The Chicano art networks established in Texas during the mid-1960s were part of a larger effort by Mexican-American literary, theatrical, and visual artists to foster Mexican-American aesthetics and venues. The networks were independent coalitions aligned philosophically with the Chicano movement, which emphasized cultural identity and political activism. In Texas the networks sprang from the artists' commitment to record their historical experiences in an Anglo environment. They composed in Spanish and caló (an argot; see PACHUCOS), worked independently of the mainstream, and employed American Indian, Spanish, and Mexican perspectives in their work. Visual artists presented their art in posters and murals and believed such representational works were the most direct form of communication with their people.
Networks operated in distinct ways. Writers helped launch the Chicano Literary Renaissance in Texas by forming publishing collectives. These collaborations were limited by costs, but they produced important books. For instance, in 1976 poets Carmen Tafolla, Reyes Cárdenas, and Cecilio García-Camarillo, the first editor of Caracol, an important journal of the renaissance, jointly published Get Your Tortillas Together. Cárdenas and Tafolla later received awards in Texas and California, respectively, for their poetry. In 1977 Caracol published NahuatliangDoing, a book featuring twenty-three writers, more than half from Texas. The journal had called for poetry written in Spanish and English, as well as in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Chicano Artistas Sirviendo a Aztlán of Austin developed 'TA CINCHO (1977), which spotlighted fifteen poets and an art piece called Huelga ("Strike") by Amado Peña, who later won national acclaim for his silkscreens. In 1978 CASA joined Tejidos, a literary journal, in producing Encuentro Artístico Femenil. This book emanated from an event at Juárez-Lincoln University on November 28, 1977. Both the event and book featured female writers associated with CASA and visual artists involved in Mujeres Artistas del Suroeste. Nineteen woman poets, musicians, painters, photographers, and other visual artists appeared in Encuentro. Literary networks also organized public readings, art exhibitions, and musical performances. During the 1970s the plays Festival de Flor y Canto and Canto al Pueblo were performed in Texas and elsewhere. Anthologies featuring the writers involved in the festivals often were the only means for new writers to appear in print. Collectively, the anthologies contained works by writers who formed the nucleus of Mexican-American literature in the 1980s and beyond. Canto Al Pueblo, for instance, featured novelist Rolando Hinojosa-Smith and poets Evangelina Vigil and Abelardo Delgado, all of whom later achieved prominence.
Less is known about the Chicano theater networks. Five groups thrived: Chicano Arts Theater and the Teatro de los Barrios, both of San Antonio; Teatro de los Pobres of El Paso; Teatro Chicano de Austin; and Teatro de los Malqueridos (Theater of the Abhorred) of Mercedes. These groups were affiliated with the Teatro Nacional de Aztlán, a national organization of Mexican-American theaters established in 1971 in California. Theatrical companies also tried to establish a "federation of Tejano theaters." In July 1978 they hosted the annual national Chicano theater festival in San Antonio. (see MEXICAN-AMERICAN THEATER.)
When the Chicano art movement emerged, museums, galleries, art schools, and university art departments were Anglo institutions that preached the gospel of "art for art's sake." Artists were encouraged to produce a universal art with minimal references to time and place. Form was emphasized over content, which was trivialized (in the case of Pop art) or banished altogether (as in Minimalism). Some artists explored media emphasizing content, but most schools and museums pronounced the political themes of Chicano art provincial. Latino artists in the Southwest and elsewhere established art groups and cultural centers to publicize their work and ideas. One of the earliest groups was formed in San Antonio in late 1967. At different times it used the names Los Pintores de Aztlán, Tlacuilo, and Los Pintores de la Nueva Raza. It offered lectures on design and Chicano sensibility. Its exhibitions (1970, 1971) were among the earliest to feature Chicano art. In 1972 Los Pintores de la Nueva Raza reorganized as Con Safo, named after an expression on murals and other works that requested respect for Chicano art. Con Safo organized several exhibitions, including one that visited colleges and universities in Michigan in the spring of 1972. Con Safo broke up in 1975 following internal dissent over the definition of Chicano art. One group argued that Chicano art should not function solely as an "artistic arm of any political ideology," and formed Los Quemados ("the Burned Ones"). Con Safo was short-lived, but it enhanced the reputations of many of its members, who included Melesio Casas, Felipe Reyes, Santa Barraza, Carmen Lomas Garza, César Augusto Martínez, Carolina Flores, and Amado Peña. Other art networks active in Texas included the San Antonio art group Ladrones de la Luz (active ca. 1979) and the Austin groups El Grupo (active ca. 1967), Chicano Artistas Sirviendo a Aztlán (active ca. 1977), the League of United Chicano Artists (middle to late 1970s), and the Mujeres Artistas del Suroeste (1977 to the mid-1980s).
