Amada Miller stood at the entrance of The Upstairs Studios at the Blue Star Arts Complex wearing a yellow cardigan and a soft expression on her face. She opened the door for me and I followed her into the studio space.
The walls are sparsely decorated, white with touches of color from spilled paint. Miller's studio space was scattered with art supplies, paintings and drawings, her graphite self-portrait and abstract paintings hung on the wall.
"Sorry it's such a mess," she said as she moved a bag to one of the corners of the room. I didn't mind, the space felt comfortable.
Miller is one of the co-directors for The Upstairs Studios, and she, along with Artpace Assistant Curator for Education Taylor Browning, are revamping the space to create a more gallery-type environment. Until about two weeks ago, the same artwork had hung on the walls of the studio space for a couple of years. The 13 artists who inhabit the space haphazardly hang artwork on the walls when they find a spot that fits their work.
But two weeks ago, all artwork was stripped from the walls so that a contractor could get a better feel for the space. Some walls will be painted, other walls will be torn down, all to create a more fluid environment for the artists and their artwork.
Miller said the new space should be complete by September's First Friday. She and Browning will host an opening exhibition that night, and from then on host exhibitions every two months.
The exhibitions will feature three or four of the in-house artists, providing each artist the chance to show their work three times a year. Spectators can come to The Upstairs Studios, browse the space, and meet the artists in their natural environments.
"It’s a contemporary art setting where you can look at this wonderful art and then walk into the studio of the artist who created it, and meet them, and talk to them, and find out more about what their process is and what inspires them to create the art that they are making and showing up here," Miller said. "I think that is a really cool thing that not a lot of institutes are able to provide."
Miller came to San Antonio from Austin about five years ago. She didn't arrive with the idea that she would be working at an art gallery, instead, things just happened to fall into place. In March of 2012 she started Hello Studio on the Southside. At first she showcased her friend's work, but then she branched out to artists in the community and beyond. Blue Star property owner and developer James Lifshutz stumbled upon Miller's gallery and invited her to rent a space at the arts complex where rent is less than $1 per sq. ft.
Miller said San Antonio's art community fosters a family-like environment, a notion that is apparent in The Upstairs Studios. Children roamed the gallery as people went in and out of their studio spaces, stopping to speak as they passed one another in the hallway, many of whom have worked side-by-side for 20 years or more.
“Taylor and Amada will help us create, maintain, and market The Upstairs Studios as a branded destination, active with working artists, frequent exhibitions, and quarterly workshops," Lifshutz stated in a press release. "They collectively bring energy and talent ideal to execute and manage the improved vision of The Upstairs Studios.”
Miller said much of the artwork that comes out of The Upstairs Studios is the artwork that decorates Blue Star.
"The main thing that we are really trying to do is make people aware that this space is changing," she said, adding that she hopes the renovations will drive more traffic to Blue Star.
*Featured/top image: Children create art in a studio space at Blue Star Arts Complex. Photo by Joan Vinson.