It’s First Friday and Art is Alive and Well at Blue Star

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Flight Gallery now at Blue Star Arts Complex.

Justin Parr's Flight Gallery now at Blue Star Arts Complex. Photo by Page Graham.

The demise of the “arts” in Blue Star Arts Complex is an oft-repeated whisper that is untrue. It’s a frustrating rumor to those who know that the complex is alive and kicking – has been, through all the recent changes and construction. It is a living and breathing entity, and of its surrounding community, maybe more than ever before.

Perhaps justifiably, there was a sense of unease as familiar faces departed the premises over the past few years. Change isn’t always welcome or comfortable. On the other hand, change is very often exhilarating. Change can give us wings to fly. This is Blue Star right now, 2014, and today we will focus on the latest developments.

Long time landmarks such as Robert Hughes Gallery, San Angel Folk Art, and Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum have been joined in the past year by new kids like Cinnabar Gallery, Zollie Glass, Hello Studio, and Mockingbird Handprints. This is just naming a few arts businesses. There are even more individual studios to search out.

Jake Zollie Harper and Justin Parr along with other participants at an event at Zollie Art Glass. Photo by Page Graham.

Jake Zollie Harper and Justin Parr along with other participants at an event at Zollie Art Glass. Photo by Page Graham.

You can grab a great meal, wet your whistle, and conduct an informal business meeting at Halcyon Southtown or Stella Public House. Joey Villarreal keeps upping the game at Blue Star Brewery and his nearby bar Joe Blue’s is a great spot to duck into for live music in a laid back, contemporary bar setting. Looking for even more adventure? Then head downstairs to see what Don Marsh and his crew are pouring up at the bespoke 1919, one of the best watering holes in town.

Blue Star owner James Lifshutz gives us a glimpse into his view of this iconic property, “First and foremost, Blue Star is San Antonio’s home for contemporary art. So, while contemporary art is made, exhibited, taught, and bought in spaces throughout the city, I want Blue Star to continue to be the geographical nucleus for the contemporary arts community. The mix will always be toward that end. But artists and their patrons need to eat and drink and shop too — and I want them to do some of that at Blue Star.”

FL!GHT Opens

On Thursday evening, we attended the preview opening of FL!GHT. Justin Parr and co-conspirator Ed Saavedra are back at Blue Star with the latest incarnation of their creative endeavor. Justin started out in the silos down the river bank at Big Tex, just a few hundred yards from this lean and inviting space. For the past number of years, FL!GHT has been one of the lynchpins at Andy and Yvette Benevides’s 1906 warehouse space on South Flores, one of the cornerstones of the Second Saturday happenings down in the SoFlo Arts District.

Justin Parr's Flight Gallery now at Blue Star Arts Complex. Photo by Page Graham.

Justin Parr’s Flight Gallery now at Blue Star Arts Complex. Photo by Page Graham.

When you consider that this adventure all started less than a month ago, it is mind boggling. The boys are running on adrenaline and good vibes. Page and I ducked in less than 48 hours previously to catch them rolling paint and vacuuming up drywall dust — a curse from hell under the best of circumstances. Honestly, tonight was like a family picnic without the drama. There were so many familiar faces in the crowd from across the arts landscape of the city, and they had all come out to wish Justin and Ed well. The gallery is filled with wonderful works from James Cobb, Lloyd Walsh, Gerry de los Santos, Jake Zollie Harper, Vincent Valdez and others. Come out for First Friday and see for yourself — it is an impressive addition to the core of the Blue Star art scene, and will only improve with time. There’s incredible potential here.

Ed and I talked about the goals for the gallery shortly after they had closed on the deal. This new space will enable them to be much more aggressive in showing work in the salon style, with regular hours. They look forward to pursuing residencies and exchanges with visiting artists from further afield. This move allows FL!GHT to grow into itself, to stretch and thrive. The community is genuinely looking forward to where the guys take it next.

Lifshutz is pleased to be welcoming the prodigals back into the fold, “FL!GHT has a long track record of putting on great shows of local contemporary artists. Moving to Blue Star will increase its exposure and its reach, and will take the gallery to the next level — which pleases me greatly.”

