The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and Southwest School of Art in San Antonio have announced a merger, with the latter’s campus joining UTSA’s growing downtown footprint. The absorption of Southwest School of Art’s programs, architecture, branding, faculty, staff, and student body into the much larger UTSA system will culminate in the creation of a new, standalone UTSA school focused exclusively on the arts, and stationed at Southwest School of Art’s campus. A letter of intent to proceed toward a master agreement has been signed by both Southwest School of Art and UTSA, according to a Monday press release. The agreement will be considered by the governing boards of both institutions in November, with commencement of the new school planned for Fall 2022.
Southwest School of Art has operated independently since it was founded in 1965, occupying the site of the 19th-century Ursuline convent and academy on the bank of the San Antonio River. News of the merger came as a surprise to Southwest School of Art faculty, staff, and students, according to someone with close personal knowledge of the matter.
“This is a strategic opportunity for both institutions,” UTSA President Taylor Eighmy states in the Monday press release, adding: “San Antonio is the cultural heart of Texas and we are deeply committed to collectively ensuring that this new school is truly interdisciplinary and continues to be a catalyst, a protector and a voice for creative ideas, collaborations and energy.”
The merger will add “6.6 acres of historic structures and downtown properties” to UTSA’s real estate holdings, according to an op-ed by Robert Rivard, stalwart cheerleader of UTSA’s downtown expansion.
“For many years, UTSA and Southwest School of Art have benefited from a strong relationship and a variety of connections,” said Southwest School of Art President Paula Owen in the press release. “This new partnership responds to the societal need for creative problem solvers with multiple skills who readily adapt to the velocity of change in the 21st century.”
The new art school will be situated at Southwest School of Art’s campus and organized under UTSA’s College of Liberal and Fine Arts, which will absorb Southwest School of Art’s long-running Bachelor of Fine Arts program. After an initial transitional phase, the press release states that a “second phase of an ongoing visioning process within the college will further refine the many opportunities to create a remarkable interdisciplinary school.”
In its press announcement, UTSA stakes out a commitment to “honor the vision of the founders of [Southwest School of Art]” by maintaining its brand and named spaces, and preserving Southwest School of Art’s historic buildings in line with Texas Historical Commission and San Antonio Conservation Society guidelines. UTSA also states an institutional commitment to continue the community classes, lectures, exhibitions, and local partnerships that have made Southwest School of Art a cultural lodestone in the city for over half a century. Southwest School of Art’s studio spaces — which include specialized areas for small metals, papermaking, and book arts — will remain intact.
In a FAQ sheet released along with the formal announcement, UTSA contextualizes the addition of Southwest School of Art’s campus as part of its larger commitment to developing downtown San Antonio “as an urban-serving institution,” citing the university’s School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center, slated to open in 2022, and “explorations around charting a new future for the Institute of Texan Cultures” as parallel efforts in the same vein.
Find UTSA’s official announcement of the Southwest School of Art merger here.