Public Art: Creating 'Ballroom Luminoso'

Mickey conrad

The unexpected Ballroom Luminoso project on San Antonio’s South Side astonished almost everyone involved.

“I was really surprised,” said Blessing Hancock, one half of the public art team that created the colorful, glowing orbs now hanging from a highway underpass at the I-35 intersection of Theo and Malone streets. Hancock and partner Joe O’Connell were on Public Art San Antonio’s short list of artists and were notified in January that their concept had been approved. Less than five months later, the $100,000 project was unveiled. Hancock, who said this was her fastest turnaround on a public art project ever, confessed of the ambitious timeline, “We were really amazed that they were able to pull it together.”

Unable to travel to SA, Hancock, whose large, interactive projects can be spotted from Utah to Norway, researched San Antonio’s culture from the design team’s home base in Tucson, Ariz., to come up with lotería-inspired chandeliers fabricated from metal bicycle parts and multi-colored LED lights. Possibly, she was comforted by the fact that they had just hired Lucas Conrad, a young San Antonian and sculptor, for the fabrication arm of their endeavor, Creative Machines.

Conrad had interned for Hancock and O’Connell on another installation (Fish Bellies) for his alma mater Texas State University and was able to parlay that work into a fulltime job at Creative Machines. Coincidentally, his first big assignment as a fabricator for the company meant heading back home to work on a blighted site in a low-income neighborhood. “I think that area needed something along these lines,” said Conrad, an Alamo Heights High 2006 graduate. “A lot of people, even me, expected [the project] to be down by the River Walk.”

Conrad was part of the team who drove the six 180-pound spheres and their accompanying 200-pound axes from Arizona to SA. The truck broke down multiple times and once in town, the lift gate refused to work.

The light at the end of the Ballroom Luminoso tunnel of rushed deadlines and transportation drama was seeing the reaction to the installed work, both locally and from international sources like The Atlantic Cities website. The colorful LED displays cast intricate shadows on the underpass’ structure while illuminating the dark passageway connecting Theo and Malone. “It’s a play off of elegance and urbanism,” said Hancock. “The underpass has a really formal aesthetic, with rhythm and repetition along an axis … I thought of a ballroom.”

Hancock hopes that Ballroom might be taken at face value and envisions community dances and performance art held at the underpass. Conrad noted that he saw people dancing, taking photos, and casting their own shadows. When Conrad went to return the rental truck on the way back to Tucson, he somehow ended up explaining what business brought him to SA. Turns out the truck rental employee lived in the vicinity of Ballroom. Conrad remembered “he said, ‘I live right by there, thank you so much for doing that.’”

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