After more than a month without steady leadership, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center has appointed Cristina Ballí as its new executive director. With 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, a decade in Latino arts programming and administration, and a recent tenure with Austin-based Texas Folklife under her belt, Ballí is poised to breathe new life into the Guadalupe’s programming.
“I am extremely honored to join the historic Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and its dedicated community of artists, staff, board, volunteers, members, and supporters,” Ballí stated in a Tuesday news release. “The Guadalupe’s rich cultural legacy is one I have always admired and have aimed to emulate in all my cultural work. I look forward to serving the community of San Antonio and beyond.”
Ballí, a bilingual cultural arts manager, is no stranger to San Antonio as she earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from Our Lady of the Lake University. A variety of positions in various industries across Texas created the expertise that made Ballí an ideal candidate for the position: she began her career in radio as a producer and operations manager at RGV Educational Broadcasting in Harlingen, Texas, and later was director of the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito, Texas. As a tourism and fund development coordinator, also in San Benito, Ballí oversaw the opening of the Conjunto Hall of Fame and Freddy Fender Museum. Most recently she led Texas Folklife, an organization designated by the National Endowment for the Arts to preserve Texas’s cultural diversity and living heritage, as executive director.
Current Guadalupe board members, executives, and affiliates of the cultural institution agree that Ballí’s entrance comes at a welcome time in the arts center’s development and are thrilled to have her on board. Ballí made a name for herself by increasing visibility through compelling artistic programs in the various organizations she previously led. Most notably, she became an international ambassador of border culture and conjunto music during her time with the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center.
Juan Tejeda, founder of the Guadalupe Cultural Art Center’s Tejano Conjunto Festival, said he’s known Ballí for more than 15 years and has collaborated with her on several projects.
“She brings a wealth of experience to the Guadalupe, both in terms of arts programming and management,” he stated in a news release. “I think she’s the right person at the right time for the center.”
Since Pedro Rodriguez concluded his 15-year term as executive director in 1998, the Guadalupe has had difficulties keeping someone in that role – it has had about eight such leaders, including another interim term for Rodriguez since his departure.
Following former executive director Jerry Ruiz’s “sudden but amicable” exit at the end of July, the Guadalupe board launched a national executive search for a new leader. Longtime staff member Belinda Menchaca and Performing Arts Director Joel Settles helped bridge the gap during that time by serving as associate director and programs manager, respectively.
The Guadalupe produced several successful shows during that interim period, most notably the Guadalupe Dance Company’s first-ever collaboration with world renown bilingual singer/songwriter Lila Downs at Lila Cockrell Theatre on Aug. 26.
Coming up for Ballí and her team are the Dance Company’s Mariachi Festival at the Arneson River Theater on Sept. 17, the Día de los Muertos celebrations throughout the month of October, as well as CineFestival and Tejano Conjunto Festival in 2017.
Guadalupe Board President Celina Peña stated in a news release that Ballí’s expertise will mesh well with the Guadalupe’s mission.
“Cristina’s expertise, passion and commitment in Latino arts and arts administration is clear,” Peña stated. “She comes at a great time for the Guadalupe as we celebrate 25 years of the dance company and raise the profile of CineFestival and the Tejano Conjunto Festival.
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Top image: Cristina Ballí took over as the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center’s executive director on Sept. 12. Photo courtesy of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.