Arts & Culture
The Curator Diaries Week 4: It All Becomes Clear
Published: March 12, 2014
For a few weeks I have been focused on visiting artists’ studios in some attempt to decide what the Contemporary Art Month Perennial exhibition will look like. Throughout the quest I have had the increasingly nagging feeling that I need to know more about the history of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and the community it serves in order to gain some clarity.
So I went to the community, and last week I had the invaluable experience of sitting with community member, longtime activist, founding member of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and accomplished artist David Mercado Gonzales and his wife, Irma. I will never be articulate enough to describe how emotional the experience was as the three of us sat and I listened to David retell every minute detail of the history he holds so dear.
The evolution of the Guadalupe began sometime in the late 1960s. The West Side of San Antonio was no stranger to the mounting socio-political crises that were gaining momentum throughout the states. In the midst of swirling Civil Rights movements, anti-Vietnam protests, desegregation and freedom of speech movements, a grocery story owner by the name of Mr. Calderon began to screen short films in an empty lot across the street from his store on the corner of Trinity and San Carlos. What began as short film screenings and family-style entertainment grew into the Santa Cruz Center. During these early years, a collective of young artists and community advocates was born that would set the stage for visual arts and activism in the neighborhood surrounding what we now know as the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.
What I learned from David is that every story is also convoluted and complicated. While the Santa Cruz Center was the impetus, many of the players changed throughout the 20-year prehistory of the Guadalupe. Artist collectives were formed, moved from location to location, dismantled, shifted focus to other advocacy areas such as physical and mental health issues, and the narrative ebbed and flowed from one path to another. Yet what was most astounding and important to me was that there was always one common denominator within this history: The visual arts remained a strong tool to continuously better the community as a whole.
David recounted stories of how visual arts workshops and community printmaking brought together subsects of economic classes and rivaling gangs. He went on to retell the specific details of how the Guadalupe grew—one historic building at a time—to provide the neighborhood with an outlet that always focused and supported the visual. However, that history began to shift as the city grew, as single member districts were established and as younger generations moved away to pursue higher education. Slowly the torch lost its flame as fewer became available to take up the next cause.
I sat on the edge of my seat and simply listened with only a handful of questions interjected for clarity during our time together. I listened to David recount his lifelong passion for art, his home, his family, and I could feel my eyes welling up as he bragged about his wife who stood by his side through it all. At the end of our meeting it was obvious that David and Irma had affected me more than I would ever affect them, and it was clear that I owed them an exhibition that had their hearts and stories at the forefront of whatever curatorial process would come next.