Six arts organizations and 300 artists have joined forces to celebrate San Antonio’s Tricentennial the way artists do – by created 300 new works depicting and interpreting the 300 years of the city’s history from 1718 to today. Called “Common Currents,” the massive six-part exhibit was made possible through the collaboration of Blue Star Contemporary, Artpace, the Carver Community Cultural Center, the Southwest School of Art, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and the Mexican Cultural Institute. A press conference announcing the unique undertaking took place Jan. 19 on the steps of City Hall with appropriate remarks by city leaders, including the Tricentennial Commission’s new chair Cynthia Teniente-Matson, the president of Texas A&M University- San Antonio.

But the first part of the historic exhibit had already opened at Artpace the night before, with nealy artworks covering the period between 1718 and 1767. Each organization was assigned a time period and each artist was asked to focus on a single year of history. What is unusual about Common Currents is that the selection of participants was artist-driven with no curatorial input. The role of each organization was limited to selecting two initial artists, who then each chose two others, and it went further from there. A number of performing artists will present their Tricentennial contributions throughout the next three months.

This process was bound to produce a hugely eclectic range of themes and media and the show at Artpace illustrates that well. From a limestone bas relief of an American Indian By Cody Vance and a simple but effective “Plano de la Poblation” painting by Ervin Raska mapping the San Antonio River to images of the San Fernando Cathedral (Katie Pell) and of “Our Lady of Candelaria,”(Noel Bella Merriam), there is a lot to see and learn. Two stand-alone floor sculptures will inevitably attract attention. Charles Harrison Pompa’s mix-media “well” depicts the river’s native ecosystem in vivid colors while Franceska Simonite’s elegantly restrained piece consists of three curved black metal elements with two glued vinyl prints of church windows shining up at the viewer.

Under the leadership of Veronique Le Melle, Artpace has expanded its mission to include a greater focus in San Antonio and South Texas artists by offering two new residency programs in addition to its internationally known one, established by Linda Pace and the original leadership of the institution. The Curatorial Residency Program brings to San Antonio nationally and internationally known curators for a five- week period during which they are expected to get thoroughly acquainted with the local contemporary art scene by visiting studios and galleries. In return, they share what they have learned   about San Antonio through their writing and commentary. The newest program is called the Performing Artists Residency, open to local/regional artists who will “activate exhibition spaces” by creating a certain number of original performances at Artpace for both adults and families. The first to be hired under this new program is Amalia Ortiz.

“Common Currents” will have its second opening at the Blue Star Contemporary on Feb.1; followed by the Southwest School of Art, Feb.15; the Guadalupe, March 1; the Carver, March 15, and the Mexican Institute, March 29.  (www.commoncurrents.org)
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Photos by Jasmina Wellinghoff (from the top) Ervin Raska – “Plano de la Poblation”; Charles Harrison Pompa – San Antonio River’s Native Ecosystem; Noel Bella Merriam – “Our Lady of Candelaria”