By: Jessie Chrobocinski Photos by: Rachel Benavides
From art and academic support in reading and math to health education and free counseling services for families and children, the Antonio E. Garcia Arts and Education Center plays an active role in the community. It’s a safe space for families to better their education and health and celebrate life. “One thing I love most about the Garcia Center is the connections to serve the community and promote the reason behind the name,” says director Esmeralda Herrera-Teran.
“When people walk through here, they have hopes and a vision,” she continues. “People often ask, ‘What are the community’s needs? Because we want to help,’ but that’s not what it’s about; it’s about the hopes. What are the visions of everyone that walks through here? They need art and culture. We’re always finding new ways, especially with the pandemic, to reach families and students.”
What began as the Center for Hispanic Arts in 1993, showcasing works by Hispanic artists and introducing art into the West Side community, evolved through a merger in 1997 with the South Texas Institute for the Arts (STIA) and Art Museum of South Texas (AMST). A year later, the Center for Hispanic Arts changed its name to the Antonio E. Garcia Arts Education Center, after the beloved prominent local artist and professor.
The Garcia Center’s most prominent program, the Very Important Kids (VIK) Camp, brings children together for a month in the summer to enhance their creativity in visual and performing arts, and their skills in academia. In the morning, students exercise creativity in drama and art, followed by reading, literacy, math intervention, robotics, gardening, and nutrition in the afternoon. VIK Camp registration fees secure financial support for the other free enriching programs offered at the Garcia Center throughout the year.
With local partnerships from TAMU-CC, AMST, the City of Corpus Christi, CCISD, and many others, the Garcia Center fosters creativity, problem-solving, and stewardship through community projects and cultural events. Experts from community organizations contribute fundamental support in art and education to decrease dropout rates among at-risk students and increase college readiness.
“I attended the Garcia Center about 15 years ago as a former foster youth,” says administrative associate Jermeka Morrison. “For me, it was a haven. Community members would meet with us and explain the importance of education and things like making your apartment into a home. We learned how to cook here. [As a foster child] we didn’t have a place to learn things like how to cook; things that are often taught by your parents. We learned about different types of art through exhibitions in the art gallery. The Garcia Center was a place to just be.”
Through fresh and creative approaches and with support from community partners, the Garcia Center provides multiple opportunities to educate locals. A community garden flourishing with radishes, okra, watermelon, squash, and kale welcomes anyone able and willing to help it grow. Groups like Grow Local South Texas and Coastal Bend Food Bank band together with the Garcia Center to establish healthy eating habits and mindful connections about how diet affects physical and mental health for neighborhood children and families.
Through connections, the Garcia Center promotes culture and art in various forms. Whether developing individuality or traditional cultures, it combines elements to help local youth succeed and creates an important community in its own right in the process.
2021 Agnes Street | 361.825.3600