Some Chicano art groups used their programs and centers to affect their communities. San Antonio's Community Cultural Arts Organization, for instance, a city-funded agency established in 1979, produced more than 200 murals by 1992 at public-housing projects in the West Side barrio representing Mexican and Chicano history. Led by Anastacio "Tache" Torres and Rudy Treviño, who worked with students and former students from local high schools, the organization also operated a truancy program. The Performance Artists Nucleus, Incorporated, formed in San Antonio in 1979, spearheaded the reconstruction of the West Side's historic Teatro Guadalupe, which opened in 1984 as the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. In 1992 the Teatro Guadalupe was one of the largest Latino art organizations in the nation. The center sponsored programs in visual arts, music, literature, film, theater, and dance. It offered classes to the public and published Tonantzín, a periodical filled with artwork, literature, and listings of cultural activities. The center's eclectic, multidisciplinary approach was dedicated to community education and enrichment. Other organizations included Mexic-Arte (founded in 1984) and Galería sin Fronteras (1986) in Austin, the Instituto Chicano de Artes y Artesanías (1972–74) and El Centro Cultural de Aztlán (early 1970s) in San Antonio, the Southwest Chicano Art Center (middle to late 1970s) in Houston, and the Xochil Art and Culture Center (late 1960s-1989) in Mission. La Peña, established in Austin in 1982, hosted literary, musical, and visual-arts events without the benefit of a center.
Chicano artists used exhibitions to share their work with people in the barrio and to legitimize their efforts nationally. Early exhibitions were modest affairs at community art galleries, colleges, or art centers. Pamphlets contained artists' statements and a checklist of works. In 1973 art historian Jacinto Quirarte published Mexican American Artists, an overview that prompted a traveling exhibition featuring their works. A Mexican-American art exhibition also took place at Trinity University in San Antonio in 1973. An accompanying symposium attracted artists and historians from around the nation. It received extensive media coverage and helped form a national network of Chicano artists. More ambitious exhibitions followed, such as the Festival de Flor y Canto and Canto al Pueblo celebrations. In the late 1970s Chicano art emerged as a national force. Corporations such as Illinois Bell Telephone and Exxon sponsored traveling exhibitions that opened museum doors to Mexican-American art. In 1977 the National Endowment for the Arts formed a National Task Force on Hispanic Arts to gather information on the movement and seek ways to support Mexican-American arts. Tejanos Luis Jiménez, Carmen Lomas Garza, Jacinto Quirarte, and Tomás Rivera served on the task force, with other artists, writers, and historians. A Directory of Hispanic American Arts Organizations, prepared by the Research Center for the Arts and Humanities in San Antonio, was published in 1982. As the artists won recognition, museums and galleries arranged special exhibitions. With foundation and corporation support, curators and exhibit organizers published illustrated catalogues with critical essays to accompany the exhibits. The success of these presentations varied. Several were organized by Anglo curators who knew little of the social and political contexts of Chicano art and imposed selection criteria based on formal qualities. Texas museums generally included Chicanos in exhibition planning. Artist Santos Martinez organized Dále Gas for the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston (1977), and the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center co-organized Influence: An Exhibition of Works by Contemporary Hispanic Artists Living in San Antonio, Texas (1987).
In the mid-1970s the Chicano art movement lost its political base. Most Mexican Americans rejected the separatist ideology of the early years of the movement. Some Chicano artists joined the mainstream art world. Government funding diminished. Chicano artists who focused on social protest came under pressure. Many, however, had built on earlier alliances. In 1991 a traveling exhibit, Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965–1985, organized by the UCLA Wight Art Gallery, celebrated the legacy of the artists and art groups whose creativity had fueled the Chicano Renaissance. As Chicano writer collaborations diminished, literary festivals ended and state gatherings declined. Such regional publishing houses as Arte Público continued to produce Chicano literature. Chicano drama in Texas flourished only where performers, playwrights, and directors had a home base. In the 1990s the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio was the most prominent in the field. Though Teatro Dallas presented Spanish-language productions, it ignored Chicano ideology. In Austin, Los Actores de Austin and the Colores Collective remained active but did not collaborate on productions.