Improvements along the San Pedro Creek will tell a story. The story will combine history, culture, and nature. And, according to project officials, artists will be the ones telling the story.
Steve Tillotson, Muñoz & Company principal architect and one of the design team consultants, spoke of the story-telling aspect during the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project Subcommittee meeting Thursday morning.
An art subcommittee will be selected to curate the artists and arts that will install work at 14 different sites along the more than two-mile, $175 million project – $2 million of which has been set aside for public art.
The San Pedro Creek Improvements Project will transform a long-ignored ditch into a linear urban park while advancing flood mitigation, revitalizing ecology, and sparking cultural and economic development along its path.
“Underlying everything is the story,” he said. “And John Phillip Santos (author and faculty at UTSA) is the key person for writing the narrative. He is working with Maria Pfeiffer, a local historian. Their draft will be ready by next week.”
Jerry Geyer, a retired U.S. Air Force officer and USAA official, serves as co-chair of the project subcommittee, which is made up of representatives from local stakeholders.
“A chronological story of the San Pedro Creek follows the geographical story,” Geyer said. “The city started at the San Pedro Springs and moved down as the city grew.”
Tillotson said the narrative of the creek, provided by Santos, will be ongoing to provide continuity into the future.
Bridget Hinze, community relations for the San Antonio River Authority (SARA), said the subcommittee will have another opportunity to meet with John Phillip Santos next week when they will have a chance to review his narrative. The final design of the San Pedro Creek improvements, completed by the end of the year, will combine the meaning and content of history.
“From a philosophical point of view, the design will ask, ‘What is architecture? What is art?’ The artist will be the bridge between the story and the design,” Tillotson said. “(The story of San Pedro Creek) will be interpreted through designs. It will be didactic. It will encompass a series of landscape and bridge designs all the way down to IH-35.”
Artists will enhance the history of the valley and provide thought provoking processes. But the details for artist and art selection are not set in stone.
“The art committee is not yet selected,” Tillotson explained. “It will be comprised of five or six local folks with credible experience. A group will search to compile a list of artists. … San Pedro Creek will have work by local, regional, and international artists. It will be a panorama of life and culture.”
The designation of San Antonio’s four Spanish colonial Missions and the Alamo as a World Heritage Site only adds to the necessity of world-class artwork along the stream. Though the designs will be created by different artists, there will be a sense of continuity.
“Railings and abutments will be of the same kind of material,” Tillotson said, “but the designs will be different. And just because we will have installations at 14 locations doesn’t mean we will use 14 different artists.”
Tillotson said the designs will also be sensory.
“The designs will be part of the aesthetic,” he said. “As you move through the creek, we’re looking for a kinesthetic experience.”
Geyer expressed concern that survey respondents (see Survey: Public Supports San Pedro Creek Improvements) felt that the designs and artwork were already decided.
“There were some specific concerns that some folks thought there was ‘overdesign’ of some aspects of the creek,” he said.
He assured the eight members of the board and 15 visitors attending the subcommittee meeting that the artists’ renderings are not the final product.
“The artistic renderings are designed to show how vibrant things will be,” Geyer said. “They do not show how they will actually be. The illustrations are placeholders. … The columns in the promotional picture (of the Tree of Life) are stylized. They may be plain columns in the actual plan.”
Some of the features of the Tree of Life are already decided though.
“Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada (a Cuban-American contemporary artist) will have involvement in the Tree of Life Plaza,” Tillotson said. “Certain aspects of the plaza will be aligned with the winter and summer solstice so that shadows fall on key elements.”
Many factors will decide who will get a portion of the $2 million dollars designated for public art along the San Pedro Creek.
“Some artists may work in a media that is more technological,” Tillotson said. “We may use video projection artists. The ‘Saga’ at San Fernando Cathedral is an example of that.”
Plans for the San Pedro Creek Improvements are almost 70% complete (see the 40 percent designs here). The plans will be submitted to Bexar County, who contributed $125 million for the project, and the Corps of Engineers for approval. The San Antonio River Authority has also been working with Ford, Powell & Carson Architects, HDR Engineering Inc., and Pape Dawson Engineers Inc. to develop designs for the project.
Suzanne Scott, General Manager of SARA, spoke of the recent designation of the San Antonio Missions as a World Heritage Site.
“It is a celebration of culture. It’s not just about the U.S.,” Scott said. “It’s making our community proud. More locals will be going to see the Missions.”
Michael Cortez, co-chair of the Project Subcommittee, echoed her sentiments.
“The designation of the Missions as a World Heritage Site is protecting and preserving culture,” Cortez said. “That’s what we want to do for the San Pedro Creek.”
*Featured/top image: Preliminary design rendering for the “Tree of Life” plaza on San Pedro Creek.