Twenty-two years ago, just for fun Andy Benavides, executive director at SMART (Supporting Multiple Arts Resources Together), decided to create weekend programming in his neighborhood. By identifying an immediate need in his community, the humble beginning of bringing art to the people blossomed into an art education and community movement.
Benavides dedicates his time to raising awareness of the developmental impact of the arts in San Antonio. He asked those in attendance at the Emerging Leaders Preconference, “What really stops communities from providing free art programming?”
During his keynote address, Benavides discussed how he confronts perceived challenges, “we deal with a lot of at risk youth and what they actually are is really creative.” He also talked about keeping art as the core of his organization and not making it secondary to funding. By being flexible and open to work-arounds, SMART does not let money hinder program creation or implementation. Being brave enough to make “the ask” yields the required results.
Benavides has a long history of creating experimental and community engagement programming including: SMART Student Photo Competition, SMART Fair, SMART Art and Pie to the People. Pie to the People showcases community education and the power of recycled materials for creativity and self expression. The event included all-day art educational workshops, a design competition, and What the Fork! A Community Collaborative Fork Art Project.
The impact of his work can be heard throughout the community and his presence is almost legendary. There is a “Paul Bunyan-esqness” about his persona in conjunction with San Antonio. I know this might be difficult to believe, so before meeting with him I surveyed a sampling of art community leaders in San Antonio to see if they could describe him in one word.
Ken Little, University of Texas at San Antonio professor of art and art history, describes Benavides as “benevolent” and Justin Parr, Fl!ght Gallery Owner, describes him as nothing less than an “enabler.”
What inspires me most about Andy and his work is that he truly embodies the idea that one person can make a positive, impactful difference in their community through art, and the Preconference was thrilled to have had him as a keynote speaker.