Art Builds Community: It’s a Process

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The newest public art acquisition in the City of San Antonio is right here in our neighborhood. Many may have noticed that there has been an art project going on for the past few months at the Fulton Street underpass connecting the Alta Vista and Beacon Hill neighborhoods.  In fact, this goal has been more than 5 years in the making and has passed through the hands of many elected officials and community governance volunteers. Thanks to the City’s 1% for Art program and our District 1 City Council representation (Diego Bernal and Roberto Carlos Trevino), we will enjoy this contribution to our cultural life for years to come.

Late in 2016, a panel comprised of three volunteers from each neighborhood was assembled to make the final decisions; Tami Kegley, Jennifer Khoshbin, and Melanie Harris De Maycotte from Alta Vista and Dara Anderson, Robert Langston, and Celia Mendoza from Beacon Hill. Over a period of several months, these volunteers worked with Public Art Manager James LeFlore and Project Manager Rebecca Johnson at Public Art San Antonio (PASA) to review candidates, winnowing down choices and making the final decisions.

The Fulton Street Underpass originally received attention back in 2000 when Twyla Arthur applied her mosaic art to the retaining walls. It is a large-scale work that has stood the test of time with periodic maintenance. In order to select an artist to grace the walls of the underpass, the panel sifted through the list of pre-qualified artists using the platform PublicArtist.org. This is a San Antonio-based company that puts artists together with arts administrators around the USA. From an original roster of 30, the panelists worked individually to score elements of an artist’s portfolio. We then came together to discuss the findings and work our way down to the finalists; Scotch! Willington, Luis Valderas, and Joey Fauerso.

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The three finalists were invited to create presentations to communicate their vision to the panel. We had identified our priorities as a group. History, a strong sense of place and neighborhood connection, and the natural beauty of San Pedro Park were all identified as significant influences that we would like to see reflected in the artwork that we were to eventually approve. On the practical side, we insisted that any mural should be treated with an anti-graffiti finish for ease of maintenance. While all of the artists presented compelling designs, in the end, the committee decided that Joey Fauerso’s pitch was the one that we wanted to see represented. The proposal was forwarded to the Public Art Committee, and then on to City Council for approval in May 2017.

Joey Fauerso has worked as an independent artist since graduating with her MFA from University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2001. She is also an Associate Professor in the School of Art and Design at Texas State University. Fauerso, along with her husband and fellow artist Riley Robinson, reside here in San Antonio with their two young sons. She most recently returned from a three-month residency in the summer of 2017 at Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany, awarded through the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum. Fauerso’s current body of work reflects that study.

Her work is observational. Nature, children, and language are her stock in trade, but not in a cloying way. It is intelligent, and rather than dictating to the viewer, one feels that she is asking the questions that you didn’t know that you wanted the answers to. To create the mural for our neighborhoods, she went to the children of Agnes Cotton Academy and asked the questions that we didn’t know we wanted the answers to.

A field trip was organized to Guadalupe River State Park. The trip was documented in a story on the front page of the San Antonio Express-News that ran Thanksgiving Day, 2017. The majority of these children had never had the opportunity to be immersed in nature on this scale. As they spent the day together, the artist drew the children out and gave them the opportunity to speak about their experience in real time. Those utterances and observations were documented and have become a part of this mural. These children will grow up seeing their words in a public space. They will have the memory of that great day in the wild and know that there is a world beyond the one they are faced with day to day. Hopefully, they are reminded that their opinions and observations carry weight with the adults they come into contact with. Hopefully, they grow into adults whose informed opinions, observations, humor, and courage mold the future.

I will speak for the panelists when I say that we gave the selection process our best. I think that the final product surpassed our expectations in its scope. We devoted our time, attention, and experience to the process in a meaningful way and came away better for it. It is our hope that our friends and neighbors will see a finished product that they can be proud of and that the commissioned art created by Joey Fauerso will stand the test of time. We have gratitude for the opportunity to participate in this project that will beautify this unique thoroughfare that joins our neighborhoods.

As we go to print, Joey and her team are waiting for the weather to cooperate. The mural is within several work days of being complete. Roughly 3 days onsite painting and then a few days to apply the graffiti coating. When all is done, Agnes Cotton Academy has agreed to host the dedication event and the District 1 Council Office will also be in attendance. Stay tuned to put this date on your calendar.

UPDATE! The mural is complete! We are 95% confirmed for an official unveiling ceremony at Agnes Cotton Academy on Tuesday, March 27, 8:30 a.m. Stay tuned for more details on the AVNA and BHANA Facebook pages.

 

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