Home Arts & Culture Artists, galleries, museums turn innovative during COVID-19

Artists, galleries, museums turn innovative during COVID-19

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SAY Sí board member Kelly Kljajic donates toward the Southtown art organization’s art-kit supply drive for elementary and middle school families. SAY Sí plans to make the drive an annual event. Courtesy photo

Many South Side artisans, museums and galleries struggling during the ongoing pandemic are finding creative ways to stay connected with audiences.

Take local artist Jesus Toro Martinez. Before the outbreak, he showed his works at exhibits in Mexico City, New York City, Austin and elsewhere.

He regularly hosted Second Saturday Artwalk activities in his Lone Star Art Space studio, which provided a main source of revenue.

“We would see about 500 to 1,500 individuals on any given Second Saturday event,” Martinez said. “It was alive and hopping with live music, a DJ, and lots of art goods made locally.”

The coronavirus crisis, however, prompted the closure of nonessential businesses and venues, plus restrictions of large public gatherings, for weeks or months on end.

To give the creative community a helping hand, the city authorized $2.6 million in federal relief funds for local nonprofit arts organizations and individual artists.

District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño has proposed creating an Art WORKS program, suggesting the city boost its public-art investment by collaborating with builders to possibly accommodate public art at new developments.

Treviño said public art could enhance a community’s culture and economy. According to the COVID-19 Impact Survey for Artists and Creative Workers, more than 60% of these individuals nationwide have become unemployed, and nearly 100% endured lost income.

“Whether in the form of murals, sculpture or functional art, (art’s) existence in public places adds vibrancy to cities and strengthens community bonds,” Treviño said. “Public art also provides jobs.”

Artists and their associations may benefit from other relief efforts, including a Facebook page encouraging support for local artisans: www.facebook.com/groups/supportartistsinsanantonio.

Martinez said times are rough for creative outlets.

“Now, everything has stopped. My art studio is closed to the public,” he said. “Art patrons and friends call in and set up an appointment to come by to see me or my art.”

The spread of COVID-19 has suspended monthly First Fridays in Southtown and Second Saturdays in the Lone Star neighborhood. In addition, special occasions such as Fiesta and Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival are canceled this year.

Artists are developing different ways to express themselves and market their creations.

Martinez has resorted to virtual showings and much self-promoting.

“For now, my 2020 exhibit calendar is canceled or postponed,” he said. “Every day I say thanks be to God for having another day as a gift of being alive without COVID-19.”

Martinez is reeling since his Paris-based art dealer, one of his biggest patrons, died from the virus.

“They were selling my smaller paintings to tourists on a regular basis. Today, I rely on hope that soon we will all be back together again, doing the things we all love,” he added.

Museums and galleries, too, have adjusted to a “new normal.” Area institutions such as the San Antonio Museum of Art, Briscoe Western Art Museum, and the nonprofit Blue Star Contemporary all installed safety and cleaning protocols to accommodate a limited number of visitors.

Still, most special events and regular public activities at these venues have been postponed or canceled. Briscoe personnel experienced layoffs.

When Blue Star closed its Southtown gallery to the public, staffers kept patrons and other audiences engaged with digital material featuring art-making lesson plans, “The Artist’s Digest” video interviews, virtual exhibit walk-throughs, and an online artists’ resource center, plus more opportunities.

“Thanks to this content, we have seen an increase in activity on our social-media accounts, thus continuing a relationship and dialogue with our community,” Blue Star Executive Director Mary Heathcott said.

When the studio reopened to guests in early June, it waived admission fees in lieu of donations.

Blue Star also went a different route to organize its Red Dot Art Sale, an annual major fundraiser.

The sale/exhibit, which began Sept. 23, features a virtual augmented reality experience enabling users to feel like they’re inside the gallery. Viewers also can remotely browse artwork for sale.

“Due to the nature of the pandemic and the rise in cases in San Antonio, we have not been able to enjoy the same attendance numbers as in past summers,” Heathcott said. “However, we remain committed to our community and know we will continue to be a safe space for our community and an important part of San Antonio’s creative community in the years to come.”

Similar to Blue Star, SAY Sí went virtual with one of its fundraisers, the Small Scale event, where more than 150 creations were auctioned online.

SAY Sí also has given back to the neighborhood, accepting art supplies and monetary donations to help distribute free art kits to local schoolchildren and their families.

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