Exploring the afterlife of San Antonio’s art organizations


Photo credit: Kate Nuelle

photo by Kate Nuelle

Local art venues like the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) and Artpace San Antonio have been anxious to re-open their doors to the public to ensure that creators and SA citizens alike could re-kindle their passions for art. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in mid-March, local directors at these organizations worked tirelessly towards making certain that their respective venues would operate as best as they could while remote. Once social distancing guidelines and ordinances allowed businesses and organizations to re-open their doors, SAMA and Artpace have both made adjustments to their previous operations and have since opened their doors back up to the public.

Émilie Dujour, P.R. and Digital Communications Manager at SAMA, describes the work that went on during the period of the pandemic where social distancing and quarantining were both very strict.

“You can actually register online on our website and go on different [online] tours and view artist [documentaries] and other stuff. We also created a page on our website that listed a bunch of digital things that people could do,” Dujour said.

Once purely online procedures morphed into work to re-open the museum, workers quickly implemented sanitation practices and hour shifts to invite the public to view exhibits again. In addition to opening the exhibits, SAMA will also be offering daily screenings.

“We train our staff about cleaning highly-touched surfaces everywhere,” Dujour said. We also created a way for our visitors to get their tickets online, so they don’t have to interact with the staff.”

Similarly, Artpace San Antonio worked very diligently to create remote work for employees, interns and artists when the pandemic had first hit. Founded in 1995, Artpace has always operated as an organization that invited national and international artists to reside here in San Antonio, where they can showcase their art. Once the pandemic hit, they were forced to quickly decide how they could continue to support national and international artists.

“We didn’t want to eliminate any opportunities,” said Riley Robinson, Director at Artpace. “[Programs] aren’t canceled but postponed for a year. We simply couldn’t get them here.”

Despite having to postpone many events, the Artpace team worked on ensuring that people could still engage in activities at Artpace during the summer. They offered online exhibits, book clubs and internships for high school and undergraduate students. It was important to them that they still connect with the community.

“We switched to a virtual platform. It was a way to keep connecting with the public and provide some source of educational and art-related material through our website,” said Ashley Mireles, Artpace’s Education Coordinator.

Despite COVID-19 uncertainty, both organizations have seen opportunities to keep some of their new practices in motion to create more accessibility for the public in a post-pandemic future.

At SAMA, for example, virtual programming has provided great opportunities for the public to engage in art and education while at home.

“We want to be able to offer more videos and more digital things online, our social media channels and our YouTube channel. Our mission is to share our collection and to continue inspiring people,” Dujour said.

Artpace has spent a lot of time perfecting their social media outreach as well as their website to include programming that is accessible to those who aren’t able to visit in-person.

“Moving forward, having seen how we’re able to even reach more people through having things like virtual programming, Instagram Lives and other things that our communications team does is really cool to see. We’re able to keep a lot of things going and extend our reach, you know,” Mireles said.

Artists, art directors and other local art workers alike have all been working rigorously to bring art back to the public during a time where community like this may seem lost.

“Artists are resilient. There’s a lot of people in need of help, and frankly, the country is kind of tenuous at the moment. We’ve been working with compassionate flexibility towards our public,” Robinson said.