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First Friday Crowd. Photo: Paul Heaston

First Friday Crowd. Photo: Paul Heaston

Most people in San Antonio have been to First Friday. For years, the city’s most recognized venues for contemporary art have clustered in the Blue Star Arts Complex, the center of a tradition of gallery hopping, shopping and pub running.

Last year, this experience shifted dramatically. We began 2012 with the ‘hegemony’ of the Blue Star Arts Complex in full force and ended with a different picture. In March, Joan Grona of Joan Grona Gallery declared she would close her doors at the end of the month. Other galleries followed: Cactus Bra, Three Walls, and Stella Haus would close as well. Jumpstart Theater announced that it would leave the complex soon after. Within a few months, a group of galleries that had produced an energetic aura of contemporary art for art lovers and tourists for over a decade was gone.

Despite complaints in recent years that First Friday was more of a ‘party crowd’, or that Blue Star Arts Complex was just a shadow of what it used to be: an important catalyst in contemporary art production and display, First Friday seemed to be thriving until the developers of the Blue Star Arts Complex property made the decision to go upscale, increasing rents. First Fridays continued, but the only places worth visiting in the Blue Star Complex were Blue Star Art Museum and UTSA Satellite Space. With Sala Diaz and Unit B still working on the First Friday calendar in the area outside the complex, the four institutions are keeping First Friday alive in the eyes of contemporary art.

The Lone Star Arts District

The Lone Star Arts District

But something else was going on: as galleries were closing at Blue Star, other galleries, mostly run by a younger generation, were opening at the Lone Star Arts District. Sean FitzGibbons appointed the Lullwood Group to take over Lone Star Gallery, Comminos Studios opened next door to him, Gravelmouth moved to the S.M.A.R.T. Art Project Space.  Lady Base Gallery opened inside Gallista Gallery, 3rd Space and SOPAC Studio opened their doors, and there are rumors of other galleries who might follow. Many wonder if the Lone Star Arts District will slowly take Blue Star’s place.

2nd satSecond Saturday, the Lone Star Arts District’s own night out, is nothing new. It has been around for about 18 years. One9Zero6 was the first gallery in the area. Then Andy Benavides, Founder of S.M.A.R.T, and Joe Lopez of Gallista Gallery moved in. Benavides participated in the early stages of First Friday in the King William area and after moving to Lone Star he decided to begin Second Saturday. It always played a secondary role to First Friday, but it has been developing quietly over the years. In 2012, when First Friday was still in the spotlight, Second Saturday was already an important alternative event in the city’s calendar with SMART Art Project Space, R Gallery, Gallista Gallery, Fl!ght Gallery, Gravelmouth, Lone Star and Gallista working hard at the production of Contemporary exhibitions.

Will Lone Star Arts District and its artist-run galleries take the place Blue Star Arts Complex? The answer is not simple. Strong institutions in the Blue Star Arts Complex have good artists, the budget for more ambitious projects, and a slight push for a more experimental curatorial approach. You would think that because Lone Star Arts District has more artist-run spaces more curatorial experimentation would take place, but I do not think that is necessarily the case.

Lone Star Arts District has a more laid-back crowd and a more flexible roster of artists. As far as experimentation in production or curatorial projects, their final product is similar to that at other institutions near Blue Star, but they do have a more adventurous approach to the concept of their organizations. Lady Base Gallery concentrates on works by women and LBGTQ artists. The Lullwood Group, curating what used to be Lone Star Gallery, is one of the only art collectives in the city. Gravelmouth provides a space for artists with a street art influence. The galleries in Lone Star Arts District are definitely challenging the boundaries of what should be discussed and of how an art institution should be or can be structured.

So, is the epicenter moving? If you think of how people perceive the art scene in San Antonio, then, yes. It is very common in smaller cities to think of a polarized world where only one alternative is the strongest, but San Antonio should not be like that. Once-secondary areas such as Second Saturday are growing and moving to the spotlight. Hopefully, more options of contemporary art will continue to arise.

The opening of Carlos Donjuan's Dreamers at Gravelmouth

The opening of Carlos Donjuan’s Dreamers at Gravelmouth



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25 Responses

  1. “Hopefully, more options of contemporary art will continue to arise.”

    The Contemporary art scene in SATX continues to gain momentum. Blue Star is metamorphosing, and where it will go in its new incarnation remains to be seen. Of course, the museum and UTSA should continue to be driving forces in the community as evidenced by such exhibitions such as the current “Texas Tough.”
    Viva Lone Star Arts District! Exciting times for the arts in San Antonio – “LAME” has never looked so good!

  2. I don’t remember which San Antonio-ite said it, but “Beat-cops don’t buy art.” I think that sums up First Fridays well.

    There is plenty of Fine-Art in the SA area to have multiple “cool scenes” and multiple weekends for display.

  3. kym

    I remember when we bought that burned out, painted on, chained up old building in 1995. I used to sweep floors and put my furniture in units to try to rent them. To see Bluestar what it is today is awesome. I used to ask James what are we going to do with this? Now I see.

  4. Art Goer SATX

    Blue Star was awesome, then it was not. Then it became awesome again, but not because of the art. Blue Star = trendy restaurants, expensive housing. Lonestar = emerging art scene, not the same old San Antonio artist rotation. It’s refreshing to see a place that doesn’t generate the same 30 artists over and over and over. Bravo to Lonestar!

    Let Blue Star keep doing what actually works for them; restaurants and hipster housing.

  5. Did you mean to say South Flores? There are only two spaces left on Lone Star which might be (and often aren’t) open on Second Saturday for one-day-only shows. That’s why we call it the South Flores Arts District: https://www.facebook.com/pages/South-Flores-Arts-District/600538836657234 And the 1906 building has never been part of something called the Lone Star Arts Complex. Also, it should be noted that the Blue Star Complex recently added Zollie Glass Gallery and the latest incarnation of Hello Studio.

