The Carver Community Cultural Center is located at 226 N Hackberry.
The 10th annual WeFlamenco Fest takes place at the Carver Community Cultural Center on Oct. 5. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

In the coming weeks, San Antonio residents will have multiple chances to speak out and influence the city’s community art projects. Workshops involving noted artists, local architects, and nonprofit agencies will influence a permanent Eastside park and a temporary sculpture will draw from north, south, east and west side community voices.

Community members can help shape Phillis Wheatley Park at a meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 23, at the Wheatley Park Senior Living apartment complex. The gathering will be the first community input session for the new park, which is planned to incorporate landscape design and art in a form yet to be determined.

“Part of the workshop will be to gather input, suggestions, and ideas, then we’ll build from that,” said Houston-based artist Reginald Adams, who will collaborate on the park with San Antonio’s Bender Wells Clark Design.

Known for his murals in mosaic tile and paint, Adams isn’t exaggerating when he says he doesn’t know yet what form the art will take, or how it will be incorporated into the park.

“We like to start where the community is and build with that,” Adams said. “We truly have no preconceived ideas. We like to come with a clean slate in our minds, and let the community paint that canvas,” he said, speaking metaphorically.

The only known content going into the project will be to honor the park’s namesake, Phillis Wheatley, the first published black female poet, and Ira Aldridge, the famous 19th century Shakespearean actor.

The site of the new Phillis Wheatley Park, located between Lamar and Arthur Street on North Mittman Street, awaits input on landscaping and art features during open community input sessions in May and June.
The site of the new Phillis Wheatley Park, located between Lamar and Arthur Street on North Mittman Street, awaits input on landscaping and art features during open community input sessions in May and June. Credit: Courtesy / Bender Wells Clark Design

During earlier neighborhood improvements, a street named for Aldridge was removed, said Lorraine Robles, director of development services and neighborhood revitalization with the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA). SAHA pledged to include memorialization of Aldridge in the new Phillis Wheatley Park’s ultimate design, she said.

A second, separate community art project will incorporate up to 400 community voices, according to the plans of the Carver Community Cultural Center and resident artist Steve Prince. A printmaker and sculptor, Prince currently teaches art at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Prince once spent a busy week in San Antonio about 10 years ago, he said, exhibiting artwork at Stone Metal Press, Blue Star Contemporary, and the Carver. Prince later connected with Cassandra Parker-Nowicki, the Carver’s cultural center supervisor, at an arts conference two years ago.

Parker-Nowicki attended an ideas forum facilitated by Prince, described as an “art evangelist” in his biography. She describes being “mesmerized by him as a speaker, by how passionate he was about his craft,” and community art.

“I have to find a way to work with him,” she said she told herself at the time, and worked to facilitate his artist residency this May 28-June 9, the first for a visual artist at the Carver.

In those two weeks, Prince will facilitate a series of 20 public workshops, five in each quadrant of the city: Northside, Southside, Eastside, and Westside, to gather as many as 400 contributing voices. The workshops are open to anyone from ages 10 to 70, Prince said, and “my expectation is hoping people will come to the workshops with an open mind,” he said.

Participants of all skill levels will be taught to use basic power tools to carve their stories into wood pieces, which will then be placed together in the shape of a door, Prince explained. His own contribution will be “an artistic element that will act like a locking image,” he said, in the form of a compass rose, and incorporating “a key scene that is part of that particular region of the city, or part of the memory of the city,” he said. Ultimately, “all the different stories are going to connect together to create one harmonious story that can be read together,” Prince said.

Tentatively titled Communal Portal, the four 8-foot tall doors will be unveiled together as a piece at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 9 in the main lobby of the Carver Center, and “the hope is to send it out into the community,” Parker-Nowicki said, to visit accessible spaces in each of the four city quadrants, possibly community libraries.

Community partners helping to facilitate the 20 workshops around the city are Our Lady of the Lake University on the Westside, Presa Community Center on the Southside, the Carver on the Eastside, University of Texas at San Antonio on the Northside, and another Northside partner yet to be determined, Parker-Nowicki said, with details forthcoming on the Carver website. The workshops will be generally open to the public, with registration available by phone, on the website, and at each workshop.

The $28,000 project is funded by a Department of Arts and Culture Tricentennial year TriArt grant, combined with grants from the Joan and Herb Kelleher Charitable Foundation and the Carver Development Board, Parker-Nowicki said.

The Phillis Wheatley Park project will operate on a budget of $500,000, Robles said, and on a longer timeline, according to Pete Campos, a senior project architect with Durand-Hollis Rupe Architects. Having started in April, Campos said, and with 16 weeks for the overall input and design phases, the park is scheduled to open in Spring 2019, after construction is completed.

Robles said the park represents only one part of an overall neighborhood transformation plan spurred in 2012 by a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

After extensive community meetings, Robles said, “it was very evident that the people either residing or working in this community had a strong sense of pride and culture. They’re proud of the history of the neighborhood, and anxious to see it revitalized and transformed, but making sure that we didn’t forget where we came from.”

“The return on investment is really worth mentioning,” said Larry Clark, professional landscape architect and vice president of Bender Wells Clark Design. The surrounding community will benefit, Clark said, “if we can make a great place out of this park that’s enduring, and has the history of place and the community imbued in it.”

Adams returned to his painting metaphor to describe the ultimate goal of the park project, which he hopes “truly becomes a reflection of those community members” who participate, he said.

“Every time they come back to use the park with family and friends, they can see the part they played in bringing vision to this blank canvas, this great civic space and green space for San Antonio.”

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter 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...