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Building the 2014 WAA Institute: The Emerging Latino Majority
Saturday, August 2, 2014

By Joe Randel

Talent Buyer- Concerts and Strategic Programming / Texas Performing Arts, The University of Texas at Austin

Nowhere are America’s changing demographics more evident than in the West.  Western Arts Alliance has long been interested in how The Emerging Latino Majority is affecting member organizations and the communities we serve.  At the 2010 conference in Long Beach, Daniel Catán delivered a powerful, thought-provoking keynote at the conference, outlining the vital role that our field can and should play in this dynamic, new landscape.  It was clear then that the touring and presenting field could benefit from sustained conversation on the impact of Latinos in the West and the nation as a whole.  After several years of conversation and thinking, the Board decided that the topic would be the perfect focus for the newly re-mounted WAA Institute.  

Finding a “starting point” for this renewed conversation generated a number of questions.  Where to begin?  Which topics should be included?  From what perspective(s) should we look at the impacts of this demographic shift?  Where should we have the conversation?  To delve into these issues and to oversee the new WAA Institute, the Board tasked an ad hoc committee comprised of members of the CODA Council and NextGen. As has been the tradition with the WAA Institute, the committee decided that place was a critical component of the conversation and set out to identify a location that embodies this demographic shift.  

This year’s program reflects WAA’s renewed commitment to the changing demographics of the West. The Institute will explore how the field is both reacting to these changes and more importantly, contributing to the conversation happening in the communities we serve.  It is seen not as a terminal point in the conversation, but rather a “deep dive” to seed future conversations, including those with the full WAA community over the years to come.  


So why Texas, a state “on the border” between the West and the Midwest?  As one of the fastest growing states in the country and a state with deep historical ties to Mexico, Texas seemed the perfect starting point.  The “lone star” state offers an opportunity to engage new voices, new perspectives, and new stories from a place similar to others in the West.  

Next, the group moved on to determine exactly WHERE in Texas.  While places like Austin, with its reputation as a hotbed of cultural activity and innovative thinking, were initially considered, the group’s focus soon shifted further southwards, down Interstate 35 to San Antonio.  Why San Antonio?  When the planning committee asked itself that very question, the answers surprised us all…. 

  • With more than 1.3 million residents, San Antonio is the 7th largest city in America, ahead of places like Dallas, San Diego, Detroit, Denver, or Seattle.
  • 63.2% of the population is Hispanic versus 37.6% statewide (source: 2010 Census).
  • San Antonio has an essential and unique relationship to Mexico throughout its history.
  • San Antonio is a burgeoning hub of innovation, home to the nation’s first bookless library, Texas’s largest co-working space (which says something, as everything is bigger in Texas!), and a thriving start-up scene that boasts success stories like Rackspace.  
  • It's a city with a long history of success stories and failures, milestones and disappointments with regards to the Latino population, from the founding of Univision here in 1955 and the founding of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center (one of the largest community-based, multi-disciplinary arts organizations in the country) to the disappointing shuttering of the Smithsonian’s Alameda Museum.   
  • San Antonio represents the front-line in a concerted effort to reshape the political map of the State of Texas and the U.S. in large part through the political engagement of Hispanic voters.  The campaign has been spearheaded by the City’s charismatic former mayor, Julian Castro, and Battleground Texas.


With the site selected, the WAA team set about the monumental task of translating the institute’s theme into a program, a process that begins with conversation or more specifically, listening.  Early on it was clear that the team shouldn’t begin with a preconceived notion of what the final program will look like. To that end, the group contacted the City’s Department of Culture and Creative Development  and scheduled a visit to meet with city officials and a host of stakeholders about the city, its history, its struggles, its successes, and above all, its story.

The visit resulted in a pledge of support from the City, a wealth of new contacts, as well as an invitation to have the Institute coincide with the Luminaria Festival , a two day-long international inter-disciplinary arts festival that celebrates the city’s heritage as a cultural crossroads.   

With each new conversation in San Antonio as well as WAA members across the country, new insights emerged, and after countless revisions (some of them drastic) the program for the Institute began to take shape. While the process of narrowing down session topics, speakers and formats has been difficult, it has also yielded an abundance of rich material to be covered at future WAA gatherings. Throughout the process, the team sought to balance topics that provide vital context and center around ideas with practical insights that participants can apply immediately in their own communities.

The group was also united from the onset in a commitment to find new and younger voices, actively engaging WAA’s NextGen program as a crucial component of the conversation. In fact, thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the WAA Willis Fund,  arts professionals 40 or under are elibgile for financial assistance. In addition to generational diversity, the Institute will continue its long-standing tradition of being a space for voices outside our field, including thought leaders in the fields of politics, education, philanthropy, and advertising.  

The group is in the final stages of confirmed logistical arrangements for the program, with a goal of giving participants both ample time to network with new friends, colleagues, and artists. But don’t expect to be hanging out all-day long in the host Hotel Indigo Riverwalk. The 2014 WAA Institute will be an immersive experience. From Downtown to the Inner West Side to the South Side, participants will experience San Antonio’s impressive mix of culture, community life, architecture, cuisines, and traditions.

Under the leadership of Mayor Castro, San Antonio has dubbed itself the  “City on the Rise,” a moniker that now seems all the more prescient with Mayor Castro’s recent appointment to become the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.   Things are happening in San Antonio, and with its reputation as “the capital of what America is becoming,” it will be the perfect pace for WAA to convene and talk about how the Emerging Latino majority will shape our future and how we can be part of this exciting future.