X Marks the Art installations downtown. Click map for larger, interactive map.
Melanie Robinson Profile

Fifteen installations, 22 artists, 13 vacant downtown properties. “Chandelier on steroids,” “Sink Hole,” “Equal to or Stranger than Fiction” and “Us and Them,” are just a few titles of the works featured in the X Marks the Art exhibit, “Cut and Paste.”

The titles are as unique as the works they describe, all of which strive to not only color vapid downtown storefronts, but also to change perceptions of vacated spaces, enhance pedestrian experiences, utilize artistic talent, promote commerce and attract individuals to experience art and culture in an innovative way. Expectations are high, to say the least.

At a reception tonight, District 1 City Councilman Diego Bernal will kick-off the new “Cut and Paste” series at Argo Plaza (175 E.Houston St.) at 5:30 p.m., followed by a walking tour of the installations.

With the help of lead artist Cruz Ortiz, these installations will be on display for six months, beginning in December of 2012. The theme this go-around was loosely based on the idea of cutting and pasting. The artists were asked to incorporate corrugated plastic as one of their primary materials.

The elegance of Sage Gibson's "Chandelier on Steroids" stands in stark contrast to the chain link fence that surrounds it. (205 N St. Mary’s St.) Photo by Melanie Robinson.
The elegance of Sage Gibson‘s “Chandelier on Steroids” stands in stark contrast to the chain link fence that surrounds it. (205 N St. Mary’s St.) Photo by Melanie Robinson.

Featured local artist Aaron Moreno notes that the material was much stronger than what he normally works with. “A box cutter and brute strength is what it took to get through it … [the task] makes working feel much lighter, though, more playful, and allows me to step outside my usual studio work.”

Click map for larger, interactive map.
Click map for larger, interactive map.

X Marks the Art is a program designed to activate vacant downtown storefronts and underutilized spaces by introducing visually dynamic art installations, all linked by an online map, to attract the public to venture out and see art throughout the downtown area.  It is presented by Public Art San Antonio, a division of the Department of Culture and Creative Development (DCCD), previously the Office of Cultural Affairs.

The program was launched in August 2011 in response to Councilman Bernal’s desire to create a more culturally inviting downtown environment. Many of the storefront art pieces feature lighting to enhance the ambience, which also supports Councilman Bernal’s idea of lit and activated storefronts that create a safer environment for visitors and residents alike.

District 1 City Councilman Diego Bernal
District 1 City Councilman Diego Bernal

A pilot program was first instituted in the winter of 2011 and included eight installations. A handful of storefronts was selected and various artists were commissioned. The program gained attention and interest, including that of Councilmen Bernal, who embraced the idea and encouraged X Mark the Art’s expansion. With his blessing, the program evolved from a one-time experiment to a viable program that has endless potential for expansion.

“We wanted to change perceptions,” said Felix Padrón, Director of the DCCD, when speaking on the initial guiding thought behind X Marks the Art. “We are improving the comfort level with downtown spaces that aren’t occupied. People tend to associate these vacant areas with a lack of safety… [this program] is creating positive visibility.”

Felix Padrón, Director of the DCCD
Felix Padrón, Director of the DCCD

Padrón also notes that the project is spurring interest with both customers and real-estate managers. Local businesses, he noticed, have also been prompted to clean, paint and improve the overall appearance of their storefronts in response to these installations.

“It is a matter of motivating,” he said. “Artists have great ideas and the creativity that comes with it is appreciated.”

The relatively young program has begun crawling, but has promised to walk, even run in the very near future. Celebratory events, interactive aspects, creative uses for the interior spaces, incorporating other artistic genres, perhaps even expanding to outdoor installations are all possibilities for growth.

Here are some of the pieces on display:

“Us and Them” by Jenelle Esparza

Jenelle Esparza's "Us and Them" at 140 E Houston St. aka The Book Building.
Jenelle Esparza’s “Us and Them” at 140 E Houston St. aka The Book Building.

62 handprints from people in the San Antonio community including artists, writers, friends, musicians, and business owners hang in the window of 140 E. Houston Street with strings of lights cascading from above. Some of the people include poet laureate Carmen Tafolla, Councilman Bernal, and conjunto accordionist Eva Ybarra. Prints of leaves are scattered amongst the hands to show the similarities in the lines of both. A quote in the center describes us as being this “material copy of a heavenly pattern.”

“The overall idea was to bring together this group of people whose paths brought them here and focus on a connection between each other and our environment,” said Us and Them artist Jenelle Esparza. Her first public art project as well as her first large-scale installation, she has been encouraged by the positive responses received thus far. “Even people in the street stop to look at it. I like that strangers are curious about it.”

“This Way” by Aaron Moreno

"This Way" by Aaron Moreno at 315 E Commerce St. Photo courtesy of X Marks the Art.
“This Way” by Aaron Moreno at 315 E Commerce St. Photo courtesy of X Marks the Art.

A large multi layered photo-realistic piece, Aaron Moreno used his son and wife’s hands to visually recreate fond memories of walks downtown with his grandmother. She held his hand to ensure his safety without sheltering him.

“I kept that with me, as a father,” said Moreno. “As parents we often fear for our child’s safety. It can sometimes hold us back from opening the world up to our kids and keep us from sharing life with our children. Her strength taught me to be a strong parent.”

“Miss You” by Shannon Gowen

Shannon Gowen's "Miss You" at 315 E Commerce St.
Shannon Gowen’s “Miss You” at 315 E Commerce St.

Cardboard, fabric, paper, photos, postcards, old wooden spools, corrugated plastic and other collage elements beckons passersby to take an interactive trip down memory lane.

Artist Shannon Gowen comments, “Many of the responses to my work have included questions as to who the people are in the postcards and old photos.” While some were found in antique shops and some were from her personal collection, the message remains the same.

“I was interested in creating a collaged environment of personal memories… I hope to gain the attention of the downtown community so that they might reflect on the lack of attachment in their fast paced environment.”

Upcoming X Marks the Art Events:

Melanie Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a Concentration in Professional Writing and a minor in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in December 2011. Her current Marketing position at the local nonprofit organization ARTS San Antonio has afforded her the opportunity to further explore her love of the arts. She now spends her nights among local musicians, artists and poets – finding beauty in self-expression. You can contact Melanie through her Facebook.

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Project Surrender: Letting Go and Moving On February 2013

Legitimizing an Underground Gallery December 2012

Reviving the Written Word: Local Collective Keeps Poetry Alive November 2012

Downtown Tuesday: “A Worthwhile Experiment” November 2012

Gallery: Bike It! Mural Tour by Tom Trevino, Fitness Trainer and Photographer December 2012

Melanie Robinson is a San Antonian writer, poet and musician who currently works as the content writer for Tribu, a digital marketing firm, and freelances for the Rivard Report, San Antonio Current and...