Chapter 11: The Chicana and the Arts

15. What was Rita Sanchez’s Acevedo Art Gallery?

In 1983 the arts were changing in San Diego. The Border Arts Workshop was about to be born. A few artists had been meeting and it soon became clear that this was not an open invitation. While a few artists went busily to work on their preconceived plan, others had to decide on their own what new directions to take next.

A heightened energy was happening in the arts all over San Diego. And a new conscious was born in arts and literature. Galleries, art spaces, grass roots theater opened up new ideas and opportunities. That’s when I met the Singers, the owners of Pendragon’s Antiques in Uptown San Diego, more a family neighborhood that drew all kinds of people from all over the city who were interested in art. Not wanting to work downtown although it was soon to be the center of high energy, it also had its own mix of problems. I made a proposal to the owners of the antique store who generously remodeled the space for a gallery: art above; antiques below; and books alongside. The Acevedo gallery opened in 1984.

None of it could have happened without the the Singers and the gallery expertise of the Acevedo family, especially the father, Guillermo Acevedo, a supporter of the Chicano Arts whose works were lauded by the City of San Diego which one day proclaimed a day as Guillermo Acevedo Day. But until then the gallery prospered from the day it opened in 1984.

I was now the director of an art gallery and a teacher of the arts in city schools. As a result, my children and stepchildren became steeped in the arts. Lucia and Pablo both contributed works to the San Diego Museum of Art in its innovative Young at Art Exhibit. Our eight-year-old son Pablo’s design of Van Gogh became the center piece on one of the Young At Art vans. All the children walked in huge parades carrying the art they made with the help of the Young At Art teachers. It was a sight to behold.

To glimpse the exhibits held at the Acevedo Gallery is to see the making of a commercial gallery during one peak period of the arts in San Diego. I designed many exhibits for over six years, from 1984 to 1990. This work represents a Chicana’s contribution to Chicano Art, dedicated to those Chicanas who have put in long hours of hard labor, mostly unacknowledged. Discussing these exhibitions is meant to show the results of these kinds of efforts. The work that was accomplished during this time was possible for the most part because of Mario’s family which was steeped in the arts, and because of his connections — for he communicated and worked with many of the artists, often bringing their works to San Diego, including the work of Judith Hernandez, Barbara Carrasco, Diane Gamboa, Cecilia Alvarez, Corita Kent, Sonya Fe, Carlos Almaraz, Willie Heron, Frank Romero, Leo Limon, John Valadez, Salvador Roberto Torres, Domingo Ulloa, Miguel Martinez, Willie Herron, Gronk, Chaz Bojorquez and others, the Oaxacan artists and contemporary Mexican artists. However, the difficult work of running the gallery day to day is part of what kept the gallery going, seemingly glamorous, yet similar in part to domestic labor. Mentioning this work — labors of love really — is for one purpose, that is, it is to pay tribute to other women’s work, which often goes unrecognized.

I designed the invitations, the framing, organized the openings, ordered the food, invited the artists, traveled to other cities to acquire art, did the bookkeeping, including the taxes, and paid all the expenses. The timing was perfect. 1984 proved to be an explosion in the arts.

The gallery was committed to Chicano art, but not exclusive to it. We had just returned from Taos, New Mexico where art flourishes, and where we met Indian artist R.C. Gorman and New Mexico artist Miguel Martinez. That is also where we heard about Corita. First, we met one of her admirers and saw the works. For us Corita represented movement art, the spiritual direction and spirit of the sixties, the spontaneity of the times, the colors of life: De Colores.

While Corita was with us, I told her about the work of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta. She had already done a silkscreen of Cesar Chavez in the 1960s. I told her all about the farm workers struggle and the cry of the people, "Si Se Puede!" Not long after, one of the gallery visitors asked if we could do an exhibit together and commission Corita to do a work of art. "Yes" was our answer. When I saw the last silkscreen, my mouth dropped. "Yes, We Can!" was written in the clouds on a blue backdrop: the words "Si se Puede" in English was Corita’s final work of art. Corita Kent died in April. We had a closing, a send-off for her by releasing balloons into the atmosphere. And our children and I helped Mario paint a mural on the wall near Christ the King Church in Southeast San Diego near the images of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King. Based on our own personal journey, I believed we had become dedicated to the arts for these reasons.