Not everyone is happy to see the growing number of colorful murals filling the walls of downtown San Antonio.

The Conservation Society of San Antonio sent a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council in advance of Thursday’s council meeting, requesting “long-range planning” for new mural installations. The letter outlines concerns over the aesthetics of San Antonio’s future, pitting the city’s burgeoning mural scene against its historical character.

It concludes with an admonishment: “Like New Orleans, Charleston and Savannah, the image of San Antonio is defined by its architectural inheritance, not contemporary art.”

Kathy Rhoads, president of the Conservation Society, told the San Antonio Report: “We’re just wondering, is there somebody out there at the city or someplace else that is coordinating all this individual stuff?”

She added a pointed question: “Are we going to end up looking like a painted city?”

Is ‘Everywhere’ too much?

The Conservation Society’s criticism centers on Centro San Antonio’s Art Everywhere initiative, which has so far produced 14 murals in the downtown area, with 10 more promised by the end of the year.

Centro requested $100,000 from from the Houston Street #9 Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. On Thursday, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the funds. Half of that amount will fund two to four new downtown murals in three zones, including the 300 block of Peacock Alley, the intersection of Market Street and Alamo Street, and Commerce Street near San Pedro Creek.

In response to the letter, Centro’s Vice President of Cultural Placemaking Andi Rodriguez arranged to meet with the Conservation Society to present her organization’s plans and learn more about the Society’s concerns.

“I’m really hoping that this discussion that we have next week, I can alleviate concerns, explain what we’ve done and why, and understand maybe there’s a way we can work together,” Rodriguez said. “I love and respect what they do. They’ve made our city amazing, but I think that we can work together. That’s what I’m hoping for next week.”

Speaking in an interview before the vote, Conservation Society Executive Director Vince Michael gave a preview of the sort of question they will be asking: “What is Centro’s plan for the next 20 years?” he said.

“We have a pretty small downtown,” Rhoads added, questioning the more than 20 existing and planned murals in the five-square-mile area. “How is that going to affect the historic look of our city, which is what people come here to see and experience?”

She said that any office or agency in an oversight role should be determined by the city manager, and suggested that tourism interests should be included.

Plus, not vs.

Rodriguez identified herself as a “huge preservation advocate,” even while advocating for the downtown murals. She emphasized that “without fail,” Centro works with the Office of Historic Preservation on all of its mural projects. In several cases, murals have been installed using removable polytab substrates as an alternative to painting directly on walls.

Mural-makers and conservationists should be able to work together, Rodriguez explained. “In cities all over the world, art and architecture live together harmoniously,” she said.

Centro CEO Matt Brown said the group’s efforts are focused on promoting the artistic culture of San Antonio, which he said includes the city’s architectural heritage.

Brown said Centro’s long-term goal is to have its murals one day recognized alongside San Antonio’s architectural heritage as key elements of the city’s character.

“What we hope for is that 50 years from now, 100 years from now, 150 years from now, people look back on this time [and say], ‘We had people giving us great murals!’” Brown said. “We are 100% into, ‘How do we preserve our great history and our great heritage, and how do we make history and heritage for the future?’”

Nicholas Frank

Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with an indie rock...