The [*] Project: A City Between Real and Ideal

(March 11, 2013) -- Everything is City. It is stories, moments, colors, and images engraved in our memories imagining a place between real and ideal. However, complexity distorts perspectives of place, and we beg for clarification. The [*] Project exhibition is a research effort by Asst. Prof. Antonio Petrov and his students in UTSA’s College of Architecture. It is an active investigation of San Antonio’s cultural fabric, undertaken to reach a cohesive understanding of the city and its neighborhoods.

San Antonio art enthusiasts were buzzing on the evening of March 5, as The [*] Project officially opened to the public at PASA Studio downtown. The [*] Project is a creative place-making experience, both emotional and evocative, where citizens can participate in the reclamation of the city as a cultural entity. The public brought real memories, stories, and perspectives as they contributed to the idealization of a recovered San Antonio.

The exhibition presents an investigation by students of UTSA’s College of Architecture about San Antonio’s cultural fabric. This community engagement project, funded by a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) “Our Town” grant, invites the public to map their memories and experiences in San Antonio through participation in the UTSA students’ exhibition. With hopes for every individual to freely express their own idea of place, the opening provided a variety of platforms to experiment, explore, and develop new perspectives on the experience of San Antonio as a larger cultural entity. 

The exhibit is divided into three different sections where people can contribute to the place-making initiative. Attendants at the opening viewed footage of the students’ research, design, and construction processes in the “Cloud of Ideas.” Copies of the students’ sketchbooks arranged in an illusory cloud hover over monitors looping films and images of the students’ schematic planning. Two maps of San Antonio reflected the city in condensed and expanded context to foster new perceptions of place. The first expanded the city onto the floor with bright orange abstractions of the city’s 278 neighborhoods. In order to reveal space for broadened perspectives, people walked through “The Experience Map” and used a sculpture of mirrors to clarify the map’s inverted neighborhood titles.

Adjacent to a wall of San Antonio images, participants contributed their memories to a second, condensed map of the city which outlined seventeen cultural arteries. These arteries are concentrations of cultural activity along major roads or corridors. “The Memory Map” asked the public to freely express where they made their memories, and the wall is consequently covered with sketches, words, ideas, and stories of people’s childhood homes, favorite parks, first workplaces, or the coffee shop around the corner.

Overall, The [*] Project opening was hugely successful. Those who were unable to attend can still participate in the exhibit through April 23. In preparation, reflect on your perceived ideas of place. Identify yourself within the city to regenerate your perceptions of place. Experiment with emotionally mapping the places of your community. Bring these reflections to the exhibition, and put your renewed perspective into action. Sketch your memories. Describe your stories. Map your neighborhoods. Make your place. Together we will co-author the unifying ideas behind San Antonio’s true identity.

Related Feature (UTSA's Community Connect magazine): A City Between Real and Ideal

Related Gallery: The [*] Project Opening Reception

Related Video: The [*] Project Dance Performance

The [*] Project is part of the Public Space, Public Transit, Public Art series, which is a project funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). In the summer of 2012, the UTSA College of Architecture, in partnership with the City of San Antonio’s Department for Culture and Creative Development and VIA Metropolitan Transit, was selected to receive an “Our Town” grant from NEA. The [*] Project exhibition is free and open to the public, and will run through April 23. The exhibition is located at PASA Studio, 400 N. St. