Common Currents: 300 Artists Celebrating San Antonio’s Tricentennial History

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Emily Fleisher works on a stencil chalk piece. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

Emily Fleisher works on a stencil chalk piece during the Artpace's annual Chalk It Up event on Houston Street in downtown San Antonio.

In celebration of San Antonio’s Tricentennial in 2018, six prominent art and culture institutions will host 300 visual and performing artists who will illuminate San Antonio’s rich culture and history spanning 300 years.

Artpace San Antonio, Blue Star Contemporary Arts, the Carver Community Cultural Center, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, the Mexican Cultural Institute, and the Southwest School of Art, have partnered to present Common Currents, an exhibition that involves diverse artists who have been invited to participate by their peers.

The exhibition begins January 18, 2018 and concludes on May 7, 2018, taking place at all six venues.

“The idea for the show was really born out of wanting to celebrate the Tricentennial year in San Antonio in a positive way that unifies peer organizations that are artistic-centric,” said Blue Star Contemporary Executive Director Mary Heathcott. “We thought the Tricentennial year represented a unique opportunity to join forces and present a larger survey of arts made by local artists.”

Courtesy / Josh Huskin.

Blue Star Contemporary Executive Director Mary Heathcott

Each organization was tasked with inviting two initial artists, Heathcott said, and those artists were then asked to invite two peer artists, and so on, creating “chain letter-inspired” framework for the exhibition with the goal of amassing a total of 300 artists.

“This is the first time in my knowledge that these six organizations have come together for one project, which is really in tune with the Tricentennial: to celebrate our shared identity as cultural leaders in San Antonio,” Heathcott said.

Each artist will be assigned a particular year of San Antonio history from 1718-2018 on which to reflect the development of their artwork. The exhibition will be presented chronologically through a variety of contemporary media across the six venues. Each organization has committed to showcase roughly 50 artists representing 50 years of history.

“The idea is for the project to branch out in a very organic way,” said Southwest School of Art Exhibitions Coordinator Julia Barbosa Landois, “so we’re slowly but surely building our list of artists and the list is being updated daily. We’re hoping to have 300 artists by the end of June.”

To view the list of participating artists so far, click here.

“I’m honored and humbled that I was invited to participate and it’s very exciting because we’re part of creating the fabric of what San Antonio is,” said Jesús Toro Martinez, a local artist who was selected by fellow artist A.J. Rodriguez. “All these artists will really demonstrate the diversity and cultural energy we have in this community.”

Courtesy / Jesús Toro Martinez

Local artist Jesús Toro Martinez works on a piece of art at his studio.

Martinez said he hopes he is assigned a year in history that involves the Franciscan priests who came to build the missions.

“I’m trying to target a mixture of the religious with the indigenous,” Martinez said. “In the work I’m trying to create I want to incorporate dirt from San Antonio, bull blood from San Antonio, and also 24-karat gold leaf. Those are the materials that I’m trying to engage with and my objective is to create something that represents the history but also brings the contemporary part of my work that I normally work with.”

The “harebrained idea” for Common Currents took shape one year ago, Heathcott said, when she met with Mary Mikel Stump, the former director of exhibitions at the Southwest School of art, and discussed the diversity and inclusion debate that ensued during Contemporary Art Month in 2016.

“We reflected on that and how to create an exhibition that limits the control of the organization and build one that is a view of San Antonio but designed by the artists themselves,” Heathcott said. “The only control the organizations have is that they selected the two initial artists to be a part of the mix.”

Landois said that the Southwest School of Art chose two local artists from different generations to start the recruiting process for Common Currents: Ana Fernandez and Gary Sweeney.

“Ana lives on the Eastside and has been doing series since she moved to San Antonio years ago and she extensively photographs her neighborhood and rest of the city mostly at night,” Landois said. “Gary has done a lot of public art and worked with text and postcards, so things about place and nostalgia. [He’s] very irreverent and funny. [Both artists] make work about place and history.”

Blue Star selected Kent Rush, who starred in the organization’s original exhibition 1986, and Yenifer Gaviña Franco, a young artist who is currently in the Bachelor of Arts program at the Southwest School of Art, Heathcott said.

“Rush is deeply rooted in our history … [and Franco] is a young artist …,” Heathcott said, “so stories of Blue Star’s past and Blue Star’s future.”

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