Commentary: Why the Guadalupe Was Right to Say No

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Ay, Guadalupe. I heart you (again).

Damn, CAM. I love you, too, but: Hey Baby, Quê Pasó?

The Guadalupe Cultural Art Center made the right decision to pull out of the 2016 CAM Perennial. In taking this stand, the Guadalupe has opened the dialogue about the BIG issue in the San Antonio arts scene: the lack of diversity in our cultural spaces –a dialogue that has been brewing in San Antonio for chingos of years. (Ask the person next to you for a translation of chingos, if needed.) It is a necessary dialogue that has claimed space on the national cultural scene, too. (Gracias, Virgencita, for Hamilton: An American Musical.) I am a working Latina (theater) artist in this town and I know how hard it is to get a little esquina for my work.

I am relieved the issue of diversity in our cultural institutions has finally arrived to the forefront of arts dialogue in San Antonio. Let us continue the dialogue. We need it. Unfortunately, the downfall is that the current GCAC/CAM onda places an arts organization of color against a mainstream arts organization. No one wants that. Right?

There are good people on both sides.

GCAC gente rightfully claim authority to their gallery walls. I would not have even wanted to attend the proposed CAM Perennial with six female artists and no Latina representation at the Guadalupe. The Guadalupe’s job was not to change the curatorial scope of the show, but to direct it from the beginning. In this case, the objective of claiming space is having artistic oversight of that space. Had the show continued as scheduled, my gut reaction would have been: Chale. Why didn’t the Guadalupe demand Latina representation? Right or wrong, I would not have blamed the curator, I would have blamed the Guadalupe.

CAM folks have an established track record of inclusion. Yes? They offer diverse programming through both institutions and independents. Very cool. And their leadership is diverse. But they did not think carefully about the importance of diversity in their signature show. Diversity wasn’t an issue in their past Perennials, because it was there.

The issue here is about claiming space, and the Guadalupe’s leadership put some huevos behind a renewed commitment to the importance of their mission: It is not just a statement. It is action. The Guadalupe’s job is to “cultivate, promote and preserve traditional and contemporary Chicano, Latino and Native American arts and culture through multidisciplinary programming.” The question of diversity is relevant. If our arts organizations of color are not leading the way to diversify, who will?

Over the years, the Guadalupe has survived chingasos from the artists it strives to serve. But one thing is certain: if you are a Latinx artist based in San Antonio, you have a relationship with the Guadalupe.  You have been through its doors, taken a seat, the stage, or a place on the wall. Drank a Tecate in the lobby while debating how the Guadalupe is doing or not doing its job.

I have come back around to loving on the Guadalupe again. I hope the loving and the dialogue continues.

*Top Image: Various works of art by Latina artists located in San Antonio. 

Related Stories:

Guadalupe Backs Out of Art Month, Cites Lack of Latina Artists

Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center to Revitalize Progreso Building

Guadalupe at 35 Years: Jerry Ruiz Brings Fresh Perspective

Contemporary Art Month: 30 Years Later

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

19 thoughts on “Commentary: Why the Guadalupe Was Right to Say No

  1. I Totaly agree with the GCAC’s move to reject this years CAM exhibit. Back in 1985 when it was almost impossible for me get work as a Latino commercial photographer in San Antonio the Guadalupe gave me an opportunity to be there staff photographer. GCAC Curator Kathy Vargas gave me my first opportunity to exhibit my artwork the same year. Fast forward 30 years later and my artworks are in the collection of the Nationl Portait Gallery in Washington DC. and in many other museums and collections. If I had not been given these opertunites by the GCAC I doubt I would have come this far as a Latino artist. Thank you Guadalupe for helping me find my way as an artist.

  2. The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is entitled to control its own space and walls, no question, no argument.

    However, when filling in check boxes becomes a primary condition for a show, great value is lost. Is the GCAC and its ED proper or reasonable in this demand? When they curate their own show(s) they can do mostly as they please. When they turn down CAM, a major SA event, they obviously no longer intend to serve citywide, diverse needs. This, after all, is an all-female show.

    It is time for GCAC to quit receiving taxpayer funds and if they truly wish to make their point they should return taxpayer funds received for 2016. You shouldn’t have it both ways.

