Art is all around us if we look a little closer

Where can we find art? When thinking of appropriate places for art, often museums, galleries or private collection spaces come to mind. However, art outside of these boundaries is still art, and should be appreciated and regarded in similar ways as art inside the institutional setting.

Public art is art that is created for and accessible to the general public (ie. not in a museum, gallery or private collection). Usually public art is displayed in public parks, downtown areas or in public buildings, such as libraries, city halls or convention centers. In San Antonio, public art is almost as widespread as the city itself — you just have to look for it.

Murals on sides of buildings or sculptures in the center of roundabouts don’t always scream “I’m art.” This is probably due to their setting, as works of public art merit special attention: they do not have a white gallery wall or museum label to reinforce their credibility.

Public artworks serve as landmarks and placemaking. Ever get lost, but then catch a glimpse of a tall monument or painted underpass and know exactly where you are and how to get home? In this sense, public art can serve the function of landmarking and association.

By placemaking, I mean the situation and combination of elements that make up a particular place — buildings, murals, streets, bridges, sculptures — are all specific to each other, the place in question, and to us. Public art helps to situate us within our built environment, adds to placemaking, and to the overall enjoyment of the places we occupy.

The special thing about public art is that there is no barrier to access it — no physical or economic barrier at least (except maybe a parking fee if you’re hunting for public art downtown). Most art museums and arts and culture institutions in the San Antonio area have some entrance or parking costs associated with them (minus the few where Trinity students can flash their student ID and get in for free), or are closed or require an appointment due to COVID-19.

Well, if looking for a quick break from Zoom and on a budget, public art is coming to your rescue. The city of San Antonio has commissioned and owns a large number of public art works that are on display all over the city: spread out among downtown, neighborhoods, parks, city facilities — the list goes on and on.

The city of San Antonio Department of Arts and Culture website has their public artworks listed by location, as well as pinpointed on an interactive map. Each artwork listed on the city’s website has a brief summary underneath the artwork’s image as well as its location.

The website also has a tab for “New Public Art” where it provides a longer description of new works and the ideas behind them. If you’re on the hunt for public artworks or simply want to learn more about what is out there, the city’s website is a valuable resource.

As stated on their website, “San Antonio’s public art division manages public art projects and programs that express the vibrancy and diversity of our community, enrich quality of life, and improve the visual environment for residents and visitors.”

Public art comes in all mediums, in San Antonio there are a number of murals, mosaics, and monumental sculptures scattered around the city — not to mention architecture.

This past weekend I was playing the part of the tourist, enjoying the weather and public art scene downtown when I stumbled upon the John H. Wood Jr. Federal Courthouse. Wow — talk about an interesting work of public art.

I didn’t have to go inside to appreciate the building: the outside looks like a drum with thin concrete pillars propped diagonally along the circular exterior of the building (seemingly holding the building up). I stood at the base of the courthouse, looking up at it with the Tower of the Americas in the background and snapped a picture. The courthouse was one of the works I hadn’t planned to see on my public art trek downtown, but it was one of the most memorable.

Take a walking or driving trip to see what public art you can spot — it is a fun COVID-19 safe outdoor adventure. I find that the more I look with an open mind, the more I will find and the more enriching the experience will be when I am not expecting the artworks I stumble upon. It is worthwhile to look at and appreciate beautiful things — especially if they are accessible.