Destinos de Artes: Exploring Public Art from a San Antonio River Barge

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Studies by Americans for the Arts have shown that access and exposure to art in a community provides a positive, pleasurable, and educational experience. However, access to art in San Antonio is limited by social and economic constraints, and art organizations have finite marketing capabilities.

Over the past six months, members of the Alexander Briseño Leadership Development Program’s arts and culture action team have conceived a project that addresses these issues, with the goal of connecting the community to public art throughout San Antonio. The City’s Department of Arts and Culture has told us there is a lack of awareness of public art projects; with that in mind, we tailored our project to address this in an exciting and unique way.

Our team pitched the project “Destinos de Arte: A Grassroots Alliance Promoting Public Art in San Antonio” to a room full of our peers and a panel of judges that included State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio); Marina Gavito, director of innovation at USAA;  and Robert Rivard, publisher and editor of the Rivard Report.

We proposed creating a grassroots advocacy group to promote public art through inclusive activation opportunities centered around public art – starting with an art barge on the San Antonio River. This project would explore the relationship between art and community and function as a vehicle to connect locals and tourists to a list of public art across San Antonio. Visitors and locals who encounter the art barge on the river would see signs beside nearby art installations with a QR code and link that would unlock a comprehensive list of public artwork throughout the city.

This project was inspired by the floating museum in Chicago and the floating art installation on the Philadelphia river. The Destinos de Arte group wants to encourage more inclusive art activations as experimental public art speaks to a progressive and forward-thinking city. We believe that to become a world-class creative community, we must continue to evolve and question what public art activations look like in our city.

The key to this project lies in partnerships with local artists and arts organizations, with the goal of collaborating with them to create the unique art installation on the river barge. Public art humanizes the built environment and invigorates public spaces; it celebrates our cultural identity and enhances our quality of life; and with so much creative talent in our midst, it behooves us to explore new ways of showcasing it.

Public art projects are a proven way to support local artists and create professional development opportunities. Our vision for this project is to have an open call, then offer the selected artist a healthy stipend to complete the temporary art installation on a river barge.

Conversations with community stakeholders including the City’s Department of Arts and Culture, river barge operator Go Rio, Texas Public Radio, and others, coupled with voters allocating more than $8 million in bond funds for arts initiatives, has validated the need and support for an advocacy group to promote approachable, mobile public art access in San Antonio.  

We want our project to evolve and live on beyond the Briseño Program, so we hope to continue working with the Department of Arts & Culture to help promote their public art initiatives. Who knows – perhaps the next iteration of an ephemeral, mobile public art piece would be installed on a VIA bus.

The Arts & Culture Team is made up of:

  • Arturo Espinoza
  • Daniel Pena
  • Katy Silva
  • Mark Ross
  • Patricia Kittle
  • Ruben Garcia
  • Sara Ramirez
  • Stacy Jones
  • Tyler Fleming

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