City Seeks Input on Public Art with ¿Que Pasa? Neighborhood Meetings

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Courtesy / Michael Cirlos III

The artist team of RDG Dahlquist Art Studio collaborated with local poet Carmen Tafolla to incorporate text from her poems into the rippling water pattern of the art piece Aguas Onduladas.

Recent debates on public art question whether large-scale, permanent artworks can maintain meaningful community engagement over time, or whether the flexibility of temporary works is preferred. But even public artworks intended to be permanent can face risks.

Within one week of the June 28 dedication of a new public sculpture near Elmendorf Lake Park, a vehicle evidently jumped the curb and damaged its installation site.

Nicholas Frank / Rivard Report

The site of a new public sculpture near Elmendorf Lake Park was damaged shortly after its installation.

Within one week of the June 28 dedication of a new public sculpture near Elmendorf Lake Park, a vehicle evidently jumped the curb and damaged its installation site.

On the small, triangular traffic island at the intersection of busy Buena Vista and SW 21st streets, the errant vehicle appears to have knocked over and destroyed a light pole, damaged the curb, overturned paving stones, and ran over metal plaques describing the sculpture. The San Antonio Police Department did not confirm details of the incident.

The artwork itself, titled Aguas Onduladas (Rippling Waters) by RDG Dahlquist Art Studio in collaboration with poet Carmen Tafolla, sustained no damage. But the incident shows that without being wisely sited, reflective of their communities, and budgeted with an eye toward future maintenance, works of public art can fail at their primary task: connecting to the public.

“Twenty-first-century public art is going to be different than the 20th-century public art,” said Jimmy LeFlore, public art manager for Public Art San Antonio (PASA) and the City’s Department of Arts and Culture.

To ensure that new public art is well-placed within and responsive to its communities, LeFlore has initiated the ¿que pasa, PASA? program, a series of six community meetings designed to engage San Antonio residents in the public art process.

“Having an engaging conversation, and meeting eye-to-eye with people, is really what public art needs in order to be maturing, and making sure that it’s not just a niche, but that its actually affecting Northside, Southside, Eastside, and Westside residents,” he said.

The first meeting was Monday evening at the Westside Cuellar Community Center, and the remaining five public meetings will take place throughout July at various San Antonio community centers, including Wednesday, July 11, from 6-8 p.m. at the Guadalupe Theater.

Leila Hernández attended the Cuellar Community Center meeting with her 11-year-old daughter Juliana and their service dog, Riley. The Hernández family makes regular trips from their home in the Rio Grande Valley to visit San Antonio, in part for its cultural offerings, Hernández said.

“I think it’s really awesome that San Antonio has a program for [public art], and actually has art and understands the importance of it in the community,” she said. Though a gallery artist herself, she said, “Art is not just something in a gallery, it’s something outside where a lot of people can actually go see and experience it.”

City representatives at the meeting surveyed the sparse crowd and wondered if rainy weather had kept more attendees away.

The first public informational ¿que pasa, PASA? meeting took place July 9 at the Cuellar Community Center’s athletic gym, with City representatives showing examples of public art in San Antonio.

Nicholas Frank / Rivard Report

A small crowd gathers for the first public ¿que pasa, PASA? meeting took place July 9 at the Cuellar Community Center’s gym.

LeFlore opened the meeting by briefly detailing statistics on how many artists are eligible to make public art in San Antonio, how many are local and how all are chosen, as well as how much municipal bond money goes toward public art, compared to money for improvements to streets, drainage, parks, City facilities, and public safety.

Generally, funding for public art projects is derived from the five-year bond process, and constitutes 1 percent of the budget for each municipal bond improvement project.

After the introduction, audience members were asked to visit six information stations positioned around the Cuellar Community Center gym and parking lot. The interactive stations probed current knowledge about existing public art  in San Antonio, and invited feedback on public art projects in general.

