By Dr. Ricardo Romo
Andy Benavides is the quintessential example of a Latino entrepreneur. Over the past 25 years he has successfully expanded his commercial art enterprise while devoting himself to the construction of studio spaces for artists, galleries to show art works, and the promotion of monthly art events. In doing so, he has given rise to a major artistic center–”Southtown The Art District.” This area encompasses five neighborhoods: King Williams, Lavaca, Lone Star, Roosevelt, and Collin Garden.
Andy Benavides grew up in the Southside of San Antonio where his love for art and business were honed at an early age. Benavides’ earliest business experiences began as a sixth grader. He restored and painted bicycles for the kids in his neighborhood. Benavides also received a First Place Blue Ribbon for an art poster he designed at Lowell Middle School.
Benavides studied commercial art at Burbank High School and San Antonio College. He also learned the art framing business his senior year in Burbank’s high school work program. This experience would later be beneficial while attending North Texas State University. He worked
part time at a nearby frame shop. He completed his art degree at North Texas State University in 1990. Upon finishing college, he moved back to SA where he started a commercial art business in addition to an art framing shop. Within a few years of opening his frame shop near the intersection of Presa and South Alamo, Benavides realized he had the ideal location to help sponsor what became known as First Friday, a visual feast for artists and art lovers.
Initially, First Friday attracted only four artists whose only activity was standing around talking about art. But the idea had merit, and over the next year dozens of artists and their friends came to the event to show their new art work and talk with art aficionados. Within a few years, First Friday attracted as many as 800 art lovers to Alamo Street on a single night.
The rent on his South Alamo shop was reasonable, but Benavides quickly saw that he needed a much larger space for his growing commercial design business. His clients included Sea World, Fiesta Texas, and the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo.
As an art framer and artist himself, Benavides met many other artists, and few were more important to his career than Alberto Mijangos. The Mexican born Mijangos was renting a studio at 1906 South Flores when Benavides met him. Mijangos was forty years older than Benavides, but they became good friends and in short time business partners.
Benavides liked Mijangos’ building at 1906 South Flores. The site was formerly one of the three buildings of the Texas Vocational School which had closed its doors in the 1990s. The building, a run-down warehouse, was adjacent to major railroad tracks where trains passed on an hourly basis. It was a noisy neighborhood with many warehouses and dilapidated buildings, but Benavides saw the future potential of the site. Benavides and Mijangos bought the building with Benavides taking approximately 60 percent of the space for his commercial art projects.
When Benavides opened his framing and commercial art business at 1906 South Flores, the First Friday festival moved with him. Within the first year of their move, he initiated the Second Saturday art festival. Additionally he was able to convince artist Joe Lopez to buy the Texas Vocational School building across the street. Lopez and his wife Frances opened the famed Gallista Gallery and
art studios which they operated for 20 years. Today the Gallista building is the home to Freight, which also rents studios to artists.
Benavides spends his days engaged in numerous art projects which include art designs for corporations and designing gallery spaces in his building for artists. In 2018 he was engaged as a consultant to the San Pedro Creek Cultural project in downtown San Antonio. Among his current projects is the continued development of “Southtown: The Arts District.” He describes this as an effort to develop a five square mile area of artistic creativity in south San Antonio. He strongly believes that artists are the visionaries for innovative thinking. With his wife Yvette and their son Agusto [age 13], the Benavides family are committed to improving Southtown one building at a time as well as helping artists find affordable housing and work studios.
Everyone who knows or works with Benavides is impressed with his passion for art. Among his new endeavors is the preparation of the next generation of artists through his art education programs S.M.A.R.T [smartsa.org] where he and his wife currently teach 450 elementary students.
Andy Benavides also recently started work on designing a five square mile area in the Rio Grande Valley area outside of Mission, Texas. In San Antonio he is a respected artist and cultural force and has contributed to the emergence of San Antonio as an exciting art community.