By Garrett Heath
When most visitors think of San Antonio, the first two things that come to mind are the Alamo and the River Walk. While some locals get frustrated that these are the icons of the city, both landmarks are part of the larger story of San Antonio. The Alamo extends into the historic Mission Trail and the River Walk to the beautiful San Antonio River.
Recently, attention has been drawn to the missions as they have been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a story featured on the Rivard Report. But the key to the missions and the people who first called San Antonio home is the river.
The river was the life of the missions and today is at the heart of the city. The downtown stretch of the River Walk is what is most known to the world: the multicolored umbrellas of Casa Rio, the tableside guacamole of Boudros, the trees draped in lights at Christmas and of course the river boats. But a change has begun taking place at the northern and southern reaches of the river.
The San Antonio River Foundation has joined a multitude of city and government partners in the massive San Antonio River Improvements Project and has worked to enhance the River by installing public artwork. The foundation is also engaging the community to raise awareness of this important project and bring the local community back to the lifeline of our city, the San Antonio River. In a previous interview with Mike Addkison, the project director on the River Foundation’s team, he stressed the importance of tying the river to the missions. “Figuring out a way to get people from the river to the mission and tying those features together was really important and we wanted to help contribute to make that happen,” Addkison explained.
Many pieces of public art have been going up along the river. The Museum Reach, the portion extending from downtown to the Pearl Brewery, has been completed for some time now. Pedestrians walking along the river encounter many installations such as the Grotto by Carlos Cortés and the eye catching F.I.S.H. exhibit by Donald Lipski.
The Mission Reach, the portion of the river extending from downtown south to connect the missions, is being completed in different phases. Already, there are a couple of foot bridge enhancements including The Once And Future River by Anne Wallace that has the plants and animals native to this region etched in stone along with the brightly colored Up On The One by Mark Schlesinger. The Mission Concepción portal by Stacy Levy is also nearing completion.
But the art installations left some people wondering, “What do the pieces mean? What is the inspiration behind them?”
To help answer this question, SnappTours (a company I have cofounded) and the San Antonio River Foundation paired up to create an interactive smartphone guide to the artwork along the Mission and Museum Reach. Now, instead of just strolling along the river and admiring the artwork, visitors can learn more about the art with an interactive smartphone tour narrated by actor Tommy Lee Jones.
This guide was released in time as the National Americans for the Arts (AFTA) convention is being held in the River City. As you are on the river, look for placards with a QR code and a website optimized for your Android or iPhone that can give you more information about the art right in front of you. Our hope is that visitors and locals alike will take the time to enjoy the river and the experience the great art along it this weekend and weekends to come.
You can view this smartphone tour by scanning one of the QR codes along the river with either your Android or iPhone. You can also view the River Walk Tour by downloading the SnappTours app in the iTunes App Store.
Garrett Heath blogs for Rackspace, is the guy behind An Average Joe in San Antonio and enjoys working on things at Geekdom. He loves San Antonio, especially eating at mom and pop Mexican food restaurants. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+.