Twenty-five years ago, artist and art teacher Donna Simon brought 12 high school students to the renovated Blue Star complex to start a pilot arts program. Today, the thriving SAY Sí creative arts program has found a permanent new home in a 98,000-square-foot building on the city’s West Side, quadrupling its existing space.
“I really think that this is a change-making time for the organization, but also for our community and for the West Side, and for San Antonio,” SAY Sí artistic and executive director Jon Hinojosa announced to a group gathered at the South Brazos Street building, which had been a San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) Operations Center.
Dignitaries, board members, former and current students, arts leaders, and members of the media gathered Tuesday morning for a festive announcement inside the building’s raw warehouse space, which will be renovated for the program’s use. The project will cost $20 million, $9.4 million of which has been raised.
“We’re really excited to to jump in and support and collaborate with all these amazing organizations that are always and have been doing good work on the West Side of San Antonio,” Hinojosa said.
“It’s where all the creativity happens. It’s the heart of our city,” said Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5), in whose district the nonprofit educational program will reside. T-shirts emblazoned with “78207” were given out as gifts, along with a student-created poster honoring the organization’s new neighborhood.
SAY Sí has outgrown its current location in a 24,000-square-foot former brewery and office furniture warehouse on South Alamo Street across from Blue Star. Last year the organization agreed to sell the building to Blue Star Complex developer James Lifshutz for $4.8 million, Hinojosa said.
The organization will lease back its space on South Alamo while the new space undergoes renovation, which is expected to take a year.
More space will mean more students participating in the program, Hinojosa said. While serving more than 200 students annually, the program is at capacity and recently had to turn away more than a third of applicants. Also, in addition to its current offerings of visual arts, media arts, theater, and new media, three new programs will be added: culinary arts, digital music composition, and journalism.
Lead architect Gensler and landscape architect MP Studio will redevelop the former warehouse into a multifunctional facility, with classrooms, gathering spaces, media rooms, art galleries, a theater, a kitchen, and an outdoor garden that will supply food for a planned culinary arts program restaurant. Gensler met with SAY Sí students to learn how they will use the facilities, then designed around their ideas, said Gensler project manager Efrain Vergara.
Half of the project’s funding will be from private sources, with the other half coming from a combination of public resources. Public funding will include tax credits, $1 million from Bexar County, $3 million from the City for infrastructure improvements, and what is essentially a $1 million in-kind donation from SAHA for the building, which was sold to SAY SÍ for $2.2 million instead of its market value of $3.2 million.
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Founding board member Mike Schroeder helped start the program to counter the loss of the arts program at Brackenridge High School. He said he could not have envisioned 25 years ago how much the program would grow. Responding to a poster reading “Dreams are the seeds of change” decorating the announcement podium, Schroeder said, “It’s such an important [idea]. And it just leads to the future.”
Angel Garza, a 41-year-old advertising executive, was part of that first class of 12 students in 1994. He credits his success to the SAY Sí program helping him realize his dreams.
“Dreams are brought up by the nourishment of your community,” he said. “Dreams are not just your dreams. It’s a community’s vision, and that’s how everything gets nourished and flourishes.”