Read part one here.
As part of an explorative trip to the southernmost part of Texas, Glasstire News Editor Jessica Fuentes and I met with artists, curators, museum workers, and collectors to better understand the needs and desires of the region’s creative community. South Texas contains multitudes; The city of Laredo falls on the U.S.-Mexico Border and sees tens of thousands of people crossing in and out by foot every day. The region also contains the Rio Grande Valley, which features a smattering of small towns, each with their own unique artistic movements and collectives. Finally, Corpus Christi and Rockport, both along the Gulf Coast, have the benefit of tourism in addition to their museum and gallery offerings. I took portraits of the people we met along the way in order to help put faces to the names of those who contribute to the cultural production of South Texas.
Michael Flanagan, McAllen artist
Once we arrived in McAllen, we visited the International Museum of Art & Science, and afterwards consulted with Michael Flanagan about where to eat lunch. He suggested that we meet at a food hall in town where we could get barbecue. We discussed the path of his artistic practice — studying film at UNT and then coming back to McAllen to raise a family. Flanagan has written for Glasstire about ENTRE, a new film center in McAllen, and is excited at the prospect of contributing to the growing artist community in the Rio Grande Valley. I asked Flanagan about interesting upcoming events in the region, and he was kind enough to provide me with this list:
“The 2023 RGV Perennial Art Exhibition will have an opening reception at 6:30 pm on Friday, April 14, in Brownsville at the Rusteberg Gallery on the UTRGV Campus. The exhibition will feature artwork created by the participants of a pair of workshops that were hosted by artists Javier Dragustinovis (Curator of the Contemporary Art Museum of Tamaulipas) and C. Diaz (Founder of ENTRE Film Center). Both artists will give talks at the opening reception.
Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly opened Tuesday, March 7, and will be on view until April 5 at the STC Art Department Gallery Building B. Founding member of the Guerrilla Girls, Käthe Kollwitz, gave a lecture during the opening reception.
The City of San Benito’s Cultural Arts Department hosted an opening reception for Habitar Tierras Fronterizas (Living along the Border) on March 2. The exhibition, originally on view at the Contemporary Art Museum of Tamaulipas, showcases a visual survey of female voices from the southern U.S./northern Mexico region.
The ENTRE Film Center will host a screening of artist Michael Tracy’s 1997 film Culture, Water and Money: The Passion of the Frontier. A conversation and Q&A with the filmmakers will follow the May 2023 screening. The exact date will be announced soon. Follow ENTRE on Instagram for updates.”
Josue Ramirez, Founder of Trucha
We met with Josue Ramirez at the McAllen Creative Incubator, a former library that has been converted to low-cost studio spaces for creatives and is operated by the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. However, the upper floors have recently been rented out to technology companies, and Ramirez has since been preparing to relocate his media organization, Trucha, to another location.
This was one of several conversations we had with local creatives in South Texas in which SpaceX, Elon Musk’s rocket development company, came up. SpaceX announced in August of 2014 that Boca Chica Beach would be the site of Starbase, their next launch site. While covering the social and economic impacts of technology on the Rio Grande Valley is only one part of Trucha’s mission, Ramirez was able to speak to the needs of his community around the subject, reflecting his passion for the Valley. He was intimately knowledgeable about social justice activism within McAllen, as well as the many creatives actively working to produce culture in the area. Trucha regularly publishes news relevant to the goings on in the Rio Grande Valley.
About what he has in store, Ramirez told me:
“This spring, Trucha is excited to offer our community a workshop series led by Trucha’s Cultural Fellow, Lupe Pardo, for a campaign called Roots Break Walls. The purpose of the project is to connect with and explore our metaphorical and physical roots and to tether a connection back to nature and back to the labor of our ancestors and/or the people native to this land.
Through a three-series workshop, Roots Break Walls participants will center stories and physically connect with the soil to recognize the similarities between plant migration and human migration as natural processes. The first workshop was held at the National Butterfly Center on March 11.
At the gathering, we breached the limitations and connected to nature, and put in place and seeded knowledge about our environment. We connected to our roots through an art/poetry exercise on the subject of identity, through conversations on conservation efforts to preserve the local water and flora, and through folk healing methods and remedies.
