Sadly, there are plenty of San Antonio natives who can't point out a single piece of public art other than Mexican sculptor Sebastián's La Antorcha de la Amistad (Friendship Torch), that bright-red punctuation mark in the roundabout at Commerce and South Alamo. Not to knock the 65-foot, 45-ton enameled iron monument — which has appeared in countless skyline photos since the Mexican government gifted it to San Antonio in 2002 — but the Alamo City boasts a bounty of public art, thanks in no small part to the city-funded Public Art San Antonio program. Guided by a premise that "public art projects should create places and spaces to reveal influential stories about San Antonio's history, cultures, characteristics and uniqueness," PASA and its ever-evolving map of installations (which run the gamut from the wry irony of Gary Sweeney's postcard-perfect Nostalgia Texas to the sublime conceptualism of Anne Wallace's prairie-summoning Golden Age) inspire suburban treasure hunts and downtown bike rides alike. In keeping with Luminaria's mission to wrap San Antonio's varied cultures and disciplines in a colorful blanket of light, three of the Alamo City's brightest examples of public art look better at night.
A morphing, blinking, circus-striped smorgasbord beneath the I-37 underpass at Commerce and Houston streets, Light Channels is a collaboration between visual artist Bill FitzGibbons, the City of San Antonio, the Texas Department of Transportation and others. Beyond offering passing cars a technicolor encounter with computer-controlled LEDs, Light Channels invites foot traffic to "cross under the highway, through the barrier" between downtown and the near East Side.
If the Museum Reach were to elect a mascot, the lepomis megalotis would be a shoo-in. Better known as longear sunfish and found in rivers and streams throughout the Lone Star State, the orange and turquoise beasties take center stage in New York-based artist Donald Lipski's whimsical F.I.S.H., a glowing installation that dangles beneath I-35 near the intersection of Camden Street and Newell Avenue. While the 25 LED-equipped fiberglass sunfish are spitting distance from the San Antonio Museum of Art, Lipski's installation is also easily reached from the Pearl — just head south on the River Walk and look for a school of fish out of water.
Not unlike Light Channels, Blessing Hancock and Joe O'Connell's Ballroom Luminoso activates a freeway underpass (below I-35 near Theo and Malone avenues) as a color-saturated space designed to "connect the community." Oddly hypnotic despite the din of overhead traffic, the 2013 project paints a surreal, slowly changing scene with LED lights beamed from lotería-inspired chandeliers crafted from upcycled bicycle parts and powder-coated steel. Likened to a "community shadow theater," Ballroom Luminoso took home the Transformative Design Award at SXSW Eco's inaugural Place by Design Awards in 2013.
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