One of the stations detailed existing PASA projects in District 4 and identified upcoming “art opportunities” aligned with bond projects in the district. Locations for those opportunities, all near Lackland Air Force Base, include a project at Stablewood Farms Park in Valley High North, at the Heritage Community Center in Adams Hill, and a pedestrian mobility and streets project along Fischer Road.

Future “¿que pasa, PASA?” meetings will detail such opportunities in districts throughout the city, LeFlore said, and community input will become an essential part of the process.

“We want to take a step back and learn about the communities, to learn what’s going to hold the community’s interest,” he said.

LeFlore said the first “¿que pasa, PASA?” program of 2010 was an initial attempt at community engagement, but with the City’s new Cul-Tú-Art cultural planning process, he hopes that community outreach efforts will create more awareness of PASA projects throughout the city.

Whether people want public art in San Antonio is not in doubt. A November 2017 Department of Arts and Culture survey of more than 3,000 San Antonio residents, visitors, and arts patrons found that 91 percent of respondents would like to see more public art in San Antonio, according to Director Debbie Racca-Sittre.

Sculpture and environmental art were the most popular forms of public art among respondents, and downtown, parks, and greenways were the most popular locations.

The ¿que pasa, PASA? meetings are, in part, an extension of that survey, intended to gauge public knowledge of and feedback on public art projects.

David Sutton attended the Monday meeting because he drove the truck containing the “Reaction Lab,” one of the six information stations specifically designed for feedback. The truck contained imaging technology designed to photographically record people’s emotional responses to examples of public art, through facial expressions they make when viewing examples of public art such as Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

Though Sutton said he doesn’t see much public art himself, he often took his kids when they were smaller, in part to activate their creativity.

“Basically, it’s good for the kids because it helps them use their imagination,” Sutton said. “And it beautifies the city. It makes the city more interesting.”

Allison Hu of Participation Studio helped implement the Reaction Lab. “It’s really hard to collect data about something as subjective as your emotional response to art,” Hu said, “yet its such an important question to answer, especially when public money is involved.”

Hu agreed that public art in San Antonio is important. “We have this opportunity to make an impression, and tell a story of now and who we are for future generations,” she said. “Public art oftentimes is quite permanent,” she said, “and we need to do it right, to make sure we’re capturing the right stories.”

The ¿que pasa, PASA? project will offer the public five more chances to share their ideas and reactions to public art. Information on citywide meeting locations and times is available here. All are free and open to the public, and offer snacks, activities, prizes, and the music of DJ Originel.

Prospects for the Aguas Onduladas sculpture site appear good. The project was managed by the San Antonio River Authority, which had already purchased an extra street lamp, said Steven Schauer, River Authority director of government and public affairs.

Cleanup and minor repairs at the site is in the hands of the Parks and Recreation Department, and has already begun. In a February presentation to the City Council Arts and Culture Committee, Racca-Sittre also noted that the new Cul-Tú-Art five-year strategic plan would include, for the first time, maintenance funds for public art.


10 thoughts on “City Seeks Input on Public Art with ¿Que Pasa? Neighborhood Meetings

  1. Here’s some input. How about making art in San Antonio inclusive for all people other than Hispanics as well? As a white dude (Anglo as I’ve been told is my proper nomenclature apart from Gringo) who loves art and making it, that would be nice. I get so excited about posts for the arts community, but to be honest, I don’t feel welcome in that community here at all~

    It’s cool that nearly every city funded organization around here has to make an acronym out of a Spanish word, but Hispanics are by far the majority in this city, and these organizations–especially those in the arts community–constantly pump out the message that if you ain’t brown, get out of my town. Like there is some great fear that my presence or that my artwork will whitewash our perfectly brown arts community.

    Not even interested in the arts community anymore around here. I used to live on the South Side and attend local galleries, some out of people’s homes. Those were some great parties actually. Just no diversity here it’s all one story. After a few years it leaves you feeling like, wow, got anything else to say? It’s no longer significant the 500th time.