Activities in future workshops will include using a decolonized apothecary to teach healing, hands-on identification classes to prompt stewardship, and community gathering to celebrate our abundance of life, earth, and community.”
Rachel Comminos, Harlingen artist
Rachel Comminos and her partner Alex Comminos are renovating their downtown Harlingen home, a 100-year old hotel just off the downtown strip. Their space was marvelous, covered in Rachel’s textile works and Alex’s heavily glazed ceramic sculptures. We visited their space during Harlingen’s monthly Art Night, an evening art walk with local vendors which occurs on the last Friday of the month. We huddled around her in her studio space (Alex has a separate woodshop and fabrication workshop in an adjacent room) as she pulled out her colorful, tufted sculptures. I was astounded to meet a couple of artists who had figured out a way to pair their living quarters with ample studio space, and the energy of potential swirled through the hotel during Art Night. Knowing that she must have a lot of plans for future creative endeavors, I asked Rachel to share her thoughts:
“In 2023 I am excited for my partner and I to show local artists at our lobby gallery space. It ties historic downtown Harlingen to contemporary art; art made by local folks. We currently do not take commission from the artists’ sales, to provide them a greater opportunity to earn from their hard work and talents, and know that they’re appreciated by us for sharing their bodies of work with our community. I’m looking forward to keeping open studios during Harlingen Art Night — it gives a glimpse into what I do full-time as an artist. It allows the people in the community to see current works in progress that will go out to shows, and get to know their local creatives. I’m doing exhibitions around Texas, while Alex has been doing great with public commissions — two big ones in 2022! He is always looking for the next public project here and around the Valley to bring more color into our little spot of Texas.”
C. Diaz and Andrés Sanchez, Co-Founders of ENTRE Film Center
My first introduction to Andrés was earlier this year, when fellow Harlingen artist and organizer C. Diaz introduced their creative partner as “Andrew” in a text thread. Andrés quickly added his correction, though he understood what happened: “All good, autocorrect hates me.“
We were fortunate enough to see C. Diaz and Andrés Sanchez twice during our trip: first in McAllen, and then a second time in Harlingen, where they have begun leasing a building for ENTRE, their film organization. I asked both of them about their plans for ENTRE as it’s new space comes to fruition. C. Diaz told me:
“As a programmer and archivist at ENTRE, I’m looking forward to bringing more opportunities for individuals to explore our cultural heritage and personal histories through our open call for home movies, photographs, and memories of Boca Chica Beach. We launched a community archival project titled Boca Chica, Corazón Grande in October 2021, and since then we have been fostering awareness of environmental and social issues surrounding Boca Chica Beach. We are very mindful of the extractive nature of archives, and as an organization we actively combat this by centering and working with individuals from those specific communities. This year, we wish to partner with individuals in the Boca Chica area who can contribute to this project as a donor, narrator, historian and/or archivist. Like many areas of the Rio Grande Valley, Boca Chica Beach hasn’t been extensively documented in our local museums or cultural institutions, especially through the lens of individual experience. Our hope is that this project will fill in those gaps in history, and provide additional perspectives of what life in the Boca Chica community was like then and is now.”
“With ENTRE opening our own space in the spring, our offerings get to open up a lot more. In the past, we’ve stuck to a monthly screening schedule due to having to work with other spaces and their schedules. But now, we get to screen and host things whenever we want! So, one thing I’m particularly excited about is putting some miles on our micro-cinema through an ongoing series of weekly movie screenings. These screenings won’t necessarily come with as many bells and whistles as our other events; instead, they’ll just provide us with an opportunity to welcome people into the space every week to watch something fun and/or interesting that they otherwise may not have access to in a theater environment in our region.
The other thing I’m particularly excited about is a Video Preservation workshop we’re going to host courtesy of BAVC (Bay Area Video Coalition). This workshop will give folks the opportunity to dive deeper into the world of video/videotape and leave with a significantly advanced technical awareness of the medium. These skills are hard to come by for folks who didn’t break into the video production industry in the 80s and 90s, so I feel especially proud that we get to bring access to that knowledge to the RGV.”
William Sarradet is the Assistant Editor for Glasstire.
Wonderful folks, love to see arts in the Rio Grande Valley and frontera highlighted.