Street art entices venturing under the overpass

Quincy and St. Mary’s Street under I-35. Not a destination that ever crossed our minds for a walk from King William. That is until this weekend.

More than a dozen San Antonio artists,* organized by the private artist-driven San Antonio Street Art Initiative, tackled the unsightly interstate underpinnings and redefined the homely parking lot leased by the Wyndham Super 8 Hotel into an admission-free outdoor museum.

Composed of leaders of the city’s vibrant street arts scene, SASAI’s mission is to introduce and educate the local community about street and mural art and make our city a destination for street art lovers….

We seek to build and strengthen a street art community here that extends across all areas, activities and people. Street art makes neighborhoods vibrant. Street art extends the arts community outside the walls of museums, brings people to see new places to live and play, provides fresh perspectives for the young and old.

We are focusing initially on developing a visit friendly area in the city featuring a concentrated number of murals that will draw daily foot traffic, cyclists and visitors looking for an alternative beyond traditional tourist routes and attractions.

San Antonio Street Art Initiative

This is an amazingly ambitious and highly successful project.

So looking forward to seeing more.

Financial support for continued artistic efforts is welcomed on the website.

*Identifying who designed each mural was somewhat of an internet scavenger hunt for me…. Corrections are not just welcomed but encouraged.

Chin’s enormous prickly pear umbrella offers shelter along the Mission Reach

WHEREAS, A native of the American Southwest and the Sonoran Desert region of Mexico, the prickly pear cactus provided nourishment to the earliest inhabitants of those regions, and both the sweet, fleshy fruit and the broad, flat stems were incorporated into tasty dishes; and

WHEREAS, Tunas, the prickly pear fruit, and nopales, which are made from the stem, have since become staples of the Mexican diet, and their growing popularity in Lone Star cuisine can be attributed to Texans’ appreciation for unusual and distinctive foods; and….

WHEREAS, This adaptable plant can survive under many different environmental conditions, and thus can be found from the hill country of Central Texas to the windswept plateaus and arid mountains of West Texas; because it thrives in a harsh climate that few plants can bear, the prickly pear cactus is often grown as forage for cattle and has had a tremendous positive impact on the vital Texas cattle industry; and

WHEREAS, Rugged, versatile, and uniquely beautiful, the prickly pear cactus has made numerous contributions to the landscape, cuisine, and character of the Lone Star State, and thus it is singularly qualified to represent the indomitable and proud Texas spirit as an official state symbol; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 74th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby designate the prickly pear cactus as the official state plant of Texas.

1995 Texas House Concurrent Resolution

Viewed from the east side of the San Antonio River, the graceful arch indeed appears a portal to pathways on the other side. But Mel Chin‘s “CoCobijos” changes appearance as you approach and circle it.

Commissioned by the San Antonio River Foundation to link the Mission Reach of the river to nearby Mission San Jose, the massive steel sculpture represents the pads of two arching prickly pears joined together.

The prickly pear theme arose from two of Houston-born Chin’s first impressions of the area. Interviewed by Jack Morgan for “Texas Standard” on Texas Public Radio, Chin explained:

One: “I was looking at the roofs of the mission and I found that there was a whole planting of them, a bunch of them that have been growing there since the 1930s.”

Two: “After visiting the site… I noticed how hot I was.”

And since: “There’s nothing stronger than the state plant of Texas, I believe.”

Now: “There’s two of them coming together to create a shelter from the sun and a habitat for live cactus growing above.”

According to the San Antonio River Foundation website, Chin reflected about the resiliency of prickly pear and how the plant historically has nurtured people and animals. The lacey steel picado patterns echo the internal structure of nopal pads.

About the same time “CoCobijos” was unveiled in this semi-rural setting, according to Glasstire, Chin was taking over Times Square and several other spots in New York City with multimedia works portraying frightening potential results if global warming is allowed to continue into the future uncontrolled.

The New York installations are gone, but you need only head south from downtown along the San Antonio River to view Chin’s masterful piece of public art now a permanent part of San Antonio’s landscape.

San Pedro Creek Culture Park: Hideous drainage ditch now inviting urban space

In this place of herons where the grasses sway in starlight I have flowed since the dawn of evermore.

John Phillip Santos, historical text carved in limestone

The stretch of San Pedro Creek between the tunnel inlet at I-35 and Houston Street beside a new office tower climbing toward the sky might only be a little more than four blocks long, but the transformation from drainage ditch to park seems miraculous to me.

Yes, I watched the earlier magic worked on the Museum and Mission Reaches of the San Antonio River Improvements Project, but there was absolutely nothing natural-creek-like remaining following decades of flood-control projects in this neighborhood.

All that remained was a ditch. And then there was a dream. San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

Some dismiss projects like these as “legacy projects” fluffing up politicians’ egos with taxpayers’ dollars. Politically charged, the design process for a project this complex is rarely perfect. There are budget cuts, and still the enormous projects tend to run over-budget.

But, as with the original Paseo del Rio project, they can prove visionary. Development along the Museum Reach demonstrates how quickly highly blemished urban corridors become desirable.

While flood-control is an underlying purpose of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the incorporation of site-specific art reflective of the city’s history and culture gives the new pedestrian passageway a distinctive San Antonio feel.

Bexar County is the primary funder of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, and the San Antonio River Authority is project manager.

looking south from Houston Street

Work is underway on the next phase heading southward from Houston Street. As you can see from the photo, this narrow stretch probably is even more challenging.

In my mind, the photos above illustrate that the complications and difficulties encountered along the way are so worth it. Those involved are leaving a legacy that will enrich the quality of urban life for generations to come. Looking forward to walking the next phase and those to come.