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Arts & Culture

One Of The City's Biggest Art Installations Is Under Foot

While San Antonio is filled with public art, it’s easy sometimes to miss a lot of what’s right before our eyes. Not long ago, my wife and I were near the end of a 10K walk when we found ourselves walking across a huge mosaic. I didn’t have time to investigate, but promised myself to come back to find out what was going on there. I finally did that.

“We’re here at the intersection of Santa Rosa and Nueva at the Public Safety headquarters.”

Jimmy LeFlore is Public Art Manager with the city of San Antonio.

“We’re looking at the Unity Plaza.”

Unity Plaza lies in the area between the streets and the city’s Police and Fire administrative office building.

“The artist that we invited for this project, Jefre Figueras Manuel, is a landscape architect by training and he brought in this great idea to turn what would have been a kind of institutional entryway into a plaza which would celebrate San Antonio and give a little meaning to what this building is.

I asked him to tell me about the artwork itself.

“The artwork consists of three main elements, which is the tower, that is lit from beneath, and has a beam, that on foggy and dark nights is really evident, and points up into the sky. And then the map is this stone, mosaic layout, and it’s the city of San Antonio. It is probably the largest map that has ever been made of the city of San Antonio, and it’s to scale as a GPS map would indicate. All of the roads and the highways and the river and every single area is covered. The last is the silhouettes that is over on the Nueva side. Two sculptures that are very similar to the tower actually have depicted a fireman and a policeman.”

Standing beneath these last two sculptures, you look up and an outline of a fireman, and a policemen, with the sky behind them seems to be looking down at you.

“This is a really richly landscaped area as well, with a lot of plants and a lot of things that are native to our city.”

I asked him to explain more about the tower and the light beam.

“Coming here you see a plaza that turns on at night. This is a really extraordinary nighttime presence.   Lights at the base of the tower that are embedded in the ground, and then a beam very intense that is actually up in the tower, comes on at night. And then around the map is a ribbon light that actually goes around where the highways would be—our main arterial highways.”

I asked “I understand that also, given that this is a massive mosaic map, that each of the fire stations and police stations are plotted within the stones. Is that right?”

“That’s true, so in addition to trying to find stones to represent streets within the map, you’ll also see the firehouses, and also the police stations. And inside the beacon wells when we originally put this project together, we had some of the families that had lost their loved ones from the police department and fire department, put some stones with their thoughts and their sentiments into them as kind of a remembrance and a connection for them to this place.”

I asked him if there were a larger objective for Unity Plaza beyond honoring the city’s police and fire departments.

“Trying to do something, not just here but wherever the projects might follow, where it’s unique, where it’s making our city not just attractive now, but attractive for the long term. So that the children that grow up and want to stay in our community see something about San Antonio, not just in the past but in the present, that’s worth staying for.”

He says Unity Plaza serves a dual function.

“One part architecture, and one part art and beautification.”

http://vimeo.com/65353502

More on Unity Plaza here.