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25th Anniversary Issue

Current 25: New plans and fine memories for a growing Blue Star


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Hitting their 25th year anniversary along with the Current this year is Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, which began its reign as the center of Southtown arts when an exhibit of contemporary SA artists was booted from SAMA and relocated to the building that now houses the Art Center. The show, held in July 1986, was the inspiration for Contemporary Art Month. A quarter century later, moving is in the plans again.

The Blue Star complex, owned by developer James Lifshutz, is expanding south along the river to include the site known as Big Tex, which will be rebranded as part of Blue Star. Lifshutz has agreed to give the Art Center a 12,500 square-foot footprint on which to build a new two- or three-story facility, which, says Blue Star Contemporary Art Center Director Bill FitzGibbons, “will enable us to significantly increase our studio space, our education program, and give us a space for an auditorium for proper musical presentations and artist lectures.”

The Big Tex site has recently been given a clean bill of health by the EPA after the agency spent over a year on asbestos abatement.

The changes will take place over a three-year period. Last month, the first open discussion of plans was held at Blue Star to allow public input. The new development will include a parking garage and both residential and retail space.

Regarding the process of utilizing public input to create the plans, FitzGibbons told the Current, “We were born out of the community as an artist-run space in 1986. It started as a grass-roots driven organization by artists for artists. So we need to be very respectful of that heritage. Blue Star wouldn’t be Blue Star without community support. We are not sitting on a large endowment that allows us to go forward alone. We have to have buy-in from corporations, individuals and artists, and educational facilities. We have had a great relationship with high schools in the SAISD.”

The capitol drive for expansion of the Art Center includes a $15-million campaign, a third of which is slated to be used as a fund for operations.


Gene Elder remembers early days at Blue Star

You were property manager at the Blue Star complex until 1995. How did the Blue Star complex happen?

As I was told by Wade [Strauch], Happy [Veltman, Jr.] was driving around in 1985 on July the Fourth, and they had been looking at the run-down warehouses on the other side of King William, and King William was just pulling itself up and starting to look good. So that’s what he decided that he wanted to do was buy it, and it was on the river, so it all made sense to him. So he and Bernard Lifshutz bought it. Bernard was usually the money man when he and Bernard would do things together. I think they had decided to make it sort of a designer center, but then the economy collapsed.


In July 1986, the first art show happened in what became the Blue Star Contemporary Art Center. The exhibit had been scheduled for SAMA, but was cancelled. How did it move to the old warehouses?

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