“That’s not a formula, that’s living,” says Andy Benavides, explaining Southtown’s success in fostering a creative community. He is a contemporary artist, entrepreneur and pioneer of Southtown: The Arts District.
His first experiences in the Southtown area were indeed not formulaic. Looking for a location for his frame shop in the early 90s, a friend of his happened to be backing out of a restaurant deal and offered him a space in the building that now houses La Frite. It was from there that Andy witnessed a growing arts community.
Benavides Picture Framing inside 1906 S. Flores. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio.
Knowing how festive the city was, Andy wanted to create something around the arts- not a festival per se- but an event for people to come out and meet artists. With the help of other community members, “First Friday” was born.
It was only a few years later in 1996 that Andy teamed up with famed artist Alberto Mijangos, founder of what would become the Instituto Cultural de México at Hemisfair, to share a studio on Flores and Lone Star. 1906 South Flores would grow to accommodate artists, galleries, a frame shop, and eventually Andy’s family. Seeing a need in the area for a similar artistic platform to First Friday, Andy conceived the Second Saturday art walk. These events have become the longest running art walks in the city’s history.
Showcasing local artistic talent and offering a platform from which artists can achieve success in their discipline, these art walks have become popular, family-friendly mainstays of weekends downtown.
1906 Studio houses houses creative tenants, a frame shop, as well as Yvette and Andy's personal residence. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio.
Yvette Benavides came to San Antonio from the venture capital world to work for the late Linda Pace, a beloved contemporary artist and philanthropist in San Antonio. Pace pursued artistic projects in Southtown, eventually leading to the creation of CHRISpark and Ruby City. This helped to heighten the profile of Southtown and further legitimize it as an arts district. Yvette met Andy at his frame shop while working for Linda Pace. The two energetic souls would redefine what Southtown meant in the coming years.
"These kids are my art form, and it's how I contribute to my community."
A logical step in growing the art community was literally across the road from Yvette and Andy at Briscoe Elementary. With their non-profit, SMART, they educate the students about art, neurology and more.
The program crosses over with international artists in residence at 1906 so the students are exposed to art forms from around the world. “These kids are my art form, and it’s how I get to contribute to my community,” said Yvette on Texas Public Radio’s Worth Repeating.
Years of artistic pursuits color the walls of 1906 studio. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio.
It was only around three years ago that Andy took a step back to see a bigger picture for Southtown. He was looking at a map (one of his self-professed hobbies) when he noticed that five neighborhoods (Collins Garden, King William, Lavaca, Lone Star and Roosevelt), all had budding art scenes, from culinary to performing. Within the manmade barriers of the highways, this five square mile area housed one of the city’s most dynamic creative communities.
Andy saw that these neighborhoods were interconnected by their shared creative energy. Southtown: The Arts District was born. The purpose of the brand is to showcase and connect the creative community in the area.
Through digital channels, Southtown has become a reinvigorated term among San Antonians. Yvette says Burgundy Woods of StyleLushTV, a 1906 tenant, was instrumental in growing awareness of the arts district. People have a clear picture in their mind now of Southtown and its borders. “It takes twenty years to do it,” says Yvette on building Southtown, “You can’t replicate it.”
Andy sketched out his vision for a united downtown area on the blackboard in his dining room. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio.
“The challenge now is the next chapter of this thing we call Southtown,” says Andy. You can see his vision sketched loosely on a dry erase board in his dining room. In the image, Southtown, East Point, Zona Cultural, and the Pearl surround and unify the center: downtown.
“The challenge now is the next chapter of this thing we call Southtown.”
“In ten more years, we’re going to be downtown,” he says. As densification continues in the urban core, Andy sees everyone getting closer together. He sees these corridors into downtown less and less as separate entities, but individual pieces to a complete whole.
Over the years, Yvette and Andy have seen the neighborhood and its iconic art walks go from intimate spaces to attractions where they can go a whole night without recognizing anyone. Andy says he has seen artists grow up since the inception of First Friday.
Just as South Alamo and Blue Star grew together to form an artistic corridor from First Friday, they see now a growth of separate neighborhoods into one center city.
As Yvette puts it, “It’s all one now.”