With clouds of dust blowing across a forlorn triangular plot of land at the intersection of Interstate 35 and Zarzamora Street, workers on Wednesday unloaded from two flatbed semi-trailers pieces of what will become a 60-foot-tall public art installation by San Antonio artist Cruz Ortiz.
By Thursday afternoon, the sculpture neared completion.
Ortiz’s Dream Song Tower is the result of a combined effort among the City of San Antonio’s Department of Arts & Culture, the Southside Chamber of Commerce, and City Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4), to bring what documentary filmmaker Martha Martinez-Flores described as a “long-lasting cultural legacy” to a “forgotten” part of the city.
Martinez-Flores was on site with Austin filmmaker Mickey Cevallos to document the installation. “It’s going to mean so much and so many different things to people in this community,” she said.
The sculpture’s title and the Selena lyrics its large, metal cut-out words quote, “Siempre Dreaming of You,” will encourage drivers viewing the piece to consider, “What are the dreams of the people in this part of town?” she said.
Those people are largely “blue-collar working class families that really are the engine of this city,” she said.
Along with the Selena lyrics, Ortiz’s Dream Song Tower includes folkloric images Southsiders will recognize, he said, including the ojo and “the Donkey Lady.”
Represented on the sculpture by a light-blue standing donkey cut-out figure, the Donkey Lady refers to a tale from Ortiz’s childhood, wherein he and friends would park at night under the I-35 overpass to await her mythical “ee-yaw” cry. The ojo, or eye, refers to a traditional mild curse that causes minor misfortunes.
The sculpture will have “chicken feet” that recall an old story from a popular Southside club, El Camoroncito, Ortiz said, when at midnight the women and their jealous dates would see the man they’d been dancing with was actually the devil.
“A bunch of abuelitas and grandmas came up with these stories to keep you inside the house,” Cruz joked as he related the meanings of the various symbols employed on Tower. He became more serious in describing its purpose.
A sculpture that portrays traditional culture, “it’s like a Rosetta Stone translator, beacon-type of piece,” serving as a gateway to the Southside, he said.
The “dream” of the title is a romantic reference, Ortiz said. “We’re always chasing – our lover, the love story, the romantic journey, the American story, the American journey.”
Al Arreola, Southside Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer, lives “two exits down” from the site, he said Wednesday, which abuts an active set of Union Pacific railroad tracks, the South Park Mall, a medical clinic, and several franchise restaurants.
“I think it will spark interest, and show the pride in this part of town,” Arreola said, “especially [since] it was done by a local artist, a hometown artist, a Southside artist.”
Saldaña got involved in the project in mid-2014, after fielding constituent complaints about the corner that many considered a safety hazard, an “eyesore,” and unusable for development due to access issues, the railway, and drainage concerns.
The councilman first secured limited federal funding of $40,000, then parlayed that amount into $370,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds, to go along with $25,000 in Neighborhood Access Mobility Program funds from the City for sidewalk improvement at the site.
The public sculpture does two things at once, Saldaña said. It resolves “the original complaints about a corner that was an eyesore and a problem” and will turn it into “a clean corner, but one that also inspires.”
“The great thing about public art,” he said, is that it “enlivens a community to ask questions, and it inspires neighborhoods to feel pride in where they’re from.”
The Dream Song Tower installation is to be completed on Friday, according to Javier Flores, assistant marketing manager for the City’s Department of Arts & Culture.