    • Wow! And well said AngloSax. I too have been involved in the art world all my life. In most cities, it is extremely diverse. I even lived in Mexico and taught art. I am now so turned off I can’t believe it. I love public art projects, museums, etc. I joined all of them when I moved here, even the Guadalupe Center. YOUR point is exactly how I felt. You have a pair to say it, and I am happy you gave me the courage to say, I agree.
      So I say to you my Hispanic locals, please make room for your white neighbours too. We are not so different, just left out.

      • “My Hispanic locals??”
        How is it that you came to you acquire these Hispanic locals? Do you even who are the Latino artists in town?

        Your’s and other comments wreak of white privilege. How is it that you get to decide what is cool and appropriate for the San Antonio art scene.

        Rather than celebrating some cool art initiatives you whine because it’s not about you. We are talking about public art in San Antonio here not Cleveland, Ohio. Of course it is going to have a Latino focus.

        Yes, I get the diversity and inclusion part. This is important. But don’t run down what is considered positive in the community.

        • “wreak of white privilege”

          and your comments just reek of racism toward whites.

          We aren’t whining because it’s not about us, we just would like to be in the picture, too. Is that okay with you?

          No one is upset about a Latino focus, but you can’t preach diversity and inclusion if it isn’t diverse and the inclusion doesn’t work both ways. If the majority of the city wants to completely exclude the minority, it isn’t diverse or inclusive. Or did you just think that diverse meant non-white?

          Yours is exactly the racist attitude which turns SO MANY people off from this city and exactly why many white people don’t feel welcome here at all.

          We have celebrated cool art initiatives around town…did you not read our commentary at all?

          Or do you just absolutely hate it when whites speak up for themselves? That we could possibly have an opinion about inclusion when we are CONSTANTLY bombarded with articles stirring up white guilt for being racist or non inclusive. Such a double standard in this community.

          Comments like yours and attitudes like yours are why she was afraid to speak up in the first place.

          This is the EXACT mentality I’m talking about.

          No thank you San Antonio arts community. Don’t worry, I’ll definitely keep out of your little bubble!

        • she was saying “my hispanic locals” in terms of “my friends” or “my fellow americans” the fact that you took offense to it says a lot about your mentality and not hers.

          the ownership part is part of some really weird inferiority complex total victim mentality which is absolutely eroding the ability to build a bridge between people of different levels of melanin in this community and beyond in the greater context of our nation.

          • furthermore clearly you’ve never been to cleveland, ohio if you think that’s where lies a great focus on white people.

            total ignorance on display here.

          • Thank you for clarifying for me, YES I should have capitalized MY. One of the reasons I moved to SA is I love the Mexican culture and arts. However, being excluded has been an eye-opening experience. I suspect this is how many people of color have felt most of their lives. I was saying, okay, I get it, now can I play?

        • “considered positive in the community”

          its okay to give constructive criticism like hey maybe we could include some different perspectives besides your own. I didn’t know that was running down your community.

          you are so angry at white people that I am glad you commented so that you could display exactly what I’m talking about.

          If you were in a community that was majority white and all they ever displayed in museums or talked about was white culture, and hispanics actually made up at least a quarter of the population in that community, I’m sure you’d be gunning for a bit of inclusion yourself, as we see that is exactly what happens all over this nation. Whites are the majority but we don’t sit here and say oh boo hoo it’s not about you. You and your brown privilege. Gimme a freakin break I would love to meet you in person to debate this.

  2. Que Pasa, indeed. Why must the taxpayers continually fund the egos and pocketbooks of obscure unknown “artists” so that we can “enjoy” these eyesores in public spaces? If you want to enhance an outdoor public space plant some native trees and shrubs that everyone can enjoy. If it wasn’t for public funding, the only place this “art” would be displayed would be the local land fill.

  3. DITTO ALL COMMENTS THUS FAR. Love it during Fiesta, but give the minorities in this one horse town our turn. Start by getting rid of “mexican view only” city council persons!! They really control the arts venues. AND speak ENGLISH.

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