IN CONVERSATION

Powerhouse Women in San Antonio (Part 1)

Unfiltered SA continues to celebrate Women’s History Month! And what better way to do that than to highlight powerhouse women making history in the San Antonio art community. A recent national survey showed a significant movement toward gender equality in art museums. Women are kicking ass all around the world, and San Antonio is no exception.

The more I heard about these incredible women around town and met them, all I thought was, “Damn, what a badass.” With that, we decided to launch a Powerhouse Women series, celebrating those who are brave, brilliant, and making history in the San Antonio arts community. I am proud to give credit where credit is due. There are so many badass women helping create an equitable and authentic art community, I had to break it up into three parts. Between great advice and vulnerable testimonies, these women share it all. So, without further ado read more about the inspiring women behind the art, exhibitions, public programming, and festivals in our great city. 

Photo credit: Lori Hernandez

Bio: Nicole Amri is the program director of SAY Sí, a national-award-winning creative youth development program. Amri currently serves on local and national committees such as city-wide collective impact initiatives: SA2020 and Excel Beyond the Bell SA and national groups: the ARE (Artists for Racial Equity) Network and National Advisory Committee to the Creative Youth Development National Partnership. Her artwork predominantly explores human rights issues with a focus on interpersonal relationships and societal conditions. Amri received a BFA in Painting and a BA in Communication: Public Relations from University of Texas at San Antonio. She is also a 2006 SAY Sí alumna.

How have you seen the younger generations of San Antonio engage with the arts throughout your time at SAY Sí? “San Antonio Youth Yes! or SAY Sí, is a nationally recognized Creative Youth Development program that has been positively affecting the lives and practices of the creative community for the last 25 years. The students who come through our programs are researchers, storytellers, activists, entrepreneurs, advocates and so much more who share their talents, their voices and opinions and challenge us through their artwork. While inside our doors and spaces it’s easy to see why our students, teaching artists and staff and visiting artists are at the forefront of exploring what it means to be a creative leader.”

Photo credit: Sarah Brooke Lyons

Bio: Kathy Armstrong has served as the Executive Director of Luminaria since 2015, where she is responsible for producing the Luminaria Contemporary Arts festival. The festival is recognized as San Antonio’s showcase for innovative contemporary art, serving over 20,000 festival attendees each year. Armstrong has significantly grown the capacity of the organization during her tenure through her strong artistic vision, team-based leadership style, long-range planning skills, and extensive experience in the arts.

Armstrong previously served as the Director of Exhibitions for the Southwest School of Art, where she curated and presented a wide variety of programs for 15 years. She contributes to the cultural and civic identity of San Antonio through participation on panels, jurors, and committees for other community organizations.  She is currently Board Chair for Planned Parenthood South Texas.

Armstrong’s background includes teaching photography, exhibiting art, and designing historic exhibitions. She earned her MFA from the University of Arizona, where she interned at the Center for Creative Photography, and her BA from Smith College (Massachusetts). Solidly settled in San Antonio since 1996, she has two grown children and a loving partner.

What has been the most valuable lesson learned since the inception of Luminaria? “All art forms are different and all are vital to a dynamic culture. San Antonio’s Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival connects all of the arts in a setting that reaches and inspires 10s of thousands of attendees.”

Photo credit: Andy Benavides

Bio: Yvette Benavides was born in Michigan, migrated to the west coast and settled in San Antonio Texas in 2001. Always living her life by gut instinct, something told her to explore San Antonio’s art scene. She landed a gig at Artpace, then worked closely with an amazing furniture designer and then most importantly met her artist husband which led to owning and running their arts complex called The 1906.  In 2005 Yvette and her husband founded their nonprofit S.M.A.R.T., dedicated to building communities through art. Witnessing first hand how the arts positively impact children, families, and communities and sharing that passion with others is what motivates her. Her inspiration comes from her son Agusto, husband Andy, the community she lives in and the artists and risk takers that surround her.

