San Antonio gallery Sala Diaz earns hefty grant from Milwaukee's Ruth Foundation for the Arts

Artist-run Sala Diaz's grant totals between $50,000 and $100,000, and it comes while the gallery is in the midst of an expansion.

click to enlarge Visitors to Sala Diaz look at work during the gallery's Kim Bishop exhibition. - Courtesy Photo / Sala Diaz
Courtesy Photo / Sala Diaz
Visitors to Sala Diaz look at work during the gallery's Kim Bishop exhibition.
Founded in 1995 by San Antonio native Alejandro Diaz, Sala Diaz is a grassroots gallery with a reputation that extends far beyond its humble footprint — a slightly rough-around-the-edges duplex in Southtown.

Arriving on the local scene the same year as Artpace inaugurated its renowned International Artist-in-Residence program, Sala Diaz came of age with late local legend Chuck Ramirez as its next-door neighbor — a fairy godmother of sorts who threw many an impromptu celebration in the gallery’s rustic yet incredibly welcoming backyard.

An undying champion of challenging, experimental and conceptual artwork, the gallery hosts world-class exhibitions and has garnered press from the likes of Art in America and UK-based The Guardian along with a growing number of grants.

Sala Diaz’s latest milestone arrived this week in the form of a generous grant from the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Ruth Foundation for the Arts (known familiarly as Ruth Arts). Totaling somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000, the grant is part of Ruth Arts’ Sites & Stewardship initiative, which will divide $1.5 million between 15 nonprofit arts organizations.

Other Sites & Stewardship awardees include the Black Art Library in Detroit, the Noah Purifoy Foundation in Joshua Tree, the Philadelphia Doll Museum and the W.O.W. Project, a community initiative dedicated to growing and protecting the creative culture of New York City’s Chinatown.

click to enlarge Sala Diaz is one of 15 nonprofit arts organizations that will divide $1.5 million from the Ruth Foundation for the Arts. - Courtesy Photo / Sala Diaz
Courtesy Photo / Sala Diaz
Sala Diaz is one of 15 nonprofit arts organizations that will divide $1.5 million from the Ruth Foundation for the Arts.
The fifth chapter of a Ruth Arts program that’s awarded more than $14 million to nationwide arts organizations, Sites & Stewardship has a unique focus on nonprofits “whose missions and artistic activities are rooted in a proximity to place.”

“Our Sites & Stewardship program nurtures the ever-evolving relationships between artmaking and place and the indelible imprint artists make on our cultural landscape,” Ruth Arts Executive Director Karen Patterson said in a press release. “To build this new program, we met with artists, architects, curators, scholars and site stewards whose practices intersect with all facets of the built environment. At once retrospective and forward facing, the program aims to recognize lesser-known narratives amidst a changing and uncertain world.”

Although Sala Diaz’s scope extends far beyond San Antonio, the gallery excels at placemaking and has long served as a gathering spot for the local art community. Importantly, the gallery functions as the anchor of The Compound — a collection of 1920s-era duplexes that were until recently owned by beloved San Antonio personality Mike Casey. Thankfully, the duplex occupied by the gallery and neighboring Casa Chuck — a writing-focused residency housed in Ramirez’s carefully preserved home — was deeded to Sala Diaz before the remainder of The Compound’s duplexes went up for sale in 2021.

During a recent phone conversation, Sala Diaz Interim Director Heyd Fontenot touched on how Sala Diaz falls within the grant’s scope.

“The focus is really on artist communities,” Fontenot said. “And I think that’s actually how they found Sala — because of its long history of being an artist-run space. [We operate on] a shoestring budget. It’s a community coming together to make things happen.”

click to enlarge "[We operate on] a shoestring budget," Sala Diaz Interim Director Heyd Fontenot said. "It’s a community coming together to make things happen.” - Chris Creese
Chris Creese
"[We operate on] a shoestring budget," Sala Diaz Interim Director Heyd Fontenot said. "It’s a community coming together to make things happen.”
Fontenot also pointed out that Sala Diaz is in the midst of an expansion thanks to the acquisition of a second duplex in The Compound — an invaluable gift from a gallery supporter.

“We’re really excited about what’s next for Sala because we’ve had this infusion of funding and we’ve got a new building,” said Fontenot, who suggested the expansion might entail anything from an additional residency program to offices and gathering space. During the conversation, Fontenot also praised Sala Diaz Board President Ethel Shipton for her commitment to the gallery and her concerted efforts to showcase women artists.

Addressing Shipton’s focus on women artists, Sala Diaz Gallery Manager Casie explained, “After everything that happened last summer with women’s rights being diminished, we knew we needed to continue to ensure that women artists have the space to express their lived experiences. With this in mind, we decided to commit all of our exhibitions in 2023 to women artists.”

In addition to San Antonio artist Kim Bishop’s exhibition “Threads & After Shocks” (on view through March 25), Sala Diaz will partner with Texas Woman's University and Texas State University during the National Art Education Association convention to present the work of North Texas-based interdisciplinary artist Nida Bangash (opening Apr. 13). Other artists slated for 2023 exhibitions at Sala Diaz include Mari Hernandez, Alethia Jones, Cristina Cardenas and Kat Cadena.

For more about Sala Diaz, visit saladiazart.org and follow on Instagram @saladiazsatx.

click to enlarge Sala Diaz Board President Ethel Shipton shares a laugh with theater artist Rick Frederick at a Sala Diaz reception. - Facebook / Sala Diaz
Facebook / Sala Diaz
Sala Diaz Board President Ethel Shipton shares a laugh with theater artist Rick Frederick at a Sala Diaz reception.

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