So how did it come about that a city like San Antonio is the only place in the nation to launch a month-long celebration of contemporary art? It took the City several years to officially throw its weight behind the month through producing a calendar.

We've come a long way. This year the City produced a colorful calendar, a listing that — if not comprehensive — looks like a good attempt, and cost nothing to the various participants to get exhibits listed.

As with all revolutions, Contemporary Art Month is really about the people — a diverse bunch: shop owners along South Alamo, small galleries surviving on hope, the visionary (but initially flat broke — and still struggling) artists who founded the Blue Star Arts Space, and business leaders like James Lifshutz, who developed the Blue Star complex. There has been the burgeoning impact of an active arts program at University of Texas at San Antonio, with teaching influences that range from found-art and whimsy sculptor Ken Little to Dennis Olsen's printmaking excursions with classes in Italy. Elsewhere in town, arts impresarios have established spaces like the Finesilver building and Linda Pace's ArtPace, that serve as windows, if not doors, between San Antonio's often-insular self-reflection and dynamic movements of the contemporary art world outside.

Others have been both artist and impresario, like Harold Wood, who made a fortune through applied art, and has used it to shine a spotlight on San Antonio artists by mounting exhibits at the McNay Museum. Or Robert Tatum, successful but frustrated in popular design, who came to San Antonio to focus on painting and mural making. His is one of a number of flourishing artist-owned venues that offer studio space and comfort to similar struggling souls.

The very notion of putting art into words is an inherent betrayal of its aspect, but that's what critics do, and the wordsmiths that surround art, represented by Frances Colpitt, have been an integral part of transforming San Antonio into a city with a "scene."

Artists and art lovers are like an extended dysfunctional family. They are glued together by the accident of their mutual obsession. Yet they are fiercely independent.

In the following pages we feature an assortment of San Antonio's own. By no means would we argue (see above paragraph) that these select few are the very best. But they represent the personalities and influences that are discharging across our city in a dynamic and dramatic kaleidoscope, one that we celebrate, not just on July 4 — but all month long.

Retha Oliver



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