  6. Will E. Fix It

    Comminos is already gone, heads are turning even ever further to the rustic outskirts… past the lonestar hodge podge…better keep up with the changin tide Munoz…trends are hard to follow

  7. The wonderful thing about San Antonio, and one of the primary reasons I came here from New York and have stayed in this marvelous city, is that there is more than enough room for a multi-faceted arts community here – and I have found it to be a very supportive community, as well. The Blue Star Arts Complex certainly has evolved, and now features Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum, Zollie Glass Gallery, Cinnabar, Hello Studio, Robert Hughes Gallery, San Angel Folk Art, and Mockingbird Handprints, among others. The new art spaces in that list are promising additions to the community, and a testament that the Blue Star Arts Complex will continue to foster contemporary art in San Antonio. It all adds up to a diverse, vibrant scene here south of downtown. I invite everyone to join us at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum and the Complex on First Thursday, September 5 and/or First Friday, September 6 to witness the dynamic creative energy that is resonating throughout the entire city of San Antonio!

  8. We would like to be recognized as the South Flores Arts District not the attempt to be marketed after a beer distributor Lone Star. For 20 years we have been building our arts community and have invited, established and supported the fellow artist in our district. We felt it was disrespectful when one of the same artist we led to his property and assisted in arranging it’s purchase decided that he could brand our efforts as the Lone Star District (due to beer sponsorship).

    Our objective in acquiring our property in this lower demographic area was to bring art to the under privileged. No gentrification, no squeezing the artist out of the Blue Star, but purely with intent to share our mediums with community and kids that don’t have art in school. In contrast to this story, the Blue Star is a partner in our efforts on building a larger area for the arts, multiple districts in a 5 mile area of our locations. Arts truly connecting communities and building them at the same time. Now does’nt this make for a better story about the impact artist can have on a city?

  9. Tony Falco

    This is a depressing post; First Friday was once an amazing turn out of a wide variety of folks who live and visit San Antonio. Now, it is a shell of it self. Second Saturday is too big for its britches; for the most part it is a hodge podge of pop up spaces of would be artist and gallerists who have food trucks and dj’s, while some of the spaces work hard on showing great work from all over Texas as well as San Antonio. Anyway, Blue Star and First Friday don’t have the same cache it used to, and this is not news…it has been declining since 2010. Chuck Ramirez had something to do with its previous, strong character and it hasn’t really been able to recover since his passing; there was a charm that he and some others brought to the warehouse space. Bill FitzGibbon’s no doubt did some great things, but it is also evident that he stayed 3 years too long…trying to juggle his own projects didn’t do Blue Star any justice. Change is inevitable, and for the most part good. Second Saturday needs a little refinement to go with its growing popularity or the buzz will die, and Blue Star needs to bring in real Museum quality shows (now that they call themselves a Museum), and not worry about trying to cater to the drunken crowds it used to embrace.

  10. Tony Falco

    Oh, and what is extremely comical is that there is a petty fight over titling… “So Flo Arts District” or “Lone Star Arts District”. Both suck (sorry to insult), so you guys should grow up, and get together on something strong. Competition is good, but division will only weaken you.

  11. I love this area. its refreshing. but what it needs is one big push to get this happening daily. but then again maybe that one big push will also kill it. either way, right now it only belongs to the In Crowd. which is great, but if you want it to grow….. get the lone star brewery up and running… galleries, condos, museum, something

  12. kary

    Sheesh glasstire, can you hire some writers who aren’t hacks? who get their facts right and do their research? in addition to this being old news in SA, this article seems to attempt to sow discontent/conflict. competition can be healthy, and the spaces in the various arts districts continue to grow and change. however, I have to disagree with one of the commenters that a glass store and craft galleries are contemporary art. they certainly have their own scene and clientele, but to lump them all into contemporary art and therefore discourse does a disservice to all. Blue Star has become much more craft gallery oriented now. which is not a bad thing, just a different one.

  13. Haydeé Muñoz De la Rocha

    Lone Star or South Flores, as we can see there is some disagreement, and I agree with Tami and Tony: consensus would be nice. Will, yes you are right, I would like to make the correction that Comminos Studios had its last show on July 13.

    I also agree with Steven, you should all come see what you think of the new spaces in Blue Star and Lone Star. I would love to hear what your opinion.

    Thank you all for your comments, I am happy this article spurred conversation. I think we need more of that too. As I said, I am happy we are decentralizing the art scene and bursting the-one good-place bubble and I hope we do not fall back into that ( so please no hating Blue Star either). I am happy to see San Antonio evolve, but keep in mind that there are so many levels to this conversation and this is just one of them. My next question would be is more better?

  14. As I’ve seen it in my 40+ years of being an artist, first the artists find affordable space in down and out neighborhoods; then the gays follow and begin the resurrection of the buildings with cool clubs, restaurants and fern bars; then the taxes climb sky high and the young professionals arrive to take the studio space to house their ficus trees and claim to be no longer ‘afraid’ of the neighborhood. by that time, the artists have long since been priced out and the gays have found the ‘new place to be’ and the cycle continues.

  15. Mr.Atrox

    This discussion is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the ” arts” in San Antonio- it’s devolved into factions that resemble moron religionists. ..the whole” I’m right and you’re wrong” stance is an old and tired one. Its only art, it is WHAT WE MAKE IT.

    1. Tami Kegley

      Please note, Atrox, this article is nearly 2 years old at this point. Lots of cool things happening in SATX, lots of change, some great, some meh. I disagree with your posit that it has “devolved.” I see lots of like minded folks that are constantly pulling together for the greater community. Contemporary Art Month is a recent example. Get with it man!

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