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Arts & Culture of San Antonio

The Art & Culture of San Antonio

San Antonio is Van Gogh, Matisse, Mozart and Treviño. In a historically rich and ethnically diverse city, one would expect to find a vivid tapestry of art, both visual and performing—San Antonio is no exception.

Museums

The McNay Art Museum is set in a Mediterranean-style mansion and has wide-ranging collections, including post-impressionist and modern pieces, theater-centered works, medieval offerings, Native American art and more. The Jane and Arthur Stieren Center for Exhibitions designed by renowned architect Jean-Paul Viguier increased the McNay’s original size by 45,000 square feet in 2008, allowing for more of their highly regarded collection to be displayed. Today, the McNay’s collection includes more than 22,000 works.

The San Antonio Museum of Art is housed in a castle-like building that was formerly the Lone Star Brewery. This museum is noted for its antiquities collections and the 30,000 square-foot Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art—the largest repository of its kind. The Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing offers 15,000 square feet of galleries dedicated to the museum’s Asian art collection that spans nearly 6,000 years of history.

The Witte Museum is San Antonio’s premiere museum of South Texas history, culture and natural science. Located on the banks of the San Antonio River, the Witte offers permanent exhibits that include dinosaur skeletons, cave drawings, wildlife dioramas and several historic homes. Changing galleries include Texas artists, textiles and showcase exhibits. A recent $100 million renovation to the Smithsonian-affiliated museum included major expansions to popular attractions and collections as well as completely new labs, exhibits and galleries.

The Briscoe Western Art Museum acts as an artistic hub for Western American culture and lifestyles. Along with the sculpture garden, the museum’s historic building and location along the San Antonio River offers visitors an attractive campus for exploration. Exhibitions and events include “Women of the West” film series, a public art exhibition and sale, and a North American Indian portfolio.

The Smithsonian-affiliated Institute of Texan Cultures, located in Hemisfair, chronicles more than 25 ethnic groups that made the Lone Star State what it is today. Their stories are told through words, photos and fascinating displays that include eclectic items such as a Native American teepee, an old-time barbershop, a frontier dentist’s office, a town square band gazebo, an African-American sharecropper’s house and even a working post office.

Artistic Havens

Hotbeds of contemporary artistic expression include Blue Star Contemporary in Southtown, ArtPace on Main Avenue, and the Southwest School of Art, a lovely complex built on the banks of the San Antonio River as a French convent in 1848. Throughout the city, galleries abound and offer the serious collector a wide range of styles and topics including Texas landscapes, Latin American folk art and contemporary genres, as well as western and Native American pieces.

San Antonio’s newest contemporary art center, Ruby City, provides a space to experience works by both local and internationally-acclaimed artists. Conceived by renowned philanthropist and collector Linda Pace (1945-2007), and designed by preeminent architect Sir David Adjaye, Ruby City’s crimson-hued building displays curated exhibitions from the Linda Pace Foundation’s growing collection of more than 900 paintings, sculptures, installations and video works. It is part of an arts campus that also includes Chris Park and Studio.

The Tobin Center is a venue that provides a diverse lineup of educational, artistic and cultural performances that align with the diverse nature of San Antonio. Located along the Museum Reach portion of the River Walk, the Tobin has become a central hub for world-class performance as well as for local performing arts groups.

The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center provides a venue for Hispanic artistic endeavors—literary, dance, music and drama. Signature events of the center include a celebration of conjunto music, the San Antonio CineFestival, and a Día De Los Muertos Celebration. The Carver Community Cultural Center mounts a stellar season each year, showcasing performing groups from around the world with an accent on African-American artists.

Centro de Artes is located in historic Market Square, the largest Mexican market in the country. Centro de Artes tells the story of Latinos in America (past and present), while also showcasing exhibits related to Latino food, culture, history, and lifestyle with a focus on South Texas.

Historic Art Districts

Eclectic art districts adorn city streets with legendary histories and cultural offerings. Two must sees for art lovers are La Villita Historic Arts Village and Market Square. La Villita, “the little village,” was one of San Antonio’s original settlements. It became a hub of Texas revolutionary activity in 1835 and 1836. Today, La Villita is a haven for artists and craftsmen selling jewelry, stained glass and other handcrafts, as well as fashions from Mexico and Guatemala. Dating to 1840, Market Square (El Mercado), the largest Mexican marketplace north of the Rio Grande, is a festive combination of Tex-Mex cuisine, music, entertainment, products ranging from pearls to piñatas, and the anchor Centro de Artes.

On the southern tip of downtown, Southtown is a trendy arts community flourishing with individuality. This rare neighborhood is composed of historic houses, converted warehouses, artists’ lofts, shops, galleries and restaurants. Just south of downtown, the King William Historic District reflects San Antonio’s German heritage in a gracious residential area settled in the late 1800s. These beautiful mansions are considered to comprise one of San Antonio’s most treasured neighborhoods. Among them are the Steves Homestead mansion and Villa Finale which are open to the public.

Nearby South Flores Street includes many up-and-coming restaurants, artistic spaces and socialization opportunities. This new and trendy area also includes the Southtown Arts District, which is home to unique art galleries, creative services, museums, studios and more. Here, various art forms are displayed and performed at many of the museums in this district. This area is considered to host the majority of the city’s creative culture.

Legendary Architecture

Explore Spanish colonial architecture at San Antonio’s five 18th-century missions, a World Heritage Site. Among them is the Alamo, which has become permanently etched in the annals of history. In 1836, 189 defenders of Texas independence held The Alamo against some 4,000 Mexican troops for 13 days. Four other Spanish colonial missions founded in the early 1700s form the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park—a marvelous place to explore the city’s roots and Spain’s influence on the southwestern part of the United States. The visitor center at Mission San José is an excellent starting point. Drive from mission to mission or take the Mission Reach portion of the River Walk, perfect for hiking and biking. The Alamo along with the four Spanish colonial missions were collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first in Texas.

Theaters

The opulent Majestic Theatre, built downtown in 1929, is a memorable setting for touring Broadway shows, concerts and the San Antonio Symphony. The neighboring Charline McCombs Empire Theatre reflects the beaux-arts grandeur of the 1920s and hosts touring musical acts and other entertainment headliners. The art deco Alameda Theater, currently under renovation as part of the Centro Alameda affiliation program with the Kennedy Center, will reclaim its status as the centerpiece of Latino arts, culture, and entertainment in downtown San Antonio. The Aztec Theatre is a beautifully restored Meso-American themed masterpiece built in 1926. Today, the facility provides a venue for multi-purpose entertainment and events for the city at large. Throughout the year, LiveNation manages scheduling for the theatre, providing entertainment ranging from private parties to live concerts.

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