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Art is (Not) Dead: How to not starve as a San Antonio artist

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

The beleaguered French and Michigan gallery space in Beacon Hill

Photo: , License: N/A


So the current-landscape career catch-22 is this: Once a local artist’s career really picks up steam, there’s nowhere to go but lateral, maybe half-steps upward, or else leave town. There’s a void in the middle space, with hardly any jumping-off points between emerging-artist platforms and the kind of professional, mid-career institutions that lead to a bigger profile and, importantly, income. Our professional development and regional/national outreach blows.

I don’t want to bring you down—positive things are happening. On January 6, SAHearts and the City’s Department of Culture & Creative Development, headed by Felix Padron, made a presentation to the Cultural Arts Board, the PDF iteration of which, “Staff Proposed Arts Funding Guideline Revisions,” lays out a civic plan of engagement. The report draws from the SA2020 survey results, analyzes trends in San Antonio art culture (apparently they’ve noticed that “local artists are increasingly engaging in community development and recognized as key to the creative economy”) and proposes higher budget numbers for San Antonio-residing art makers, collaborations and nonprofit organizations participating in creating “a unique work or series specifically created by the artist(s) in order to engage community access and engagement with the arts.” The Department of Culture & Creative Development proposal encourages the use of non-traditional spaces, covers all genres of artistic output and, most hearteningly, proposes grant amounts up to $10,000.

But the public infrastructure, as crucial as it is, isn’t the same thing as a commercial art market and sales to collectors, universities or museums.

I feel semi-crappy even writing this is; after all, what are vulgar mercantilist concerns to a true artist? Isn’t the joy of expression enough? Don’t artists exist outside the realm of money-grubbing? Also, with commerce comes plenty of backbiting, the myriad collateral damages of competition, high stakes for little substance and even conceptual homogenization based on what sells. I went to an enormous art fair in Los Angeles last year that felt a little like Costco, and that was dispiriting. But while too much blatant collector-courting and careerism is a farce, too little is a catastrophe.

Rendered grouchy by these concerns, I scanned the horizon for new galleries, searching for emmerging trajectories. The good news is, they’re out there. I hope enough of them will stay solvent and mature into robust artist-run project spaces, generative collaborations, innovative experiments in moneymaking and even viable commercial galleries.

If you’re an artist, you should put these gallerists and their projects on your radar. If you’re interested in the art scene, check out the projects promoted by these peeps during CAM next month. And if you want to open a commercial gallery, a project space or join in a curatorial collective, pay special attention to the following lessons gleaned from your fellow hopefuls:

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