“The Westside.” A phrase met with sour faces, anxious breathing and the occasional purse clutch.
If San Antonio were a family, Southtown and Downtown would gather each night for dinner. They would talk of recent renovations, art and culture. The Northside would come down every once in a while, munch on some croutons and be met with indifference. The Westside, on the other hand, would dress like Wednesday Addams and live in a closet under the stairs.
As a white girl who spent a summer interning at an arts nonprofit on the Westside, I can honestly say it is one of the most culturally significant “sides” of our city. Let downtown be the face of San Antonio. The Westside is the heart. It palpitates stray dogs and poverty, but it also pumps out some of the most beautiful souls and stunning artwork I have ever come across.
Huddled on the corner of South Brazos and Guadalupe streets on the Westside are a few buildings that remain a staple to the artistic integrity of the city. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, currently housed in the Guadalupe Gallery due to sidewalk renovations, has either introduced, showcased or fostered the talents of almost every major Chicano/Latino artist in the United States today.
The center consists of six buildings: the renovated Progreso Drugstore, housing the administrative offices; the Cesar Chavez Education Building; the Guadalupe Galeria containing exhibition space and educational facilities in different art media and the 376-seat, historic Guadalupe Theater.
The original founding artists’ commitment to preserve and promote Chicano art is maintained through the dedication of the center’s staff, supporters and artists.
“One of the main goals of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is to gather our community through art,” said artist, curator and current Executive Director Patty Ortiz. “This includes our immediate neighborhood, artists and the city as a whole. Art has the ability to transcend any boundaries – politically, socially and economically. We hope by infusing art throughout the Guadalupe cultural corridor we may offer opportunities to gather and experience art together.”
One such gathering took place Friday as The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center launched its fall exhibition, “Alternate Currents,” with an opening reception at the Guadalupe Gallery. Curated by Patty Ortiz, the exhibit features work from five local artists: Avi Avalos, Jesse Amado, Ken Little, Karen Mahaffy and Anita Valencia.
Alternate Currents investigates light and the ideas that can arise from it. Given a single suspended light bulb, artists were asked to respond to the object with their own interpretive inventions.
“The light bulb is the metaphor for a bright idea, a eureka moment, the spark of creativity; It is this mental play between the scientific and the artistic that these five artists will examine and show how the dance of invention and creation are but the same,” Ortiz said.
The gallery walls were painted black for the occasion with only the artists’ work to illuminate the space. One of the more notable pieces is Jesse Amado’s “Again,” which features a light bulb suspended by a noose.
The longer title of the piece [“Again, (an action that favors the strangulation of any idea that illuminates a public discussion of intolerance)”] suggests that this is a symbolic action that favors the strangulation of any idea that illuminates a public discussion of intolerance.
The piece’s simplicity makes it particularly impactful, especially given the emotions tied to the presence of a noose alone.
“Untitled” by Avi Avalos transports the viewer to a dreamlike state with a work crossed between jellyfish, chandelier and piñata. The tissue paper from which it is constructed is akin to the celebratory material that lines candy-filled abuse toys at birthday parties everywhere. The long tentacle-like strands left dangling below are much more delicate and ethereal, however. The result is a brightly colored centerpiece of conversation.
“Lotus Blossoms and Butterflies” is a particularly delicate-looking creation courtesy of Anita Valencia. Butterflies made from recycled aluminum cans spiral upward toward a light bulb from a sea of CDs on the floor.
“I live in front of a lake, so I was looking to recreate the reflective surface in relation to the light,” Valencia said. “As an artist what I found most exciting about Alternate Currents was the challenge to create an art installation around a light bulb … given the title, guests should be curious and their concept of what art is, challenged.”
The artists were told they could not use the walls and must incorporate light in a dark space. The result is a collection of work that is both thought-provoking and well-integrated.
Another highlight is a booth in which viewers are asked to sit down and record a response to the question “What is your idea?” As a lover of interactive art, I appreciated this little surprise to participate in the exhibit.
By far, my favorite piece, however, was actually not executed by one of the artists. Upon entering the space, pieces of chalk lie on a platform near a blank wall begging for responses to the concept of ideas. Patrons are encouraged to write their thoughts upon the wall. Local poets took like moths to the light bulb at this chance to focus on words. Local powerhouse and Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center supporter Amanda Flores wrote, “Ideas used to travel in large groups and are what was initially identified by the Egyptians as the SUN.”
All of the walls are painted with this writable potential in the hopes that ideas will spill over onto the surrounding areas, slowly creeping further and further into the exhibit.
Up next for Guadalupe Cultural Arts is the Dia de los Muertos community celebration on Nov. 2 from 6-9 p.m. at the Museo Guadalupe. The free event will feature various art making and calavera painting workshops, traditional dance performances from the center’s professional group, music and puppeteers. Community altars will also be on display.
“I believe art is the part that makes us whole and is the glue that truly connects every kind of person,” Ortiz said.
Guadalupe Cultural Arts therefore becomes a potluck of sorts. The center embraces the children of every cardinal direction, but focuses on the beauty of the black sheep in the family … the Westside.
Melanie Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in professional writing and a minor in anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.