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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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.