It seems as though I am doomed. As a writer, a poet and occasionally a musician, I am doomed by a cruel fate to repeatedly pair myself with significant others who, by nature, refuse to embrace the arts. These boys will accompany me to First Friday and pout for hours as I attempt to talk of influence and execution. They will deem everything pretentious and attend gallery openings on one condition: an open bar.
Toward them, I am in a constant state of defense. I am forced to confront remarks such as, “Why is this important?” “This is stupid,” “I could have made this,” and in regards to contemporary art, the question is more often than not: “What the hell is this?” Watch this hilarious Portlandia skit for some perspective:
I must confess the task of answering these questions is daunting. I create in syntax and diction and will always be a storyteller first, but here I am, defending the entire art community. It’s true, writing and visual arts are related, but not entirely. They are in the same family but are like cousins twice removed. Visual artists seek to question, not tell. They strive for reactions and live to provoke. Writers explain. Writers comment and participate in dialogue. That being said, I find myself often standing, mouth gaping, eyes glossed over, in front of an installation I have no hope of understanding.
The problem for the general public therefore becomes accessibility. I get the impression that the average San Antonio audience feels as though art is above and beyond their level of understanding. Contemporary Art Month is San Antonio’s response to this problem. CAM is both a month and a nonprofit by the same name that seeks to promote and raise the national profile of San Antonio contemporary art and artists by organizing and facilitating a month-long celebration of contemporary art, including public education programs.
Started in 1986 by Jeffrey Moore, the former director of Southwest School of Art (formerly the Southwest Craft Center) at what is now the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, CAM celebrates their 28th year in operation this March. CAM became an independent project in 2003 and obtained non-profit designation in 2012.
The organization’s purpose is to organize and distribute a calendar of institutional and grassroots contemporary art events taking place in San Antonio during the month, as well as sponsoring a small number of events. This year CAM is partnering with Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Unit B Gallery, Zollie Glass Studio, The Linda Pace Foundation, CHRISpark and Artpace.
CAM has several diverse programs under its sizable contemporary umbrella. The CAM Perennial Exhibition was introduced in 2012, and continues this year with “bite like a kitty,” (sic) curated by Bill Arning, executive director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
This year introduces CAMx (The CAM exchange), an exhibition exchange between San Antonio artists and artists from a rotating sister city. This is a promising initiative that has the potential to raise the profile of individual artists and artist-run spaces in San Antonio and garner interest in our community abroad. The Redbud Gallery in Houston has been chosen as the inaugural partner location. San Antonio artists will exhibit their work in July, and Houston artists Ariane Roesch, Emily Sloan and Kaneem Smith will exhibit at Unit B Gallery, which opens with a reception on March 16, 6:30-10pm, and runs through May 4.
Another dynamic aspect to CAM is their cleverly titled pageant-esque contest, “Miss CAM Antonio.” Despite what the title suggests, you can be of any age or gender to qualify. All participants were asked to post a response to the question “What would you do to promote contemporary art in San Antonio?” on CAM’s Facebook page. Whoever received the most likes wins and will be announced at the CAM kick-off party at Blue Star on Thursday, Feb. 28, from 6 - 9 p.m.
As with most arts organizations, CAM has a small but dedicated core group of supporters including UTSA Professor and masters student Mat Kubo, who also works at Artpace and serves on the CAM Artists Advisory Board. Kubo has exhibited and performed at various CAM events beginning with Blue Star's annual CAM Perennial in 2010, during which he ingeniously set up an exhibit featuring “old fashioned tweeting.” Participants were given the opportunity to type back and forth on vintage typewriters.
Kubo is optimistic about San Antonio’s reaction to contemporary art.
“The public loves art exhibitions and openings, as demonstrated by our First Fridays and Second Saturdays,” he said. “Contemporary art sometimes carries negative connotations, but it’s just a stigma. When you get the public involved and talking with artists, we see our common bonds, and the appreciation and love of contemporary art begins.”
CAM Executive Board Member and Director of Communications at the Southwest School of Art, Leigh Baldwin, expressed a similar sentiment.
“In the last ten years I have really seen the awareness, then support, then love of the contemporary arts scene blossom throughout the city,” Baldwin said. “CAM used to be the only major celebration of contemporary art on the calendar, and now the arts are flourishing.”
David Alcantar, member of the CAM Artist Advisory Board and instructor at The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, is more critical of San Antonio’s reaction to contemporary art.
“I enjoy talking critically about art, and I'm interested in how those ideas manifest. It's wonderful to see when good ideas are given form, but there is a separation between audiences and contemporary art that I think is counterproductive," Alcantar said. "As big as this city is, it should have a thriving art community.”
Moving forward, CAM should concentrate on expanding. Focus should be placed on bringing new artists to the city, sending San Antonio artists out and growing its audience. Contemporary art is a concept even Google has trouble defining, so explaining it to unfamiliar audiences and asking them to actively participate will undoubtedly be a challenge. My hope is that CAM stays open to critique and criticism and continue to grow as an organization.
Baldwin summarized it best, saying, “One of the challenges of such a successful long-standing event is attracting new and diverse audiences. We have a strong core of loyal local supporters, but how do we get the word about CAM out into the rest of country?” It is a good question and I look forward to watching CAM address it.
CAM events and shows to swing by:
- Contemporary Art Month Kick-Off at Blue Star
- Thursday, Feb 28 @ 6 p.m.
- “bite like a kitty”
- Friday, Mar 15 - Sunday, Mar 31
- Ethel Shipton: Moments
- Saturday, Mar 2, 3 - 5 p.m.
- CAMx (Houston): Triple Treat
- Saturday, Mar 16 - Saturday, May 4
- Exhibition and Open House for the Ceramics and Sculpture Graduate Studios, UTSA
- Friday, Mar 22, 4 - 8 p.m.
- Artpace Family Day
- Saturday, Mar 23, 1 - 4:30 p.m.
View the complete calendar here.
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.
Related Stories on the Rivard Report:
Pop-Up San Antonio: The Art of the Moment February 2013
Project Surrender: Letting Go and Moving On February 2013
Legitimizing an Underground Gallery December 2012
Downtown Tuesday: “A Worthwhile Experiment” November 2012