorful restaurants along its sunken walkways.

But just a few blocks away, “Southtown” is the heart of the art scene, a place where traditional and contemporary style coexist. This three-by-four block district contains a myriad of galleries showcasing works from folk to contemporary. Rendon Photography and Fine Art, Garcia Glass, Bower Gallery and Isaac Maxwell Metal are among the galleries found along Southtown’s labyrinthine streets.

That said, the Southtown buzz owes much of its success to the Blue Star Arts Complex. The space opened its doors in 1985 when a group of artists and developers transformed a few warehouses. Almost 20 years later, Blue Star has become the model for fusion South Texas-style.

The complex houses an array of endeavors that reflect both heritage and experiment alike. The space display works by local and international artists. The Joan Grona Gallery showcases more established artists, and San Angel Folk Art shares Blue Star complex space, as well. Younger artists are also represented: The University of Texas at San Antonio Satellite Art Space reflects the school’s strong art department, and the “Say Si” space accommodates the creations of area high school students.

“What we’re doing is promoting the individual artists by having exhibitions and getting them national attention;’ said Bill Fitzgibbons, executive director of Blue Star.

Southtown galleries find quite an audience at the beginning of each month with the First Friday Gallery walks. From 6 to 9 p.m., as many as 5,000 people come for the art, live music and fresh suds from the Blue Star Brew Pub, also housed at the complex.

Adjacent to Southtown’s main thoroughfare is “SoFlo” (South Flores Street), where galleries such as ONE9ZERO6 Gallery display art from acrylic to pastel. Its sister space, Salon Mijangos, offers a simple European feel.

And just north of Southtown, ArtPace is both a foundation and a home for contemporary art. Opening its doors in 1995, ArtPace is unique in its primary mission: to bring contemporary artists from around the world to create work in San Antonio. Through its residency and exhibition program, guest curators select three artists for each of three cycles in a year. The artists are given a loft, a stipend and materials for artistic creation. ” [Art Pace Founder] Linda Pace and others like her have infused an identity for the San Antonio art community” said Padron.

In its eight years, the foundation has showcased 89 artists, including photograpby Rob Ziebell. “The San Antonio art community can go nowhere but up,” said Ziebell, who lives in the area and is impressed by its art scene.

Artist Caesar Martinez couldn’t agree more. Martinez has become known for his work on contemporary Chicano culture. He acknowledges a dramatic change in the way the city has embraced arts and culture. “It’s come a long way. There was a time when [the art scene] was very polarized. Across the board, sections of the city are more well-funded” said Martinez, who attributes this progress to institutions like ArtPace and Blue Star.

Another renowned San Antonio art venue is the San Antonio Museum of Art. Known for its historical Texas works, it is housed in the equally historic Lone Star Brewery building. Nestled in the Alamo Heights suburb north of downtown, the McNay Art Museum is also worth a visit both for its collection of paintings and sculptures and for its divine landscaping and architecture.

Just a few miles north of downtown, the 24-room Spanish Colonial mansion of the late Marion Koogler McNay features work by several masters. In fact, the McNay was the first modern art museum in Texas and possesses more than 14,000 pieces of contemporary and modern art.

Other art events that pull the community together include Fotoseptiembre, a month-long festival of photography in September. The Office of Cultural Affairs also hosts Contemporary Art Month in July. “It’s a city-wide thing; all the galleries do something special” said Martinez. “It is literally art month in San Antonio.”

SOURCES

* ArtPace, (210) 212-4900

* Blue Star Art Space and Complex, (210) 227-6960

* Office of Cultural Affairs, City of San Antonio, (210) 207-6967

* ONE9ZERO6, (210) 229-1345

* Salon Mijangos, (210) 271-9592

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