Talking with Roberta “Nina” Hassele, Executive Director of Contemporary Art Month, San Antonio

by Colette Copeland March 1, 2023
Video still of three people's legs

Ana Testas, “La Llegada,” Saint Mary’s Hall, CAM San Antonio Student Film Festival.

I met Nina Hassele last month while in San Antonio for my Artpace/Glasstire collaborative micro-residency. We immediately connected over art and mutual artist friends. Her passion for art, arts advocacy, and life is contagious, and I could have spoken with her for hours. We decided to continue our conversation over email, talking about the San Antonio art scene and Contemporary Art Month’s upcoming initiatives in March 2023. 

Diptych of a bus window and a field with a mexican flag

Melissa Gamez Herrera, “Maquila Workers 12,” on view in the CAM Perennial exhibition at Trinity University.

Colette Copeland (CC): Nina, you have been the Executive Director of Contemporary Art Month since 2011. Twelve years is a long time in any position. However, the fact that that the entire board is volunteer reflects the dedication and commitment of both time and energy. In our lunch conversation, you shared your interesting, non-traditional and circuitous journey that brought you to this position. Please share some of your story with our readers.

Nina Hassele (NH): When I moved to Texas at the end of my 20s, I struggled to find work in Austin. At every interview I was told I was under-qualified and over-educated. The headhunter I was working with asked me to scale down my dress attire to slacks and a blouse from skirt suites, and also to scale down my resume. Much to my surprise, it worked and I landed an amazing job as a rookie sales representative in the construction industry, renting and selling scaffolding, swingstages, industrial forklifts, and boom and scissor lifts. I was one of the first outside female sales representatives in the San Antonio/South Texas market. In my first year, I closed my first, almost two-million-dollar sale that led to my move to San Antonio, helping pave the path for other female outside sales representatives in the local construction market. I continue to have a love for scaffolding and will forever love cranes. 

Portrait of a person with a small three dimensional house as a facemask

Juan Carlos Escobedo, “Facemask and Fitted Jacket,” on view in the CAM Perennial exhibition at Trinity University.

When I moved to San Antonio in 1998, I was desperate for art, as it has always been an instrumental part of my life since I was a child, growing up in Brooklyn, New York. The Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Public Library were my salvation during my youth. First Friday during Contemporary Art Month was my first art experience in San Antonio. Back then, CAM was happening in July, which had been the original month for CAM when it kicked off in 1986. After many First Friday art adventures, I began to know and become friends with local San Antonio artists. The first piece of art I purchased locally in San Antonio was from Kristy Perez. I started off volunteering at key CAM events, which eventually led to my position today. I have always had the leadership bug, possibly due to being an older sister to two brothers, or maybe because of the wonderful lifetime of encouragement from my Grandmother Paula. 

Video still of a woman fainted on a couch

Cira Garza, “Swallowed,” SAY-Si, CAM San Antonio Student Film Festival.

CC: Contemporary Art Month was started in 1986 by the director of the Southwest School of Art and Craft, and became an independent project in 2003. It is a month-long celebration of the arts and artists in San Antonio that takes place every March. How is CAM different from other arts initiatives in the city?

NH: Contemporary Art Month is an all volunteer organization. We do not have any paid employees. All of our funding comes from the support and love of the arts from our CAM Board, and friends and supporters of CAM. We have applied for grants in the past. In a thousand ways, as board members in all-volunteer organizations, we are grassroots leaders, “keepers of the art spirit” upon which so much of community cohesiveness and art growth happens.

Portrait of Nina Hassele in front of a jungle background

Nina Hassele

CC: One aspect of CAM that really excites me is bringing arts to non-conventional spaces and venues throughout the city, which expands the traditional art audience. It also brings art to communities that might not have access or feel comfortable visiting a large art institution. What are some of the projects scheduled for this year?

NH: We are excited for this year’s Student Film Festival, curated by CAM Executive Board member Sarah Lasley, which is an amazing selection of submissions from four different campuses — NESA at Lee High School, Saint Mary’s Hall, SAY Sí and Communications Arts High School at TAFT. We will present our very first Student Film Festival CAMMIE Award this year at our CAM closing event on Friday, March 31 at the gallery Space C7 from 6 PM to 9 PM. We are also partnering with Sala Diaz for an arts community gathering on Sunday, March 19 at La Zona from 6 PM to 9 PM. 

Red, green, blue and purple sarape with tassels

Violeta Garza, “Dona Sedona,” on view in the CAM Perennial exhibition at Trinity University.

CC: You also have a grants and writing fellowship initiative that started in 2021. Please share more about that opportunity. 

NH: In October 2021, during a road trip to Amarillo for the AMoA Biennial 600: Justice • Equality • Race • Identity exhibition, I was enjoying coffee with two wonderful women in the arts. One immediately agreed to sponsor one of the grants and the writing fellowship. The CAMGrant is generously supported and funded by female patrons of CAM. This year we are excited to announce that we will be offering three micro-grants to support contemporary artists living and working in San Antonio, each in the amount of $1,000. Being able to offer this opportunity to our amazing arts community truly fills me with joy, as this is something I had wanted to offer through Contemporary Art Month for years, and I am so happy to see it come to fruition. As I am known for hashtagging, #happyisgood. 

Work with text and hollywood images

Gary Sweeney, “Kaldric Dow,” on view in the CAM Perennial exhibition at Trinity University.


To learn more about Contemporary Art Moth, visit the organization’s website.

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