‘Remote,’ Ep. 4: Public Art Blooms in San Antonio
“Sometimes it’s too hot to shoot,” says L.A. filmmaker Badir McCleary, who, only moments ago, sprinted down the scorching concrete River Walk in San Antonio, a city where temperatures regularly climb into the triple digits during summer months.
Badir stops to catch his breath in front of “Árbol de la Vida: Memorias y Voces de la Tierra,” a massive steel and ceramic tree that celebrates San Antonio’s history through community storytelling. The filmmaker hopes for cooler weather as he admires Margarita Cabrera’s towering sculpture, but the sky remains exasperating, overcast without so much as a drop of rain in sight. [“Arbol de la Vida”] reminds me a little bit of Alexander Calder,” Badir says, gesturing toward the installation’s spindly armature and 700 dangling ceramic sculptures, all crafted by San Antonio residents. Each sculpture—whether mermaid, windmill, shovel, or cross—tells a fragment of San Antonio’s larger story through contributions from the community. “It has so much history behind it,” Badir continues, marveling at the potpourri of ceramic symbols hanging from the city’s very own arbol de la vida, or tree of life.
Margarita Cabrera’s cooperative outdoor sculpture appears two minutes into the latest episode of Remote, Badir’s ongoing video series on the power of public art. The fourth mini-documentary in the series, “Becoming a Public Art City,” trails Badir through the creative hotspots of San Antonio and Houston. “San Antonio is definitely having a cultural renaissance,” says Badir, who lived in the city circa 2010 while working for the Department of Defense. “[Back then] it was mostly a military town, everything was based on the military. There was the San Antonio Museum of Art and a few other art spaces, but not the real boom that it has right now.”
After leaving San Antonio for greener pastures, Badir founded Art Above Reality, an art consulting and curatorial firm that works with beginners and seasoned pros alike. Since then, the longtime filmmaker has built a reputation for breathing life into forgotten pockets of creative culture. His video series Fallen Through the Cracks highlights overlooked Black artists in short, digestible snippets, while his work with Gallery 38 helped reinvigorate the eclectic arts community in the historic L.A. neighborhood of West Adams. Similarly, the Remote series explores the impact of public art on surrounding cities, landscapes, and communities.
“Spending more time in San Antonio, I felt something was brewing,” Badir says of the idea behind his Texas trip. “People were being much more expressive.” Artist enclave Marfa and Houston, home of the Rothko Chapel and Project Row Houses, also make the filmmaker’s bucket list for must-see art spots in Texas. Halfway into the episode, Badir hops in his car and heads to Houston for a conversation with Noah and Elia Quiles of UP! Art Studio, an organization that facilitates art projects for urban and contemporary artists, communities, and organizations.
“The public art in Texas, for the most part, is very culture-centric, very Texas-centric,” Badir says after returning to L.A. “A lot of energy is coming into [San Antonio], and I think people are taking art seriously as a career a lot more these days […] it seems like the focus is on building an art city, which is very cool.”
Available to view here only, Remote is an exclusive video series created by Badir McCleary in partnership with NOT REAL ART. Watch the premiere of “Becoming a Public Art City” here, then mark your calendars for the next video drop on Nov. 1, 2023.
“San Antonio is definitely having a cultural renaissance.” — Badir McCleary
All photos published with permission of the artist(s); featured image: “Bloom” by Leticia Huerta.
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