Five artists enjoyed the wonderful art community of San Antonio from September third to September seventh and learned more about how different groups in our community are fostering community engagement through creative programs. These groups may be bridging generational, racial, socioeconomic, political, or sexual divides, but they have all found unique ways of using the arts as a platform for enriching their area.
This delegation began by venturing through thick rain Tuesday to the Carver Community Cultural Center to learn about the performances, exhibits, children’s programs, and educational opportunities they bring to San Antonio’s east side. Their primarily African American audience and artists are able to savor this one-of-a-kind and historic site in their community through jazz recitals, dance classes, and socially relevant visual art galleries. This keeps the Carver busy 325 days of the year with events.
San Anto Cultural Arts was the Belarusians’ next stop. Now-famous murals on the West Side made by San Anto and their volunteer organization have become landmarks in otherwise disadvantaged or downtrodden neighborhoods west of downtown. The participants were fascinated by not only the tour they received of some local masterpieces but also how recruiting at-risk youth in their projects invested these youths in their community and encouraged them to stand up for these points of pride. The day was concluded by a meeting at ARTS San Antonio, where the President and Executive Director John Toohey explained the work they do in bringing performance art to San Antonio. Dissections Mr. Toohey and the Director of Marketing Jason Irle provided of venue selection, discount pricing, ticket revenue, advertising budgets, and administrative organization were very useful to our visitors, many of whom work in performance art.
On Wednesday, the visitors explored San Antonio’s West Side further at Guadalupe Cultural Arts, the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and the Mujer Artes Women’s Clay Cooperative. Jorge Piña, Belinda Menchaca, and Cristina Ballí of Guadalupe Cultural Arts welcomed our visitors with an informative tour of their facilities, a discussion about their events and performances, and an insightful tour of their exhibit entitled “The Other Side of the Alamo.” Dr. Ruben Cordoba, the curator, guided our visitors through a fascinating group of photographs, paintings, videos, sculptures, and other excellent pieces. The visitors were also kindly invited to return for a dress rehearsal of the Guadalupe’s upcoming flamenco program Thursday night before they left.
Hurrying to keep their appointment at the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, the visitors learned more about their work in social justice and how they use the arts as a way to preserve underrepresented histories, raise funds for community projects, and preserve traditional cultural practices. They discussed with our visitors some of their projects and went into detail about how they are funded and administered. They also led our visitors on a tour of Mujer Artes. Here, the group was grateful to hear from the women working at Mujer Artes about how they were able to make money for themselves through their beautiful artwork there. Amelia Valdez and Susanna Seguro of Esperanza also showed our visitors how they had preserved century-old houses nearby to show what life had been like for the poor Latino population of the time.
Before the visitors concluded their programming for the day, they visited Say Sí, a youth arts organization, after picking up some goodies at a local Mexican bakery. At that point in the afternoon, the visitors were able to interact with students participating in Say Sí’s range of afterschool activities for at-risk youth. Programs can include theater and leadership courses, digital arts exploration, a middle school mentorship program, and specialized partnerships with other non-profits like the Children’s Shelter. The visitors found these interactions particularly impactful.
On Thursday, Musical Bridges Around the World welcomed our delegation with an amazing waited reception at the stunning Roosevelt Library. The presentation by Suhail Arastu proved very informative on every aspect of Musical Bridge’s work from concerts at the San Fernando Cathedral to youth programs to piano competitions. Our visitors were also able to speak Russian directly to their counterpart, Anya Grokhovski, about how she founded Musical Bridges and has kept it running for two decades.
Reticent as they were to leave such a warm reception, the visitors continued to their next appointment at Bihl Haus Arts. Bihl Haus is nestled into a senior living community and provides a unique opportunity for older members of the community to enjoy art classes with their neighbors. As the group entered Bihl Haus, they were able to see a class as a group of painters got to work on their canvasses. They were also welcomed by the executive director, Dr. Kellen McIntyre, to sit down in their gallery and take in their exhibit “10,000 Years of Love and Resistance.” After Dr. McIntyre explained the nature of the work at Bihl Haus and their history, she introduced the visitors to the curator for the exhibit, David Zamora Casas, who explained the purpose of the current exhibit in recording aspects of the LGBT experience and encouraging attendees to think more deeply about their own self-understanding. He also introduced Joyous Windrider Jiménez who treated the guests to spoken word poetry in a space she had designed for this exhibit. This unequaled experience at Bihl Haus remained with our visitors and opened a dialogue about important social issues.
Concluding their formal appointments in San Antonio, our IVLP participants visited the Centro de Artes downtown in the historic Market Square. Once there, they were invited to tour the current gallery “159” with its curator, Dr. Teresa Eckmann of UTSA. Alberto Mijangos’ work and the exclusive insight from Dr. Eckmann enraptured the group. Once they had seen the entire gallery, they joined Sebastian Guajardo and Stephanie Torres of the city’s Department of Arts and Culture to talk about how they provide spaces like this designed to empower Latino voices. They also learned more about city administration and the role of the DAC in facilitating the work of other community-based arts groups.
Before they left on Friday, the visitors also saw the McNay Art Museum and attended a dress rehearsal at the Guadalupe theater. These cultural activities and the variety of professional appointments they enjoyed had a significant effect on the Belarusian visitors. Whether they were learning about programming for the junior or the senior community members; preserving heritage or painting an inclusive future; or the beautiful work of local residents, the entire experience in San Antonio was an unmitigated success.