Mary Heathcott Brings New Life To Blue Star Contemporary

Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum Executive Director Mary Heathcott. Courtesy photo.

Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum Executive Director Mary Heathcott. Courtesy photo.

When speaking with Mary Heathcott, executive director of the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, she expressed genuine excitement about her newest neighbors, “Love it!” Plain and simple. Mary is still very new in this position, beginning in late February of this year. She had been on the staff of Artpace since 2006, ultimately serving as Deputy Director prior to her move to Blue Star.

Heathcott is extraordinarily well respected in the San Antonio art community. Not just professionally and ethically, but she is also well liked. This is no mean feat in any profession, but as anyone who has been on the receiving end of some good old-fashioned chismes can tell you, it is a bit unusual. No snark. No backhanded compliments. After spending the better part of an hour talking about her new post, I understood completely.

“Being here is very different from being downtown at Artpace.” Heathcott said of her impressions of her new nest carefully and earnestly. “I had great relationships with my downtown neighbors at Southwest School of Art and Alamo Music Center. But this arts complex is a destination. There is more general attendance and opportunity to meet and talk with the public.

Contemporary Art Month 2014 Opening Party at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum. Photo by Page Graham.

Contemporary Art Month 2014 Opening Party at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum. Photo by Page Graham.

“It’s a family here. There is a community with creative and innovative things happening. I am excited to be here now.”

Heathcott is looking forward to hosting Blue Star Family Day 2014, Saturday, May 3, 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. This free to the public event is put on by Blue Star’s education wing, MOSAIC, headed up by Alex Rubio. This year’s focus will be on printmaking featuring eight different “creation stations” exploring a variety of techniques with an impressive array of talented professional artists.

Alex Rubio (right) working with MOSAIC students. Courtesy photo.

Alex Rubio (right) working with MOSAIC students. Courtesy photo.

Heathcott is very proud of the MOSAIC program. She describes to me how leader Alex Rubio hand selects a group of kids every year. Ideally, he gets them as freshmen and they are in the program with him for four years, working every day after school from 4:30 ‘til 7:30. “He is so good with them!” Heathcott says that there are 15 – 20 kids participating at any given time and that the program boasts a 100 percent graduation rate. At the end of the four years, Rubio has not only shown them how to be an artist, but he has covered the concepts of pricing, selling, and talking about your work. Many go on to college. “It is incredible how articulate these kids are in discussing their work.” As we continue to talk, Mary’s passion regarding her new charge is contagious. It is eminently clear that the Board of Directors at the Museum made an excellent call in this hire.

“I am thrilled by the exciting direction that Mary is taking Blue Star Contemporary,” Lifshutz is very complimentary. “In her short tenure already, she has breathed new life into the place, and has infused great, fresh energy.”

 BRICK: A Space For Everyone

Energy seems to be a commodity in ample supply at Blue Star these days. After more than 25 years in residence, the former Jump Start Theater space had lay empty for a  few months. During Contemporary Art Month, the Artist Foundation hosted their Moveable Art Party in the empty space. And this planted the seeds of an idea into a couple of very fertile brains.

Mike Looney, best known for his partnership of 22 years in the local favorite hang, La Tuna, and Elizabeth Ciarfeo, of the Artist Foundation, were each independently intrigued with the space. When these friends put their heads together, they immediately recognized the potential of the space, to be known as BRICK.

Touring BRICK with Mike Looney, Elizabeth Ciarfeo and Tami Kegley. Photo by Page Graham.

Touring BRICK with Mike Looney, Elizabeth Ciarfeo and Tami Kegley. Photo by Page Graham.

“I remember asking James (Lifshutz) ‘How much?’ as I was coming out of the party. I mean, I was doing the math in my head — it’s 5000 square feet!” Ciarfeo is an animated brunette with 10,000 ideas. “He said, ‘come to me with a plan.’” And that’s how things get started in Blue Star World.

The space has already had one pop-up event.

