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Tucked away on a quiet residential corner in the King William Art District, Sala Diaz offers - both literally and figuratively - a ‘home away from home’ for contemporary artists. Historically known by the San Antonio art community as ‘the compound’, Sala Diaz (a 501c3 non-profit) is an experimental venue for contemporary art. It provides exhibition space for new and challenging work, studio space for working artists, and it offers a residency program — living accommodations for guest artists, curators and art writers visiting San Antonio from around the world.

Sala Diaz’s roots go back decades — the streets and residences in that location have long been a hub of contemporary artists. And that was thanks - in large part - to King William resident and philanthropist Mike Casey. Mike owned several residences there and rented them to artists at very affordable rates. Some of those properties, located near the intersection of Stieren and Cedar Streets, eventually became Sala Diaz. Today, the structures are owned by Sala Diaz, and include a two-room gallery, Casa Chuck (the former residence of San Antonio artist Chuck Ramirez) and outdoor venue space available for art events throughout the year.

Old house in historic King William District in San Antonio Texas

Sala Diaz at the corner of Stieren and Cedar in King William

There are two more exhibits scheduled for 2023. I’ll tell you a bit more about that below.

Casie Lomeli, the Gallery Manager, explained that their programming has still not completely recovred from the pandemic, but the board is currently working hard to get back on track. They are planning to host five exhibits in 2024. Casie told me “We are working to get back to where we were regarding the number of exhibits we have each year, regarding the attendance we used to get at opening receptions and other events, and regarding engagement with the community.”

Casa Chuck Residency

Started in 2011, Casa Chuck Residency honors the legacy of San Antonio artist Chuck Ramirez, who died in a cycling accident the year before. Chuck was a major force in the San Antonio art community and Chuck’s photography has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in NY City, The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, The European Museum of Photography in Paris, France, and other renowned venues around the world.

Chuck’s former home is one of the houses on the Sala Diaz property. It has been meticulously preserved and today includes much of Chuck’s personal furnishings and belongings.

Painting composite of 6 images of the same woman singing and dancing.

Barbara Felix's painting of Andrea 'Vocab' Sanderson from "The Glorious Way She Moves" collection.

Sala Diaz was founded in 1995 by San Antonio artist Alejandro Diaz, as a small gallery in the heart of this hub of contemporary artists. His goal was to give complete artistic freedom to the artists exhibiting in the gallery. The organization has evolved over the years but it has stayed true to its original mission, and today it is a well-respected venue that is visited by artists and art aficionados from around the world. Its operations are orchestrated by a board of directors, and by the Director, Ethel Shipton, who is a local artist.

The Gallery and the Exhibits

From the outside, the Sala Diaz gallery looks like any other house on the block, with a welcoming front porch and large back yard. If you don’t spot the small sign out front, you might not realize that it is home to a small, but very unique art gallery.

Alejandro Diaz’s original goal for the gallery was to turn it completely over to the exhibiting artists; to give them freedom to experiment and explore and express themselves anyway they wanted to. And the artists have done just that… they have painted on the walls, suspended things from the ceiling, used unusual materials and medium… in short, they have been completely free to do the unexpected.

Exhibiting at Sala Diaz is by invitation only, and over the years, artists have come from all corners of the world to exhibit. This year, Director Ethel Shipton decided to pay tribute to women artists, and she chose six women artists from San Antonio to showcase in individual exhibits throughout the year.

One of those artists is Barbara Felix, who in February exhibited works from  'The Glorious Way She Moves'. Barbara hung six pieces from that collection, and 'extended' them by painting on the walls. In this piece of Andrea 'Vocab' Sanderson, the image of 'Vocab' on the right was painted directly on the wall: 

The Casa Chuck Residency is an invitational program through which Sala Diaz offers living accommodations in Chuck’s home to visiting artists while they are in San Antonio engaged in creative pursuits. Residents spend one month living in Chuck’s former home while they explore and interact with the San Antonio arts community.

In between the ‘official’ residencies, the home is frequently offered to other visiting artists, critics, writers and musicians. For example, the guest curator for Contemporary Art Month has stayed in the home in prior years and will do so again in 2024. Guest curators for exhibits at Blue Star Contemporary and Ruby City have stayed there.

Summer Studio Residency

Just this year, Sala Diaz started a new program — the Summer Studio Residency. As Casie explained to me — "when we have exhibits with associated events, those events are, for the most part, outside, on our front porch and in our back yard. The Board decided that because of the oppressive heat, we would hold off on doing another exhibit until the Fall, and instead, we would offer the gallery space to a local artist to be used as a studio."

Casie explained to me that renting studio space is expensive, and many artists don’t have adequate space in their homes to set up home studios. It just makes sense, therefore, to offer the gallery space to a working artist when it is otherwise not being used.

From an artist's perspective

Artist Barbara Felix exhibits her work all over San Antonio. She has exhibited or curated at Slab Cinema Arthouse in Blue Star, at the Carver Cultural Community Center, the City of San Antonio Cultural Commons Gallery, Centro Cultural Atzlan Gallery, UTSA, St. Philips College, The Southwest School of Art, the San Antonio Art League and Museum, The McNay... to name a few. I asked Barbara "Is Sala Diaz different? As an artist, how do you feel about it?" Here's what she had to say:

"Sala Diaz gives artists a rare opportunity to fully explore and experiment on concepts and techniques in a way that few spaces in San Antonio allow. If you want to try something, they literally don’t say 'no'. 

"There is also this long standing sense of community at Sala Diaz. It’s almost like the movie, 'Field of Dreams'… if you make it at Sala Diaz, people will come. They always come, so it is a wonderful space to introduce die hard San Antonio art lovers to artists and their work. 

"Last, Sala Diaz has an incredible reputation as a Texas art space, and artists there frequently get the attention of both local and regional media, such as Glass Tire Magazine’s Top 5 list, as the artist I curated, Alethia Jones, got this year. Sala Diaz is a gem for artists in San Antonio!"

What's coming up

Sala Diaz has two additional exhibits scheduled for 2023:

Artist Jacqueline Saragoza McGilvray will be exhibiting her work from September 1st through October 13th.

There will be an opening reception on Friday, September 1st from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. After the opening reception, the exhibit will be available to view by appointment.

Artist Kat Cadena will be exhibiting her work from November 3rd through December 15th.

There will be an opening reception on Friday, November 3rd from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM. After the opening reception, the exhibit will be available to view by appointment.

The opening receptions are free and open to the public. Everyone is invited and welcome!

As the Sala Diaz board continues to rebuild its programming and presence in the community in these post-pandemic years, they invite you to get to know them and their artists. Casie explained to me that their exhibition events are really a lot of fun, and very welcoming. She told me “I think a lot of people who aren’t artists themselves are intimidated by art galleries and art events. Being located inside a house with our opening receptions taking place in part in our front yard, our events are very welcoming. After viewing the exhibitions, people hang out and drink and eat and have a good time. Always, they are full of people who want to mingle and welcome new visitors.” Feel free to contact Casie to talk to her about scheduling an exhibition viewing or otherwise visiting or getting involved with Sala Diaz.

Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.

An artists' haven here in King William

Summer 2023

'Casa Chuck', former home of San Antonio artist Chuck Ramirez

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Painting in the great outdoors

Plein air painting has never been more popular, and it is the setting of choice for many San Antonio artists.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Glorious Way She Paints

Artist Barbara Felix loves to paint, and she loves to dance. Both of those passions shine through in her collection "The Glorious Way She Moves"

Friday, December 17, 2021

Twelve months of art, year after year

There's an under-appreciated gem right in the heart of King William

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