Q&A: Sam Coronado, Austin Visual Arts Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

Sam Coronado (courtesy photo)

The Austin Visual Arts Awards will host their third ceremony November 15 to recognize artists making an impact in the community. The Austin Visual Arts Association is one of the oldest visual arts organizations in the city, and chooses winners from different categories such as Early Career, Photography and New Media Arts. The Lifetime Achievement Award recipient is Sam Coronado, who has been in the art business since the late ‘60s. You might have heard Coronado’s name thrown around town over the years, because if there’s something he enjoys, it’s being involved.

Coronado co-founded Mexic-Arte, the state’s official Mexican and Mexican-American art museum. He also founded the Serie Project, a nonprofit organization in Austin that strives to create and promote serigraph prints made by Latino artists and others in a workshop environment. Along with the Coronado Studio, a print shop that produces screen-prints, the Serie Project produces fine art prints that are exhibited around the world. To top it all off, Coronado has taught and lectured at different schools and universities in the U.S. and currently teaches at Austin Community College. The Lifetime Achievement Award winner took time from his hectic schedule to talk to me about his work, what it’s like to receive such recognition from the AVAA and share a few pointers on what he’s learned over the years.

What does it mean to you to get the Lifetime Achievement Award?

Sam Coronado: It’s very gratifying and I’m very honored that people recognize what I do. But it’s not just me, it’s a lot of the artists that have come together to help me achieve this goal.

When was the first time you knew you wanted to be an artist?

Coronado: As a kid, I had a cousin named Freddie and we would draw together and exchange drawings and encourage each other, that’s when I really started developing my skills.

How did creativity filter into your childhood and youth?

Coronado: Probably through my grandmother, my mother and most of my aunts, who would sew and knit. My grandmother, especially, did a lot of embroidery and that sort of thing. I imagine that’s where it began, and how it evolved, through my family.

What was your first job in the art business?

Coronado: My first professional job was working with Texas Instruments as a technical illustrator, back in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. That’s how I supported myself out of school, how I made a living, through technical illustration. But on the side, I always painted and tried to sell my work, get it out there. Not so much for selling it, but just to get my work and name out there.

What would you tell young artists and students who are concerned about making money off of their art?

Coronado: To the fine artists, it’s true that it’s a hard life and it’s hard to make a living off of your art, but like anything else, if you’re persistent with it, you’ll succeed. There’s no real formula, it’s just persistance. Education is a big part of it now. If you go to school, study, learn about the background and learn about artists, that also helps. And it doesn’t hurt if you can lend your skills to graphic design or convert your skills into things that allow you to support yourself.

What do you see in the students taking your classes at ACC?

Coronado: Well, I see a lot of young minds, a lot of young artists that are trying their best to succeed. The advantage that most kids have in my department is that they’re in graphics, in graphic art. Graphic design and animation, those would suit someone with artistic skills that would allow them to support themselves. But I see a lot of art being created by the young folks all around the country, at different universities, at organizations that I’ve visited and museums, I see a lot of great new, young artists that are very inspired and very inspiring.

Sam Coronado mentors emerging artist Carlos Donjuan (courtesy photo)

You’re a huge part—a crucial part—of the local Latino art scene in Austin, through the Mexic-Arte museum and the Serie project. How has the Latino art world grown in Austin and where do you think it’s headed?

Coronado: The Latino art world here has grown quite a bit since I first got to Austin back in the early ‘70s. it was hard to get involved in the art world in those days, because we weren’t accepted the way we are now. Back then, the trick was to get into places, to find spaces that would allow us to exhibit, like in restaurants and community centers. Nowadays, right now we have an exhibition at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio and we just took down one at the Dallas Latino Cultural Center. So the work has been accepted a little bit more, plus, with the strides that we’ve made in Latino communities, we have taken the art world and made it more important within our culture. So the hardships that were there a long time ago, I think are becoming easier in terms of existence in exhibit venues.

What are some organizations in Austin that make it easy to collaborate in the Latino art world?

Coronado: I think the nice thing about Austin is that it’s very eclectic, so since recently, everybody kind of melts into the pot of the art world. Being Latino, I think, was very important when I first started out with the Serie Project because nobody else was doing it, making art with the intent of focusing in the Latino world. But now, you see a lot of folks doing what I was doing, or everybody’s involved in the arts in one way or the other, like the MACC, giving people an opportunity to exhibit and show the world their work.

Is there a particular project you’ve been especially proud of, or think represents you as a person and an artist better than any other?

Coronado: I’m involved with a group of printmakers called Consejo Gráfico, and I think this is big in the Latino printmaking world. It’s great that I can be a part of that, get together with other artists and talk about our state in terms of where we are as Latino artists and printmakers in general. The other thing would be the exhibits that the Serie Project has been able to participate in from Buenos Aires to all around the United States in different universities, different art centers, as well as now the latest one at the McNay Museum in San Antonio, which I think folks should go and see before the exhibit ends in January.

Do you see any particular different reaction to your artwork depending on what part of the world it’s being shown?

Coronado: I think outside of the U.S. and Mexico, Tejano work has been accepted quite a bit, like in Buenos Aires. Also, the Serie Project has traveled to Slovakia and it made some headway there, it’s been making its headway throughout the world. I think in other countries, they’re amazed at the iconography and the techniques that Latinos and Tejanos bring to the art world.

What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in all of your projects?

Coronado: That you have to be patient, roll with the punches and not give up. And money is great, but it’s not anything that you should focus on, a lot of it has to do with the spirit, the soul and the culture that we have in the community, in our Latino community and we each play a big part in it.

The Austin Visual Arts Awards will take place November 15. There will be a cocktail reception at 6:30 at the courtyard at the AT&T Executive Conference Center followed by the awards presentation in the ampitheater at 7:30.

Eugenia Vela

Writer - Eugenia Vela was born and raised in Monterrey, México, with the frustrated ambition of becoming a writer. Now in her 20s, she is finishing her degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and looking for new adventures around the Live Music Capital of the World. She is in love with words, fashion, Steven Tyler, early Dylan, late Beatles and anything Jack Nicholson-, Johnny Depp- and Cameron Crowe-related.

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