“We spoke to James on Tuesday and had an event on Saturday,” Ciarfeo said. She and Looney are moving that fast. The “official” opening is in May with a plan to conduct the “Brick Bazaar” every third Sunday of the month. “We envision it being like the original Chelsea Market concept, or the Souks of Marrakech, or the Paris Flea Market.”

Over coffee at Halcyon, Elizabeth bubbles with excitement as Mike sits next to her talking into his phone and at Elizabeth at the same time. As we continue to talk, it is evident that this enterprise will unfold quickly, but organically over the summer months. Once September rolls around and everyone is back into the groove of things, then Brick will really start to harden in and take shape.

BRICK features a large, open inside space, which can be used in a variety of ways. Photo by Page Graham.

BRICK features a large, open inside space, which can be used in a variety of ways. Photo by Page Graham.

Elizabeth outlines the plan. The market will be of quality — they want to avoid mass produced items. The focus will be on handmade original items and services. Jewelry, vintage clothing, ceramics, edibles, a shoe shine, dog grooming… a bit of everything with an eye to the unique. Each individual area will be limited to three, so there will be a bit of exclusivity in what is offered. “It gives everyone a chance to sell and insures that the market isn’t overwhelmed by any one category. The feeling will be of walking into an experience.”

And it makes sense. As a fan of the Santa Fe Flea Market, I want to be there.

Interior designer Greg Marino (Hot Joy is one of his masterpieces) will work with the partners to create a look for the space that is flexible but creative. Aerial artist (and 2014 Artist Foundation grant winner) Julia Langenberg will be renting rehearsal space. The extremely high ceilings and bare beam infrastructure of the old warehouse make it ideal.

The front area of BRICK will feature a bar and sofas for relaxation. Photo by Page Graham.

The front area of BRICK will feature a bar and sofas for relaxation. Photo by Page Graham.

At the root of it all, this will be a community space and available for events. There will be DJ jams with a dance element. Yoga, independent film, board meetings — it seems lack of imagination is the only barrier. Looney and Ciarfeo see this as an opportunity for Blue Star to really be a part of the SA 2020 game plan. They are both long time residents of King William and have a sincere interest in working to continue to make their neighborhood vital and in the moment.

“I am very much looking forward to Brick opening and seeing what Elizabeth and Mike make of it. It’s experimental, and will evolve over time – which is a great metaphor for Blue Star overall,” says Lifshutz. He continues a tradition and willingness to work with creative visionaries, which has always been the touchstone since Bernard Lifshutz and Hap Veltmann embarked on this mission so many years ago.

Next: Big Tex

Now, as the Big Tex site preparation gets underway, the neighborhood is abuzz with rumor and speculation. A number of informational meetings have been held to keep everyone in the know, as much as that is possible. This is the current plan in motion according to Mr. Lifshutz himself.

"Located in the Southtown arts district across from the historic King William neighborhood , Big Tex capitalizes on the recently completed San Antonio River ecosystem restoration project and populates almost half a mile of its west bank with apartments and restaurants." Words and renderings from Alamo Architects.

“Located in the Southtown arts district across from the historic King William neighborhood , Big Tex capitalizes on the recently completed San Antonio River ecosystem restoration project and populates almost half a mile of its west bank with apartments and restaurants.” Words and renderings from Alamo Architects.

“At Big Tex, there will be a restaurant and a couple of small retail spaces, but by far most of it will be apartments for rent – over 300 of them. I expect that people who choose to live there will be self-selecting — motivated by the arts vibe, historic preservation ethic, and community mindedness that is Southtown.”

And yes, “the tall green silos will remain as iconic references to the site’s history.”

It is First Friday and Blue Star is in full tilt boogie mode. Come on out to play. If not tonight, then soon, particularly if it has been a while. There’s a renaissance going on in Southtown, and it would be a damn shame to miss it.

*Featured/top image: Justin Parr’s Flight Gallery now at Blue Star Arts Complex. Photo by Page Graham.

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The Fiesta Arts Fair 2014: Fine Arts and Fun Times For All 

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Contemporary Art Month Ain’t Over ‘Til the Cammies Sing

10 thoughts on “It’s First Friday and Art is Alive and Well at Blue Star

  1. Yes, it seemed like everything had gone down hill after I heard about artist being thrown out because of high rents or some other reason.