    • the real point here is…when an agency receives taxpayer funds, be they local or federal…the product outcome of the agency should reach and reflect the community it serves…san antonio is not 100% non-latino or female…

  3. Mr. Rendon,
    Times have changed. This is NOT 1985. And The Guadalupe is NOT the same place. Nor is San Antonio.

    It IS time to reassess the role of critique of “latinos/as (whatever) in relation to standards of quality within the “big picture” of the art world (people of color, after all wanted to be a part of it and shape it). Hispanic artists HAVE been given the “boost” they apparently felt they needed to be in the same playing field with much funding from the city and support of from us..not to mention the upheaval on the Westside to accommodate non-profit). Now it is time to “embrace” critique….on the art.

    Ms. Barrera,
    Entree based on ethnicity and gender is sexism and racism. The art MUST be resonant, relevant , and authentic in relation the the artists experience and /or expression of culture and society. I suggest the critique begin with authenticity of cultural experience. This may well be the arena (my observations) where the quality fall shorts where Lantina/ (x or not) art work is concerned. A lack of internal critique is another sphere that should be explored (I cite your editorial as an example). In fact, it is the Guadalupe that has developed a track of exclusion. No dialogue…just are you Lantina(x,y,z whatever) and can say “chingazos” in public in an apparent attempt to BE ethnic. Wow…but way NOT the Westside code with regard to social respect. It is evident you have not grown up in the barrios of San Antonio (or have gone to college and leaned how to politicize an ethnic facsimile).

    To the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center,
    Diversity includes ALL people. Be very careful you do not become a protective shield for those who feel the need to “piggy back” off the authentic experience of others (for example, gente, the people of the Westside/Southside community). Critique is THE essential process of the art world and could readily reveal this weakness. Perhaps this is the underlying reason why you have made the decision to withdraw rather than face the issues begin presented to you?

    • Why do you assume that because a curator is white and/or not local that this person is unable to discern the qualities that make “good art” or would exclude artwork based on ethnicity?

      As well, why do you assume a “loca Latina” has some inherent ability TO discern good art and COULD curate a cohesive show that makes a relevant statement about contemporary art?

  4. Ms. Barrera, what do you mean by “the lack of diversity in our cultural spaces”? Where have you been for the last 30 plus years? I’ve witnessed and experienced anti-raza racism in San Antonio, and I’ve watched the city-funded/sanctioned “cultural” life get to the point where bad artists can get rubber stamped affirmations because they’re appropriating the culture of real raza. The fact that you can get away with appropriating Spanish words that would never be published if they were in English if proof of that. Your rhetoric is just a lighter shade of brown.

  5. The Guadalupe’s current exhibition features three Latino/a artists and two white artists. We do not seek to exclude any one, but we do expect Latino/a artists to be represented in an event we are hosting and donating the space for. That’s simply staying true to our mission. To say we have reached a point where culturally specific institutions are no longer necessary is to be in denial of reality. Case in point, a show of local San Antonio artists without a single Latino/a in it.

    • Once more, this may be due to the quality of the work, as suggested by a juried show, and not exclusion due to ethnicity. Denial may be a factor in not understand this possibility.

  6. This has been buzzing around the arts community with all kinds of valid opinions and arguments, this, in my opinion is a important issue and I think should have been written a more informative and serious manner with a little more respect, so it doesn’t get passed off as entertainment.

  7. What I gather, from my partial view as an outsider who appreciates both The Guadalupe and CAM, is that communication was incomplete on both “sides” of this impasse. Perhaps the professional decision would be to go forward with the exhibition, with immediate attention paid to the misunderstandings via in house conversations between CAM and GCAC — then moving directly from this to the public dialogue as currently planned and evolving. And throw in as much forgiveness and reparation as it takes.

  8. The two questions which remain unasked and unanswered are:
    1) who was in the pool of artists from which the guest curator chose her studio visits and
    2) which artists’ studios were visited?

    Cherry-picking potential participants by CAM to achieve a given result always is a possibility. The curator may have been directed or misled only towards a preselected group. However, the show’s concept of artists exploring ” hybrid and the real/unreal” is the very stuff of Hispanic/Mexican/Chicano/Latino Arts. It is mathematically impossible to think that any cultural professional (especially from Colorado) living in this early 21st century would have such a blind eye to the dynamic local artists in our community.

  9. Interesting conversation.
    No one is entitled to space.
    Organizations control their own space.
    Exclusionary (or check box) space needs find its own support/funding and expect nothing from the City or County at large.

  10. This is a bit unrelated to the issue, but I’m not thanking the Virgen for Hamilton the musical until the prices for tickets drop. Latinx theatre on Broadway is still theatre for the elite. (This is yet another reason why theatro is needed at the Guadalupe. Thank you Jerry Ruiz and Joel Settles for bringing it back!) #iamnotthrowingawaymycash #whenpocartsdoesnotservepoc

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