Artists and community members discussed ideas Wednesday for 10 public art installations to be installed along the City’s World Heritage Trail this year.

The pieces would beautify a series of underpasses, fences, and walls along the driving tour that connects the Alamo with San Antonio’s four other Spanish-colonial Missions.

“This is going to be transformational and educational,” Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) said, stressing the importance of “telling our story, and the correct story as well.”

After speeches by Councilwomen Viagran and Shirley Gonzales (D5), among others, locals who gathered at the Stinson Municipal Airport wrote down suggestions for the predominantly barren spaces and then reconvened to discuss their thoughts. Ideas ranged from dangling bicycle displays to murals of raspas and classic cars, though the conversation soon shifted highlighting local communities and history.

From left: Artist Terry Ybanez and Norma Jean Moore brainstorm ideas for the World Heritage Public Art Project.
From left: Artist Terry Ybanez and Norma Jean Moore brainstorm ideas for the World Heritage Public Art projects. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

“Stories of indigenous families, of families still living in these neighborhoods … have not been addressed or celebrated enough,” said Terri Ybanez, local artist and president of the Mission San Jose Neighborhood Association. “It would be really beautiful to see that as a common thread.”

Following Wednesday’s discussion, the City’s World Heritage Office will collaborate with the Department of Arts & Culture to develop concepts for approval by the Historic and Design Review Commission. The City will unveil the first two installations this May, with the remaining eight phased in throughout the year.

Money already allotted in the World Heritage budget will fund the initial 10 projects, though cost estimates are still uncertain and may require additional resources, World Heritage Office Director Colleen Swain said.

The City chose its first 10 locations based on local survey results and will continue to take suggestions. Since some spaces are being provided by private property owners, some art projects may not be permanent, Swain said.

She hopes that once the community sees the value in the initial installations, it will “move forward with requesting additional money for future projects that are larger and more permanent.”

From left: Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), URBAN15 Music Director George Cisneros and World Heritage Director Colleen Swain talk about proposed public art locations.
From left: Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), URBAN15 Music Director George Cisneros, and World Heritage Director Colleen Swain talk about proposed public art locations. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

Such endeavors in the World Heritage area could be funded with a portion of the public art budget included in the City’s 2017 bond, should it pass in the May election, Viagran said. More than $37 million is slated for street improvements and a “cultural arts center” near the Missions.

The art installations are part of a broader set of improvement goals identified by the community in the City’s World Heritage Work Plan. Banners with photos and World Heritage branding already line the corridor, which connects the Alamo and four other missions designed in the early 1700s by Franciscans and Native converts. After they were abandoned in the 1800s, the missions went into disrepair until the 20th century when they were gradually revitalized. In 2015, UNESCO designated the Missions as World Heritage sites, the first time this has occurred in Texas.

Several local Native Americans, who said during the meeting that their ties to the region predate these original European settlements, advocated for art with pre-colonial representations in addition to an emphasis on Spanish and Mexican influences.

Most attendees agreed that the art should be created by local artists.

“It has to be artists from the area, from San Antonio,” said artist Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez. “They know what San Antonio is all about … World Heritage deals with the history of the people.”

A collection of ideas collected during the community meeting about the World Heritage Public Art Project.
A collection of ideas collected during the community meeting about the World Heritage Public Art Project. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report

Some, however, worried this staggered planning and installation process could jeopardize the project’s overall cohesion.

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“If we really think about one big concept, one big idea that’s going to be driving the city, that’s going to be much more powerful,” said Earn A Bike Co-op Founder Christian Sandoval. The nonprofit bike education and advocacy organization owns property near the Mission Reach.

Four of the proposed installations will decorate the heritage trail’s passage under Highway 90 just north of Mission Concepción, with another piece adorning an abandoned grocery store near Roosevelt Park. The South Texas Memorials, a Roosevelt Ave Car Wash, the Stinson Municipal Airport, and a 410 underpass would also be used as canvasses.

Daniel Kleifgen

Daniel Kleifgen

Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.