It's tough for Cesar Castañeda to hold a conversation, but not through any fault of his own. Spend any amount of time with the owner of Chicano Art Gallery in Barrio Logan, and it quickly becomes apparent that he's a man that everyone wants to greet. Conversations often have to be cut short so that someone can pay their respects to Castañeda via daps, hugs or just inquiring about his next art show.
"Yeah, I grew up here so I'm always going to know somebody walking down the street," Castañeda says.
While new galleries come and go and Barrio Logan itself continues to go through rapid changes, the fact that Castañeda is a local to the neighborhood has likely helped Chicano Art Gallery thrive in an already popular arts district. The quaint space right down the street from Chicano Park, known for showcasing chicanx-themed art and merchandise, has always been somewhat of a dream for Castañeda, who grew up in an artistic household loving comic books and illustration. He says he always knew he wanted to be involved in the Barrio art scene, but just wasn't sure how that involvement would manifest.
"I've always wanted to have an art space," Castañeda says. "It's always been a dream to be involved somehow doing art, but I never narrowed it down to opening a gallery. It kind of just happened. It's been an amazing dream come true."
Chicano Art Gallery is set to celebrate its third anniversary on Friday, Dec. 2. Castañeda is renting out the VFW space across the street, usually reserved for wedding receptions and quinceañeras, to throw a massive art and music celebration.
"When we made it through the first year, a lot of people were asking me if I was going to do a one year anniversary, and I was like, 'I don't know, I don't know if I'm ready,'" says Castañeda. "Then the second year, I felt the same way, but this year I feel a lot different. A lot of things have been happening in my life, and I feel reenergized."
And while he seems more than excited to talk about it now, it wasn't too long ago that he was thinking about closing up shop. A break-up and financial troubles really began to weigh heavily on him, and he confesses that there did come a point where he thought he just couldn't do it anymore.
"That kind of brought stuff down and affected the mood a little bit of the shows," Castañeda says. "I felt like at a few of the shows, my heart wasn't in it."
Talking to him now though, Castañeda seems genuinely excited by the prospect of keeping the gallery going another three years and beyond. He recently changed the name of the space to Chicana Art Gallery and while the change was temporary, he says he eventually wants to change the name permanently to Chican@ Art Gallery. As he greets friends, neighbors and tourists in front of the space, he's much more optimistic about the future.
"I feel like if I were to throw in the towel for some reason, It would be like we were barely coming up. Like we are only half way there," Castañeda says. "The fight has got to keep going on."