Arts & Culture
Will alternative art return to Blue Star?
Published: April 17, 2013
Two weekends ago, it almost seemed like First Friday was back at the Blue Star Arts Complex. For months, foot traffic at the Complex, which relied on First Thursday and Friday art openings, suffered as its main entrance was all but impossible to access due to construction on South Alamo Street. Another construction project, this one rehabilitating the Complex itself, caused the displacement of several art spaces, diminishing the allure for serious art hounds. When Alamo Street’s blockades are finally removed for good, and Blue Star’s makeover is complete, will the art focus that helped launch First Friday, and cement Blue Star as a San Antonio landmark, return with the crowds? The jury’s still out.
Though the Department of Public Works estimates that the massive Alamo Street project to widen sidewalks and install sewer lines may take until the end of 2014 to complete, Blue Star’s revamping, which started last May, has reached a turning point. Two walkways linking the three long buildings in the Complex are now complete, and there seemed to be an uptick in the amount of people milling about last First Friday. Patrons packed Bar 1919, Blue Star Brewing Co., and Joe Blue’s bar, while Stella Public House, sister restaurant to newly opened Halcyon, hosted a private party — a dry run for the pizza spot’s soft opening last weekend. Galleries, though, are still fewer and further between than they had been just last year.
As of last week, Jump-Start Performance Company received notice that their lease will not be extended. The Overtime Theater already relocated, faced with losing half their area in the new build-out. Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, UTSA Satellite Space, and a few resident photographers and painters still mount shows, but Stone Metal Press closed. Joan Grona Gallery, a professional operation representing local and Texas artists, shut its doors last April when Grona segued to working as an on-call art consultant. Three well-known alternative art spaces dear to the San Antonio arts community — cactus bra SPACE (the oldest continually operating artist-run space in the city), Three Walls Gallery, and Stella Haus Art Space — had to vacate their premises for the construction to begin. Though promised new locations once the dust settled, new leases have yet to be finalized.
With the Complex’s first anchor tenant, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, long-standing Blue Star Brewing Co., and the Complex itself sharing near-identical names, there has long been confusion whether the project that began with a renegade art show 28 years ago would find its final allegiance with art or more prosaic commerce.
In the beginning — 1985 — the dreams were big, when developers Hap Veltman and Bernard Lifshutz partnered to buy a plot of out-of-date warehouses on the west bank of the San Antonio River in the King William neighborhood in Southtown. Veltman, who had a special affinity for the river, had pioneered restorations of historic buildings downtown, and saw possibilities for bringing back the old district in Southtown, too. A year later, when the curator of contemporary art at San Antonio Museum of Art lost his job, a planned exhibition of local art was cancelled, but the artists simply relocated.
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