A Brilliant San Antonio Rebirth: the Reopening of Centro de Artes Gallery

Centro de Artes Gallery reopens with exhibit that celebrates San Antonio’s people and explores cross-cultural identities


Amanda Sellers/The Paisano

Paintings and sculptures by Ernesto Ibanez

The lifeblood of San Antonio has exhaled a breath of fresh air into the art community after a very long pandemic hibernation. After being forced to close its doors for almost two years due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Centro de Artes Gallery returns once again to delight San Antonians with remarkable art installations. Located at Historic Market Square, Centro de Artes Gallery stands proudly with its colorful walls and grand glass windows that bring in the warm sun and a welcoming atmosphere, making it the perfect place to spend the day with friends and family. 

The gallery reopened with the “New York Foundation of the Arts (NYFA) Immigrant Artists Mentoring Program – Round 2,” which features multi-disciplinary works by 34 local artists living in San Antonio and representing 12 countries. The exhibition is inspired by the NYFA Artists Mentoring Program, which pairs emerging first-generation or foreign artists with experienced artists for mentorship, development and encouragement. (https://www.nyfa.org/professional-development/immigrant-artist-program-iap/). The mentees are not only instructed on topics relating to artistic expression, but are taught business skills, how to read contracts, meet deadlines and more.

The exhibition deals with a great amount of themes ranging from cultural diversity, immigration to the United States, family history, living in poverty and cross-cultural identities. The pieces showcased are both beautiful as they are grim. Some pieces show love for home life and family, magical depictions of long-gone ancestors, dreamy landscapes and idealized worlds. Meanwhile, others reveal nightmarish depictions of immigration and abandoning home, social and racial discrimination, and feeling lost under America’s much-celebrated “melting pot” analogy. “NYFA Immigrant Artists Mentoring Program – Round 2” is an exhibition that people from all walks of life can identify with. 

This is currently the second circulation of the exhibition that began in 2019, but by the time Centro de Artes Gallery was supposed to host the second round, the gallery was forced to close their doors. Now, after a great deal of effort not only from the mentees and mentors — but the Department of Arts & Culture of the City of San Antonio, San Antonio Arts Commission and the Centro de Artes Committee — the exhibition has finally come to be. The Centro de Artes, in partnership with Blue Star Contemporary, SAY Sí and the San Antonio Museum of Modern Art, has organized a diverse range of pieces from multiple communities in San Antonio in conjunction with NYFA to implement the mentorship program. 

The Interim Director of the Department of Arts & Culture, Krystal Jones, expressed her profound care for the exhibition. Jones went on to explain what makes this exhibit special to San Antonio,“I think that what I love the most about this exhibit, I mean, there’s many things I love, I should say that… [I love] that it speaks to the power of San Antonio; how if there’s a will, there’s a way. We don’t shy away from hard work, especially when it’s something that we’re very passionate about. And we’re very passionate about keeping this space in art, an art gallery and also making the show go on, getting the exhibition together.”

 Jones went on to show her appreciation for those involved in organizing the exhibition, “Everyone from the guest curators, the artists, [art] installers, our team worked overtime to get it done because we believe in this space. And that’s what really speaks to the power of community.” 

Luis Valderas is a San Antonio-based visual artist, who is very active in the local art community. Valderas serves as a board member and mentor for the NYAF and was one of the guest curators who organized “NYFA Immigrant Artists Mentoring Program – Round 2.” Valderas elaborated on the importance of the exhibition in regards to San Antonio’s artistry and culture.

 “…It’s not just a pretty art show. It’s an art show that has some meat behind it and some wrestling. So, it’s a world-class exhibit as well… One of the most important reasons why the NYFA reached out to create this program here in San Antonio was to begin planting a seed that allows institutions to continue this [exhibition] for a third, fourth year. And that’s just a matter of time. What happened was that COVID got in the way and now it’s time to get started.” 

“What a wonderful way to open up the Centro de Artes, a place with so much history. A place where so many people have fought so hard to make sure that it becomes the jewel [of the city]…” admired Valderas. 

Both Jones and Valderas had expressed content with this exhibit being the one featured for the reopening. When viewing the exhibition, it’s made clear that the exhibit’s themes of cultural diversity and tumultuous life experiences match perfectly with the stories Centro de Artes Gallery has been showcasing since it’s been established. It’s comforting to know that just like the art on display, the people who worked behind the scenes paid so much attention to detail in order to make both the exhibition and the reopening of Centro de Artes Gallery possible.

Below you can read commentary on pieces featured in “NYFA Immigrant Artists Mentoring Program – Round 2.”

“Gilbert,” Francisco Cortes, 2021 – Photo print (Amanda Sellers/The Paisano)

Through the lens of Francisco Cortes, we are reminded of the stagnant realities for low-income neighborhoods; how their survival through these “unprecedented times” has once again beat the odds. The community itself is still hanging on in the midst of a global pandemic, but still finds the small things to continue working for. In Cortes’ “Gilbert”, a haggard man, perhaps drained from a day of work, sits for a moment to catch his breath. The Virgin Mary is poised overhead, looking down on him, in what is maybe a visual metaphor for the community as a whole: living their daily lives in hopes that their faith and trust in God and each other will watch over them and guide them through hard times. Cortes illustrates the simplicity of going through the motions of living, and suggests that we are all stronger than we think. 

Left: (“Family Tradition,” Brandy Gonzales, 2015 - woodblock) Right: (“Made with Love,” Brandy Gonzales, 2016 - woodblock and serigraph with graphite)
Left: “Family Tradition,” Brandy González, 2015 – woodblock Right: “Made with Love,” Brandy González, 2016 – woodblock and serigraph with graphite (Amanda Sellers/The Paisano)

Brandy González suggests to the audience the strain of living with family and the lengths we may go to to keep our own peace. “Family Tradition” and “Made with Love” illustrate a woodblock print of a table full of homemade food, a conventional symbol of the ‘family tradition’ that we’re all familiar with. The same print of the same table is depicted adjacent to “Family Tradition” except with splatters of red paint, indiscriminately covering the table, hinting at the unadulterated violence of the love family can sometimes inspire in us all, something that can be a universal experience for everyone. González mixes traditional symbolism with a modern perspective on the filial duty that we are all sometimes obligated to take up. There is no better portrayal of the changing status quo for family bonds than what González has displayed with this installation. 

With this exhibit on display at Centro de Artes, San Antonio can now breathe a sigh of relief, with the future of a new generation of local artists on the horizon. Centro de Artes is currently open to the public and completely free to attend. “NYA Immigrant Artists Mentoring Program Exhibition — Round 2” will be on view until July 3, 2022. Centro de Artes Gallery is open to the public Wednesdays through Fridays, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m, and Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the exhibition, click here.