    I like Blue Star and I enjoy the community. I hope the commercialism and marketing associated with everything else stays out. Hand-made and crafted items should be the norm over the trinkets seen at other flea markets. I would also like to see cooking workshops someday if that’s possible.

    It’s an interesting article. Thanks Tami!

  2. All this area needs now is a PROPER nightclub venue. Something that holds 200-300 people with forward-thinking music, not the same old retro/80’s/90’s music that all these other places around town are playing. Imagine how good nightlife could be in that area with something like that. If one of the proprietors there is reading this and wants to talk, click my info above and get in touch 🙂

  3. There are a lot of mistakes in this article. It will be great if Blue Star can overcome the barriers to it becoming more of a retail driven complex (namely the construction)–and it’s really great that Flight is there now to provide some quality edgy contemporary programming in addition to Blue Star. However, Robert Hughes is not a “longtime landmark”, they just moved in after the previous collapse of artist-run spaces. Cinnabar is a blue chip gallery that shows old school art, which is great, but not pushing SA art forward in any way. Please do your research, dear. I live in King William and I can tell you that the neighborhood used to be filled to the gills with cars on first Thurs and Fri. No more. It’s much less traffic now, and all the well-meaning but uninformed cheerleading is not going to change the facts. Maybe when the construction is finished that will change, I hope so. But for now, Blue Star 1st Thurs and Fri are much less attended than in the Blue Star heyday.

    • No, there aren’t a lot of mistakes in the article. A few clarifying points: Robert Hughes has been around for a long time. Yes, he is a recent addition to Blue Star, moving from his previous location on South Alamo. Cinnabar is about to open “Professors’ Picks,” a show that is sure to be a very revealing look at the work of professors Liz Ward (Trinity University), Margo Sawyer (UT Austin) and three of their students. As you may or may not be aware, Susan Oliver Heard is a native San Antonio girl, and as a gallerist must have the creative freedom to craft the voice of the space. She is already a very positive force in the San Antonio art community outside the four walls of Cinnabar. More traffic before? Back in the day, the area was choked with traffic to be sure. Many in King William were very unhappy with that crowd. The resulting strong police presence, open container ordinances, and parking restrictions ensured that this “filled to the gills” situation didn’t continue. In essence, the baby was thrown out with the bath water. Many galleries in King William proper — outside Blue Star — shut down. So, yes, times change. I am impressed with the quality and variety of art, retail, and restaurants that are populating Blue Star these days. I stand by my piece — art is alive and well at Blue Star.

  4. Flight has a piece of Gerry De Los Santos, done by me Rigoberto Luna, but all good. More funny then anything

  5. So if you don’t mind answering – What happened? Did a bunch of artists just leave or not? Were they forced out? Was it construction?

    • David, I don’t know that I am the person to definitively answer that question for you. I have never been a tenant or a principal in operations at Blue Star. Speaking from my own personal experience as a working artist for over 25 years, we all have to make our economic decisions. Rental rates, construction, changing perspective and needs — all of that has to factor in, as is true in any business situation. What is relevant to this story is that there is a population of artists all the way from individual studios to Blue Star Contemporary Museum that are there right now. In my opinion, they deserve our attention. Even if we will have to bear with road and utilities construction for awhile longer.

    • Hey MJ, thanks for reading my article and commenting.
      This piece originated in May 2014 with an update in October 2016. At the time, Big Tex was still just a concept.
      An interesting follow-up for RR would be to find out what is next at the Blue Star Complex and Big Tex. It is a well-known issue that parking can be difficult to come by during the frequent big events at the property. The bicycle wars are ongoing, with folks who take advantage of the parking lot to access the trails from that point, further adding to the gridlock. This is to the detriment of the business owners and customers who frequent Blue Star.
      Many folks that I have spoken to in the past several years were hoping that a parking structure might be in the stars. To date, the answer to that wish is nowhere in sight. Is this it for Big Tex, or is there a Phase 2 in sight?
      TK

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