The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center is a multidisciplinary, nonprofit arts organization dedicated to developing and promoting Latin-American and indigenous arts, located at 1300 Guadalupe, in the heart of San Antonio's West Side barrio. The center developed from Performance Artists Nucleus, Incorporated (PAN), which formed in 1979 to unite various Hispanic arts groups.
In the early 1980s Rolando Rios, Ralph Garcia, and other leaders of PAN determined that the organization needed a permanent facility close to the Hispanic community it wished to serve. The historic Teatro Guadalupe, which operated as the West Side's most opulent movie theater from 1940 until it fell into disrepair and was closed in 1970, presented an ideal site for an arts center. Councilman Bernardo Eureste persuaded the city to purchase the land where the theater was located and sublease the theater from developer William Schlansker, who raised $1 million for the theater's reconstruction. The Reyna–Caragonne architectural firm subsequently drafted reconstruction plans for the theater.
During this period of negotiation and construction PAN changed its name to Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. The center, initially headquartered in Teatro Guadalupe and later in the Progreso Drugstore adjacent to the theater, sponsored art classes and performances throughout San Antonio. In the spring of 1984 the reconstruction of the theater was completed. The 400-seat facility, a hybrid of southwestern mission style and Art Deco ornamentation, is equipped for stage and screen presentations and includes a small art gallery. The offices, classrooms, and graphics department are located in the Progreso Drugstore. The two buildings provide a total of 20,000 square feet of space.
The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center sponsors programming in six major areas: visual arts, music, literature, film, theater, and dance. With its major emphasis on education, the center offers a wide array of classes and workshops in visual arts, music, literature, theater, and dance on a year-round basis. Such artists as Valerio Longoria, Jorge Piña, and Kathy Vargas have taught the classes, which are offered at low cost.
The visual arts program organizes exhibitions throughout the year, featuring local, national, and international artists. Each year the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center sponsors the Juried Women's Art Exhibit and an arts and crafts bazaar called Hecho a Mano. During its early years the center cosponsored two exhibitions with the San Antonio Museum of Art: Art Among Us / Arte Entre Nosotros (1986), an exhibition featuring Mexican folk art from San Antonio; and Influence: An Exhibition of Works by Contemporary Hispanic Artists Living in San Antonio, Texas (1987). The center has also organized exhibitions with San Antonio's Instituto Cultural Mexicano and Appalshop, a center devoted to Appalachian culture located in Whitesburg, Kentucky. The visual arts program supports local artists by making its facilities available to them and by offering technical assistance, special workshops, and round-table discussions for the exchange of information. In the 2010s the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center initiated a new project called the Artist Lab in which local visual artists were selected every two years through an application process. The chosen applicants were then provided “a place for showing and selling art, an educational experience in both creative and business development, and an opportunity to build new networks between local artists and the national artistic field.”
The center's Xicano Music Program presents performances in parks and at schools, churches, and other community centers. Since 1982 the music program has sponsored the annual Tejano Conjunto Festival in San Antonio, the largest festival of its kind in the United States. The event presents an average of more than twenty conjuntos and has featured such major performers as Ruben Vela, Los Dos Gilbertos, Tony de la Rosa, and Esteban Jordan, along with emerging talents. Each year at the festival several pioneering performers are inducted into the Conjunto Music Hall of Fame.
The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center offers a strong literature program, with frequent literary performances and annual residencies, in which several writers teach workshops, give public lectures and readings, and advise area writers and poets. Many prominent Hispanic writers have participated in the program in the past, including Norma Alarcón, Rolando Hinojosa, Raul Salinas, and Alurista. Since 1987 the center has sponsored the Inter-American Book Fair and Literary Festival, which features readings, workshops, public forums, and bookselling. Such prominent writers as Carlos Fuentes, Maya Angelou, Maxine Hong Kingston, Isabel Allende, Alice Walker, Oscar Hijuelos, and Robert Bly have appeared at the Book Fair. In 2012 the center took on the role as organizer for the Macondo Workshop from the event’s originator, writer and poet Sandra Cisneros. The Macondo Workshop brings together a “community of poets, novelists, journalists, performance artists, and creative writers” from the “local and national Latino literary scene.”
The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's cinema program focuses on Spanish-language and Latino-theme films and videos. The center regularly presents series featuring films from Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, and other Latin-American countries. Since 1983 the center has sponsored San Antonio CineFestival, the country's longest-running Latino film and video festival, which began in 1975 under the sponsorship of Oblate College in San Antonio. The center's theater-arts program presents a season of plays annually, many of which are original works commissioned from established and aspiring playwrights.
The center places an emphasis on bicultural or bilingual productions. Productions by the center's resident acting company, Los Actores de San Antonio, are supplemented by performances mounted by major Hispanic theatrical troupes such as Teatro de la Esperanza of Santa Barbara, California. In 1991 the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center began a Hispanic dance program in response to the dissolution of several folkloric dance companies in San Antonio. Together with the Instituto Cultural Mexicano, the center offered studio space and dance classes. The Guadalupe Dance Company, a premier professional folklórico and flamenco group, was founded in 1992.
The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center extended its services beyond the San Antonio community through the publication of Tonantzin, a periodical that included artwork, poetry and short stories, critical essays on all aspects of Latino culture, reviews of books, movies, records, and art exhibitions, interviews, and listings of cultural activities. The literature and artwork of Hispanic women, children, and prisoners have been featured in past issues of the magazine, which the center published several times a year through 2000. Tonantzin means "our mother" in Náhuatl, the common language of the Aztec empire, and thus linked the magazine and the center with the mestizo heritage of the Mexicanos, a source of pride to the Chicano movement.
A board of directors oversees the long-term development of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, while a staff of employees manages daily operations. The center supports artists and benefits students and the public by hiring artists, musicians, writers, and actors to oversee its programs and teach classes. Each year about 700 volunteers assist the center at various events and festivals. Funding for the center is provided by the city of San Antonio, the Texas Commission on the Arts, the Texas Committee for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Meadows Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Ewing Halsell Foundation, and other corporate and private contributors. In 2018 major sponsors included the city of San Antonio, the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, Texas Commission on the Arts, La Prensa, and H-E-B. Membership fees and revenue from programs also provide financial support for the center, which operated on a budget of more than $2 million by 2000. As one of the largest community-based organizations dedicated to Latin-American cultural arts in the United States, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center received a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1986 and in 1987 won the Arts Organization of the Year award from the San Antonio Business Committee for the Arts. In January of 2002 the center was awarded a $1 million endowment grant by the Ford Foundation.
In the early 2000s the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center proceeded with plans for expansion in the community. By February 2003 the center had purchased a building located near the Guadalupe Theater to house a new school of arts. The center also implemented a program for renovations of the theater. In 2018 the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center campus included six buildings (Progreso Drugstore, Cesar Chavez Building, Museo Guadalupe, La Casita, Guadalupanita Café, and Teatro Guadalupe) with the historic theater standing as the centerpiece of the complex. On September 3, 2015, the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center held a thirty-fifth anniversary gala. In 2018, in celebration of San Antonio’s Tricentennial, Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center premiered the exhibit Common Currents as part of a collaboration of six art organizations to showcase 300 years of San Antonio history through visual and performance art.