Back in 2010, Mary Elizabeth Cantu launched Spare Parts in response to a lack of creativity in K-12 classrooms and statewide budget cuts for arts education, among other issues. Over the years, the creative entrepreneur and certified Master Reuser has built her organization into a repository for donated art supplies that get distributed among Bexar County educators via free Fine Arts Fairs. In preparation for this year’s fair, Spare Parts volunteers reportedly sorted through 8,208 pounds of “pre-loved classroom materials” that will impact thousands of students throughout San Antonio.
But beyond all the green fuzzy goodness of its Fine Arts Fairs (not to mention diverting tons of materials from landfills), Spare Parts is a creative entity fueled by truly unique ideas. Founded in the summer of 2013 by Cantu and collaborator/educator Gabriela Santiago, the Spare Parts Mini Art Museum functions as a mobile art gallery that showcases wee works of art (most measure 4” x 4” or smaller) in maquette-type displays that employ hardcover books or binders as “museum” walls. Working with guest curators and celebrated artists (Ken Little, Hills Snyder, Alejandro Diaz, Kelly O’Connor and Vincent Valdez among them) and even taking their shows on the road, Mini Art Museum recently expanded via MAMx — a program designed to broaden its curatorial, artistic and educational reach.
Representing a collaboration with Los Angeles-based artist, activist and former Artpace resident Mario Ybarra Jr. and his esteemed collective Slanguage Studio, MAMx’s inaugural exhibition “Chicos Pero Locos” features 11 California artists in a format that emphasizes “artistic quality over quantity” and invites viewers to zoom in on individual works with a magnifying glass. In addition to the immediate charms of its diminutive size, the group show encompasses a wide range of media (painting, photography, mixed media and even a video piece presented on an iPod) and addresses myriad themes, including low-rider culture (Valerie J. Bower’s Tuesday Night Hop), environmental racism (Eris De La Torre’s Obligatory Reanimation), music and identity politics (Karla Diaz’s Bucket Brigade: Hip Hop Opera Necklace) and transnational violence (Felix F. Quintana’s El Norte y El Sur). After spending a month on display at West Hollywood’s LA><ART, “Slanguage: Chicos Pero Locos” embarked on a weeklong road trip to San Antonio with Cantu and Santiago. With two dogs along for the ride, the duo stopped to stage pop-up displays at five strategic locations — Noah Purifoy Foundation Outdoor Museum in Joshua Tree, Phoenix Art Museum, Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in Alamogordo and the Lost Horse Saloon in Marfa — and also made the most of an an unplanned visit to the Alpine Veterinary Clinic.
Now part of the museum’s permanent collection, “Slanguage: Chicos Pero Locos” makes its official Alamo City debut this Saturday with a reception hosted by Rumble. To complement the works on view, Cantu and Santiago have planned a conceptual performance inspired by their small but crazy journey.