Earlier this week, The Conservation Society of San Antonio sent a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council outlining its concern over the proliferation of street murals in downtown San Antonio. Specifically, the society, the city’s largest historic preservation group, pointed to the Texas Historical Commission’s recent rejection of 10 murals on the facade of the Astrodome, which is a state landmark, in Houston.
“We have concerns about turning the Astrodome into a big billboard,” Mark Wolfe, the THC’s executive director, told commissioners last week, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
The Conservation Society echoed that sentiment.
“The concerns expressed by the Texas Historical Commission are relevant to San Antonio as well,” Kathy Rhoads, president of The Conservation Society of San Antonio, wrote in the letter.
The missive was sent two days before the City Council was scheduled to award Centro San Antonio $50,000 for its Art Everywhere program, which has installed 14 public murals in downtown since it debuted in recent years. Another $50,000 will benefit Travis Park programming; both allocations are grants from the Houston Street Tax Reinvestment Reinvestment Zone (TIRZ).
Centro San Antonio has taken the lead in installing murals in the downtown area of late, but other groups, such as the San Antonio Street Art Initiative, have played a role as well.
The Conservation Society wants the city and Centro to follow an “installation plan that protects historic building fabric, conforms to city plans and avoids crossing the line into commercialism,” it said in its letter sent Tuesday.
It went on to say that “the image of San Antonio is defined by its architectural inheritance, not contemporary art.”
In an interview on Thursday, Rhoads and Vincent Michael, executive director of The Conservation Society, clarified that they weren’t against funding Centro. They simply wanted to see a presentation on Centro’s long-term plans for the rest of its mural series.
“All of the artwork that Centro has put out so far is great and we weren’t trying to give off the feeling that we were against their art or trying to get their funding voted against,” Rhoads said. “Everybody is just doing murals now so we want to figure out if there is anyone looking at the long-term plan on if we are going to paint up all of downtown San Antonio.”
Michael added that San Antonio has many historic buildings, so it’s important to preserve them compared to a city like Austin, where excessive artwork is acceptable because of the lack of historic landmarks.
When asked if they felt any recent murals in San Antonio crossed the line into commercialism, Rhoads and Michael referenced a mural near East Euclid Avenue near West Grayson Street for its inclusion of the Frost Bank logo. The mural, however, is not part of Centro’s series but of Los Ostros Murals, the collaboration between Shek Vega and Nik Soupè.
“My apologies for being ambiguous in our initial comments, but we saw that as one example in San Antonio because it promotes Frost Bank and that can be interpreted as a billboard,” Michael said. “Furthermore, myself and Rhoads don’t feel any murals here in San Antonio have crossed those two problems like in Houston, but we just wanted reassurance that future murals don’t lean towards those themes.”
Centro CEO Matt Brown said all mural designs have gone through the city’s Office of Historic Preservation for approval, and don’t have a formal Art Everywhere plan.
“The reason we don’t have a specific plan yet is because when you compare our central business district to many other cities—and not the Miami’s, Chicago’s, New York’s or San Franciscos of the world—I’m talking Nashville and Tulsa, and look at their artwork in the public domain: We are playing catch-up,” Brown said. “So we feel the urgency to get more artwork to beautify our downtown area, but in the future we plan to have a more comprehensive plan.”
Brown added that Centro and the Conservation Society are planning to meet next week to discuss the remaining seven of 21 murals the downtown advocacy group plans to instal by the end of the year.
So far, 14 murals—either printed on a canvas-like material, then installed; or painted on—have debuted throughout downtown. Each mural’s lifespan differs depending on its material and location, Brown said.
He said Rudy Herrera’s “The Last Parade” mural on the side of the Kress building, for example, could last there for decades if city officials maintain its preservation.
[ Related: ‘The Last Parade’ mural honors indigenous cultures, underground artists | May 8, 2021 ]
Brown said murals that are printed and use polytab as an adhesive can last 2-5 years, and painted murals depend on natural elements and the service it receives.
“However, if we want to replace them all collectively, then we will do that,” Brown said.
Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio and co-editor of The Ranger at San Antonio College. Follow him at @rockssjr on Twitter
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