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What kind of performing arts center does San Antonio deserve?

San Antonio has cultura but no place or money to see high-quality theatre. (See my story on the Panza Monologues in the next blog). And very little discussion about WHY this is happening. (See the blog after that)

Intro: This past May 10th, 2008, the City of San Antonio approved a gigantic Bond Package that included 100 million dollars for a Performing Arts Center at the Municipal Auditorium downtown...I've heard the Mayor say he wants Opera (which I love too, but chinelas...) BELOW IS A POST FROM PABLO MARTINEZ, POET AND CULTURAL ACTIVIST (with my edits):

In 2000, I returned to San Antonio after 14 years in New York City, where I worked at the New York Philharmonic and two major arts funding agencies. Not long after my return, I had lunch with a high-ranking city official. As we talked about San Antonio's future, he observed that the city was nearing the threshold of immense change. "We can go in either of two directions," he speculated. "We can become another party town, like New Orleans, or we can go the way of San Francisco." As I read recent accounts of downtown bars buying larger quantities of beer to meet customer demand during the Final Four and Fiesta, the path we've taken became abundantly clear.

The suggestion that the proposed center be self-sustaining -- without any public support -- reveals the planners' naïveté. This country's genuinely great concert halls receive enormous sums of public subsidies from local, state, and federal agencies. What narrow information are San Antonio's leaders relying on when they make these myopic pronouncements?

However, if the building is to live up to its populist name, the Bexar County Performing Arts Center, then its board members, administrators, and funders must do everything in their power to ensure that the Center is accessible to all of Bexar County.

Without public subvention, San Antonio's hall will be denied the validation of funding agencies such as the National Endowment for the Arts. In other words, it would be viewed as non-competitive in the eyes of nationally recognized arts professionals who help determine the NEA's yearly allocations. (Most NEA grants require evidence of diverse community support.)

According to the Managing Director of Fort Worth's Bass Concert Hall, it will take 300 programmed dates a year for San Antonio's hall to be profitable (the use of such language by local leaders suggests a weak grasp of the not-for-profit art sector's standards and practices). Let's see...filling 1,500 seats for 300 events a year comes to a total of 450,000 seats annually. Half-filled houses for the San Antonio Symphony's dozen season concerts do not augur well for a heavily booked house. Does San Antonio have enough deep-pocketed enthusiasts to fill the hall 300 nights a year -- supporters who would also continue to attend other local performances?

There is also the utterly disturbing but distinct possibility that the Center will serve to expand the already wide gulf that exists between San Antonio's haves and have-nots. By erecting a lavish hall that showcases Eurocentric art forms (symphonic music, opera, and ballet), we make a bold statement: we aspire to world-class status, but only when it's defined in entrenched, divisive terms. (Either that, or we're the West, as the new, centrally located museum will suggest to tourists.) The hall will stand as imposing evidence of San Antonio's insistence that we privilege certain cultural expressions over others.

Photo Credits:
"Electricidad," a Teatro Visión production, San Jose, California, directed by Mark Valdez (and written by Luis Alfaro)
(The play was also performed here in San Anto at the San Pedro Playhouse, directed by Marisela Barrera - but I am a fan of Adelina Anthony, (Stanford Ph.D program/activist/playwright/perfectionist) who played Electricidad in San Jose, and she should perform here regularly - besides, she's a native of San Antonio)


Ellis Roberts said…
These are links to Attic Rep's blog regarding a forum theater project that was recently produced in town. I hope you can visit these links:

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