Crafty San Antonio draws crowd with portal

San Antonio's spring launch of an online gallery for regional artists and artisans made a splash, generating more traffic its first week than any storefront could handle. The Catalog of On-site Artist Services (www.ci.sat.tx.us/cosas), in the works for nearly three years, registered more than 500,000 hits its first week, benefiting from a pre-launch marketing campaign and an Internet-friendly city culture, said James LeFlore, program manager for the city's Public Art and Design Enhancement Program.

"The rally around promoting yourself on the Internet has become increasingly evident in San Antonio over the last couple years," LeFlore said. "People are really keyed in right now to checking it out."

The Web site features individuals or groups creating art for the "built" environment — that is, for incorporation into buildings, landscapes or public spaces. Oscar Alvarado, for example, designs and builds mosaic-laden tables and chairs made of steel or concrete. Cathy Cunningham specializes in neon and stained and etched glass. Visitors can peruse the site by artist or medium. The site is not designed to handle online transactions but simply to give architects, engineers, city planners or private citizens an opportunity to see the work available and put them in contact with the artists, via mail, phone or, most likely, e-mail. "You can accomplish a lot through e-mail, so you don't have to travel and do studio visits," LeFlore said. For example, beyond the one or two pictures available on the Web site, many artists can send electronic images to potential clients. Otherwise, such business "is difficult to obtain if you don't have a storefront."

The site stems from a neighborhood revitalization initiative in 1998. A committee, created by the City Council, suggested creating a catalog to promote San Antonio's vibrant craft-making industry. Although a print edition is also available, the city decided an online catalog would be easier to distribute and update. City officials mailed postcards to architects, engineers, neighborhood associations and city leaders before the May 14 launch, which generated local radio and TV coverage despite competing with a San Antonio Spurs playoff basketball game.

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