With Texas Commission on the Arts slated for destruction in this year’s budget, it’s clear that art advocates are not doing the best of jobs. But that failing is not just a Texas thing. TCA is one of almost a dozen state art agencies facing either serious funding losses or outright dissolution this year. Last Saturday, Step Up for Arts Education, the rebranded San Antonio Arts in Education Task Force, held a free seminar at the McNay that promised to offer alternatives to the usual pro-arts rhetoric.
It has been all the fashion to find excuses for the arts, mentioning that art galleries and performing arts venues attract restaurants and retailers to their neighborhoods, sustaining these sectors with crowds of hungry, thirsty, and fashion-conscious consumers. Everyone has heard the argument, few listen anymore. I mean, do they need art galleries at the mall? Apparently not.
Another tactic is to insist that art is a good thing. That would be fine by me, but the good invoked here is virtuous good, which — as everyone knows — places some on the side of the angels, while other shameful sorts are just bad. Guess what? Telling the guys that prefer following the Spurs with a brew instead of going to an art gallery that they are shits hasn’t worked very well, either.
I thought maybe Arlene Goldbard, who had been brought in to lecture, might know some good lines. Her talk touched on the two failures listed above, but she wasn’t selling soap. No pat answers here. Instead, she insisted that the terms of the discussion must be changed, reframed to find some interest and compassion in the listener. No preaching.
Many art teachers didn’t make the meeting because they had urgent business Saturday morning — finding out if their students had placed in the National Congressional Art Competition, an annual contest open to high school students in each congressional district. The winners go on to Washington, D.C., expenses paid, with a chance at prize money. Placing, even as a semi-finalist, is a big deal. Announcements for the 20th Congressional District under Charlie Gonzalez were made at 10 a.m.
I received a text from Kim Bishop, a Westside neighbor and an art teacher at Brackenridge High School in Southtown. Her students had swept the competition. First place went to Georgina Cortinas (10th grade); second to Guadalupe Barrientos (10th grade); and Chrysanthemum Brown (11th grade) took 3rd place. I don’t think it was a coincidence. Terry Ybáñez, the department chair, and art teachers Stephanie Elmore and Bishop must know what they are doing.
I asked Bishop if the daily paper had interviewed her students yet. “No,” she said. “No one writes about the kids. They never do.” Funny, high school sports are always covered by big media, and everyone loves and supports those kids. Wonder if there is a connection?
Congratulations to the Brackenridge winners, and to all the students who did the hard work and participated. While we at the Current haven’t exactly been running the quarterly honor roll rankings, we’re doubling down this year as the city struggles to identify and implement ideas that work. If you have any student art news you feel strongly about, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll try to fit it in.
For more information about Step Up visit stepupsa.org.