El Centro de Artes, housed in the big pink building in downtown's Market Square, was designed to be a center for Latino art and culture. In a city with a majority Latino population, El Centro de Artes, formerly known as the Museo Alameda and other monikers, has been mostly dormant. With only a string of art exhibits that have popped up occasionally like a skipping stone across water, can El Centro de Artes finally claim its space as the center of San Antonio's Latino art and culture?
City of San Antonio Councilman Roberto C. Treviño (D1) says yes.
“We want to activate this space as much as possible,” Councilman Treviño said during a public convening of the city’s Latinx intelligentsia at El Centro de Artes on September 20. Dozens of San Antonio Latino artists and cultural activistas were present.
The Councilman's support in regard to the city's bilingual and bicultural heritage includes championing English to Spanish translation services for city public meetings and developing the city's Zona Cultural, a downtown initiative whose mission is “to support, develop, and link dynamic clusters with historical, cultural and entertainment experiences authentic to San Antonio.”
Now, Councilman Treviño is encouraging Latino artists to participate in visioning sessions organized by the City to map out the future of El Centro.
The Latino arts community has been here before.
Jorge Cortez of La Familia Cortez Restaurants distributed notes from a 1994 Centro de Artes planning session at the September 20 meeting. The issues discussed in 1994 resonate with the issues the Latino arts community want addressed now: community governance, localized artistic direction, cultural equity, and the sustainability of El Centro.
The City of San Antonio needs El Centro to survive, but what do San Antonio Latino and Latina artists need from El Centro to thrive? Like the neighbor’s taco parado barbecue you can only smell, like the quince you weren’t invited to: San Antonio Latino and Latina artists are set to crash the party at El Centro de Artes and activate the space. According to opinions expressed in the open forum on September 20, artists want to create a shared multi-disciplinary space that is sustainable, locally-focused, and accessible.
The “SATX/MX: Un Viaje Lleno de Cultura” art exhibit is a start.
The City's Department for Arts and Culture has devised a plan for the upcoming season of events that has a focus on visual arts; it starts with the “SATX/MX” exhibit opening to the public on Thursday, October 6 at 6 pm. Although the exhibit has no individual curatorial ownership, the focus is clear: the artworks investigate the cultural ties between San Antonio and its Mexican heritage.
Twenty-one artists are represented, each capturing shared Mexican and American narratives, and include: Albert Alvarez, Fernando Andrade, Richard Armendariz, Ruth Buentello, Juan de Dios Mora, Joe De La Cruz, Jenelle Esparza, Ana Fernandez, Jose Sotelo, Yenifer Gaviña Franco, Raul Gonzalez, Mari Hernandez, Ernesto Ibanez, Rigoberto Luna, M. Guadalupe Marmolejo, Tess Martinez, Destiny Mata, Arlene Mejorado, Andrei Renteria, Daniela Riojas, and Juan Zavala Castro.
NOWCastSA: How does San Antonio influence your work, if at all.
Destiny Mata: Living in San Antonio and being around my family connected me with Mexican culture. I had my first internship as a Visual Arts Director Assistant at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. Artist Deborah Vasquez was the Visual Arts Director (at the time). She is a big inspiration and mentor who influenced me about being a Chicana artist and about what it means to be a woman of color in the art world. For me, finding my voice as a photographer was clear. I knew I wanted to tell stories with my photographs, but most importantly, photos that told stories of culture, struggle, strength, and community.
NOWCastSA: How do you self-identify? Which borders do you cross through your work?
Mata: Understanding Mexican culture was introduced to me later in life. Being raised in New York City, I grew up in a diverse city, a melting pot of cultures. Honestly, I knew more about Puerto Rican and Dominican culture than my own. It was not until I moved back to San Antonio, to study photography at San Antonio College, when I began to get in touch with my roots. I worked at my grandparent's Tex-Mex restaurant, Guadalupanitas Cafe, on the West Side. It was there I heard stories from mis abuelos about where my family came from. I began to experience Mexican traditions –food, religion, and Mexican slang –from the customers who ordered food at the restaurant.
NOWCastSA: Why do you make art?
Mata: I make art because it's in mi sangre, my blood. I came from a family of photographers. My abuelo was a wedding photographer and continues to shoot till this day; my aunt was a fashion photographer. Now it is my turn.
NOWCastSA: Why did you move from Austin to San Antonio?
Arlene Mejorado: I feel more at home in San Antonio than I did in Austin. In Austin, people come and go. There are roots in San Antonio that feel authentic.
NOWCastSA: Where are your roots?
Mejorado: My Mom passed through the Texas border in the 80s. My Dad passed through the California border. I come from a wave of migration.
NOWCastSA: How do you self-identify?
Mejorado: I am Chicana and identify with the legacy of the Chicana movement. I have three pieces in this exhibit. One is “My Mother’s Passport,” a visual interpretation of how my mother crossed the border: with a white child on her lap to help her look American. The work is trans-national.
ABOUT THE EVENT
SATX/MX opens at El Centro de Artes (101 South Santa Rosa in Market Square) with an opening reception on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 6 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. The exhibit runs through January 2017. El Centro de Artes is open Tuesday – Sunday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. More information can be found at GetCreativeSanAntonio.com.