What motivated you to become a mentor and impact students through hands-on workshops, teaching materials, and art presentation? “When I think of my work and the most impactful thing I do, my most important work is teaching 500 elementary students across the street from my building. To date, we have educated over 3,500 students and built them a studio and an exhibition space. Our goal with Briscoe Elementary is to break down barriers to art and introduce them to different platforms of expression. Lectures are grounded in art history followed by 2 – 3 weeks of intense studio time, and all are tied into their classroom academics. By the time they are in 5th Grade they are studying contemporary art.”

Photo credit: Guillermo Francisco Gaitan

Bio: Sarah Castillo is a Chicana artist born and raised in San Antonio, Texas working in mixed media and portraiture. She has a Master’s degree in Bicultural Studies from the University of Texas at San Antonio, is co-founder of Mas Rudas Collective and Co-Director at Clamp Light Studios & Gallery. She is also the Assistant Registrar at Texas A&M University – San Antonio on the southside! Her artwork and essays have been presented/exhibited at various local, regional, and national arts institutions and conferences and she is also a 2016 NALAC grantee with her first solo show – Chicana Feelings.

What inspired you to create a project that requests the city’s direct support for individual artists rather than having it regrant opportunities?  “The inspiration comes from all of you – artists, artists run spaces, artists collectives, artist/curators, artists/activist, and artist/cultural workers. We are an industry and we are responsible for the vibrancy of art and culture in this city. Our economic impact is not reflected in the funding opportunities we’re offered and we need to take ownership of this issue because our city benefits from our intellectual and creative property. So, with my fearless comadres – Anel Flores, Marisela Barrera, Laura Varela, and DeAnne Cuellar-Cintron; together we strategized a data-driven, mastermind collaboration that could potentially benefit all independent artists. We did not go to art school to just host a workshop and we are not artists, just to hang someone else’s art for a living. We deserve and require direct monetary support in order for us to expand, experiment, and refine our practice so that we can compete and prosper alongside our professional counterparts and this requires the support from our city council, city managers and the artists. With this mastermind collaboration, our strategy includes peer support, and pooling resources to access the right people. So far, we’ve created a proposal that mimics the City of Chicago Independent Artist Grant program. Next step is to get in the ears of our city council. If you are interested in supporting this initiative, please email us at independentartistgrantforsa@gmail.com

Photo credit: Rigo Luna

Bio: Jenelle Esparza is a South Texas native originally from Corpus Christi, Texas. She is a multi-media artist with interdisciplinary practices that include installations in fiber, photography, and sculpture. She received her BFA in photography from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2010 and is co-owner of Presa House Gallery in San Antonio, TX. She was the recipient of the 2015 NALAC (Nat’l Association of Latino Arts and Culture) Artist Grant for her project El Color de la Obra about the interconnected histories of South Texas cotton fields and was the Texas resident artist for the Artpace International AIR in the summer of 2018. She has exhibited nationally and currently works as a Museum Educator of Family Programs at the McNay Art Museum.

How has mentorship guided your career, either as a mentor, mentee, or both? “Lots of folks have been a mentor to me, even if didn’t know it seems mentor-y-ship in all its forms, is crucial. Anyone who has ever helped me with advice, critiques, suggestions, physical labor, etc has been a mentor because they stepped up and I learned something from them. I feel like I’m always learning from my friends and community. In turn, I hope I can offer the same knowledge to others as I move along.”

Photo credit: Ana Fernandez

Bio: Ana Fernandez is a multidisciplinary artist who explores the diverse landscapes of Latino communities in South Texas through landscape painting, portraiture and through her work as a street vendor in her food truck Chamoy City Limits.

What’s the best advice you ever received as an entrepreneur and how have you applied it to your art? “You have to put in the time and focus if you want a good result. Never take a single customer for granted. I treat them all like family. About social media: develop a relationship with your audience. Don’t develop a relationship with the platform. That was the best advice I’ve heard lately.”

Continue reading Powerhouse Women in San Antonio (Part 2) and Powerhouse Women in San Antonio (Part 3).

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