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Centro de Artes, the Latino arts education and exhibition space located in the heart of the Zona Cultural, will not become the new home for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library Collection, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) announced Friday.
The Latino arts institute, which is operated by Texas A&M University – San Antonio and largely financed by the City of San Antonio, will continue to fulfill its core mission as a Latino arts and cultural center.
The agreement between the City and A&M-SA was reached in meetings initiated by Treviño after negotiations between A&M-San Antonio and the DRT were first disclosed in a July 8 Rivard Report story. The article noted the lack of any current exhibitions even as City funding continues.
Sources in the local arts community expressed concern the university was looking for ways to maintain the annual City funding, which can reach a maximum of $300,000 a year, while discontinuing its support of an active calendar of Latino arts exhibitions. A deal to house the DRT’s substantial Library Collection, some feared, would signal the end of Centro de Artes as a near-Westside showcase for local and national Latino artists.
The Rivard Report article also led to the release of a more robust exhibition schedule for the rest of 2016 and 2017 that had been prepared by Centro de Artes Arts Administrator Joseph Bravo but never approved. Bravo declined comment when contacted.
“Two-thirds of the people in this town identify with that kind of identity, so we need to think about Latino heritage and what that means for a city like San Antonio,” Treviño said in a Friday interview. “We cannot ignore it.”
Treviño said he met with A&M-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson last week, and with Steven G. Olswang, vice president of academic affairs, on Thursday to discuss the impact of having the DRT library at the City-owned building, whose mission is “to facilitate an understanding and appreciation of Latino arts and cultures and their influences on the United States, through exhibitions and related educational programming for a variety of audiences.”
The placement of the DRT library would have represented a fundamental shift of that mission, Treviño said, and given historic tensions between the Latino community and the DRT over its telling of history, placement of the private library that is not open to the public except by appointment in the Zona Cultural would have proven insensitive and offensive to many.
Although the DRT has helped preserve the Alamo, and its Library Collection has grown over the years, many scholars claim that historic Tejano and indigenous perspectives have been excluded or diminished in the narrative.
During the meetings with university representatives, Matson strongly restated her commitment to showcasing Latino arts at Centro de Artes.
“By the end of the meeting we established that (the university) will work to find another solution that does not include the Centro de Artes,” Treviño said, referring to a future home for the DRT collection.
The DRT faced a July deadline for removing its library from the building that housed it on the Alamo premises, and it is now in storage.
Centro de Artes, which was established by A&M-San Antonio in 2012 in the former Museo Alameda, itself a failed venture, is undergoing extensive roof repairs and recently had its HVAC system replaced, all at City expense, conditions that led other arts and museum administrators to say the building is ill-suited to house archival collections.
Through the lease agreement with the City, A&M has been permitted to use the building for a nominal $1 a year rent, and currently receives up to $150,000 in operating expenses and $150,000 in programming expenses. The university is supposed to be using the funding to mount arts exhibitions, which critics say is not happening.
Inactive social media accounts, irregular museum hours, and staff turnover haven’t helped. Lack of money and commitment, in addition to constant waves of renaming and reprogramming have diminished Centro de Artes as an arts destination.
“We need to understand our history, our diverse culture, and embrace that,” Treviño said. “I think that there are opportunities to further strengthen that resolve in the city so that arts and culture, especially Latino arts and culture, are embraced.”
Treviño said San Antonio is on the right track to more fully and honestly embrace its heritage and history with various renewal projects, including the San Pedro Creek Improvement Project, scheduled for groundbreaking on Sept. 8, the newly-recognized Zona Cultural along West Commerce Street, and restoration efforts at the Alameda Theater on West Houston Street.
“These are ways to set the right tone,” he said. “We have opportunities, and we should approach (them) in such a way that it recognizes its people, its diversity, its culture.”
Centro de Arte’s lack of focus, organization, and presence in the city is also an “opportunity” to take a closer look at the root cause and figure out “how we can begin a dialogue with the community,” Treviño added.
“If you want to do things fast, you do it alone. If you want to do it right, you do it together,” Treviño said.
Top image: Centro de Artes is located at Market Square in the Heart of the Zona Cultural. Photo by Scott Ball.