Public Space, Public Speech: Plática y "Sticky Fingers"

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning


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1. San Antonio Free Speech Coalition Community Plática at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

Here's the flyer for this past Saturday's Plática (discussion) at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center

I went to this, and it simultaneously heartened me and pissed me off. Kudos to Esperanza for bringing in this panel and for taking on this issue, in general. And kudos to the crowd, which was large, diverse, spirited, and focused.

Here's a very bad photo of the very good panel:

From the left, they are Michelle Garcia (journalist and correspondent for NPR's Latino USA and the Washington Post, among others, and documentary filmmaker, with San Antonian Laura Varela, of the upcoming Tell Them Who You Are about Tejano family history and the Border Wall, also my roommate at UT and good friend for many years, and moderator of the discussion), Genevieve Rodriguez, Rosa Rosales, Maria Berriozabál , Roberto Lovato, Amy Kastely, and TC Calvert.

Part of the crowd:

You can find Greg Harman's back story rundown on the local issues this plática discussed, in case you haven't been following the story yet, here.

But, in extremely broad strokes: In 2007, the City of San Antonio passed a parade ordinance which severely restricts public demonstration and gatherings, mainly by charging a METRIC SHITLOAD of money to any group looking to gather on our public streets. Some groups are merited a discount, though, or aren't charged anything at all, to wit: Spurs parades, Fiesta events, and certain other (undefined) “First Amendment”- protected peeps. While I love both Fiesta and the Spurs, the irony here is that either the NBA or NIOSA could afford the parade fees. It's would-be protesters who are both: a. more likely to be charged big fees, and b. are least likely to be able to pay them.

â?¦Like, say, the San Antonio Free Speech Coalition, which formed to oppose the ordinance. Or the estimated 18,000 protesters who marched from Milam Park to the Federal Building on April 10, 2006 to protest H.R. 4437. (Indeed, one of many interesting points brought up by panelists is that the parade ordinance may in fact have been COSA's reaction to the '06 anti-anti-immigration protests.)

Other important and troubling issues covered in the panel discussion included the endangered public space in San Antonio, the many prohibitions on free speech (and skateboarding) in Main Plaza, and the terrible fear that working-class families have of being arrested and losing their jobs, especially in the current economy. Roberto Lovato spoke very eloquently of the Internet as a modern-day “Commons,” in which free speech and publicly-held space mirrors the public spaces set aside in 17th Century Britain.

However, as Rosa Rosales asserted, there's just no substitute for face-to-face, in-the-streets activism, an assertion for which she drew crowd applause and a spirited statement from an older gentleman in the audience, who started the audience-question portion by saying that we've been trained through the erosion of our civil liberties to be afraid of our government, but that “they should be afraid of us!”

2. “Sticky Fingers” at Lone Star Studios

From Epseranza I went to the complex at 1906, where I looked at friend/ Current art contributor Beto Gonzales's “Tru Hustla” show at Fl¡ght, which I highly recommend.

Then I went to Lone Star Studios nearby, where TOKYO (aka Wendi Kimura) and SHEK (aka David Vega) had curated this show:

You should definitely go check out their Flickr page for more and better images. It was a mind-expanding show of graffiti art, a lot of it very funny and exuberant despite being marginalized as all get out. In addition to the amazing art piecesâ??TOKYO/Wendi's piece was among my faves, called “Konnichiwa”, here:

I love that wood grain..

“Sticky Fingers” also featured a slab of public installation wall upon which artists had tagged and placed “slaps” (stickers), like so:

There was an overriding theme of nametags, ironic and provocative given the semi-anonymity/ subversive notoriousness of graffiti artist identity.

I got the chance to have a chat with SHEK, who despite a recent collaboration at Unit B Gallery with Alex Rubio, is ever mindful of the risks and limitations on this living, breathing form of public discourse. SHEK gathered artists from all over the country for “Sticky Fingers,” who traveled to San Anto on their own dime to participate. One such collaborator, an East Bay wrier/painter who goes by IKSO, has had both gallery shows of his work, and has been incarcerated for it. And SHEK told me how he's frustrated by the lack of access to art world institutions and set-aside public spaces, which leads to the impression that graffiti/tagger art is necessarily criminal and gang-affiliated. He drew my attention to the young hoodie-clad dudes in attendance, many of whom clutched “black books,” sketchbooks in which they display their artwork, and which act as a kind of underground social yearbook, artists tagging each others' pages as sources of communication, inspiration, proof that they've met each other, exchanging ideas. This is heartening.

SHEK is a San Antonian, loves his city, and doesn't want to leave it. And he sees hope in the simple fact of having been able to provide gallery wallspace and a social nexus for this art, which in other communities in America and around the world, is finally beginning to get noticed in a serious, critical way.

Here in San Antonio, however, graffiti's still a felony in many cases (meanwhile, driving while intoxicated often isn't!). And while SHEK allows that unbounded writers tagging property is problematic, the overall conservatism of San Anto's handling of free expression affects discourse. If art ONLY equals crime in so many contexts, how can it be expected to flourish?

As in the parade ordinance framework, it seems to come down to money; San Anto contains a blooming cross-pollination of ideas and expression, but we've got a long way to go in order for the ideas and concerns of those without enormous financial resources to truly flower. Here's hoping that public forums such as the plática and Lone Star's “Sticky Fingers” engender further conversation.

The next day, I wandered around the Missions area, pondering San Anto public spaces and the potential hopes of river development. I'm going on a river development tour tomorrow morning, and will continue with those thoughts here after I go.


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