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25th Anniversary Issue

Current 25: Esperanza's fight for arts funding downed spectre of political favoritism

1996-2000

Photo: , License: N/A, Created: 2009:03:02 15:47:36

Graciela Sánchez


“We’ve always been a hub for all these movements, for minorities or any disenfranchised group, and connect them to each other,” Sánchez said. “It’s always been funny to me that we could be seen as threatening, that they would demonize us or be afraid of us.”

In September 1997, the city singled out the Esperanza and the group suffered a near-fatal blow as city funding went from $60,000 to zero.

Sánchez viewed the move as an expression of the national Culture Wars finally hitting San Antonio, a movement that gathered steam between the mid ’80s and ’90s seeking to defund the arts nationwide. At the time, she said, the city’s actions put a chill on city-funded art groups who feared the city could then strip their funding should they ever stray into the potentially controversial territory. “I remember we sued on principal, not really thinking we could win,” she said.

As the lawsuit unfolded, it became clear then-Mayor Howard Peak was helping guide the defunding effort, flaming outrage on the Christian right and garnering support from a network of local conservative gay men, Sánchez said, eventually sealing the defunding deal in a closed-door meeting with the council.

Three years after the Esperanza went to court, gaining national attention along the way, Federal Judge Orlando L. Garcia ruled in the group’s favor, saying that the city’s actions were unconstitutional and that local governments, once they choose to funnel city money to arts and cultural programming, cannot discriminate based on ideology. The decision has been hailed as a pivotal victory for area arts organizations ever since.

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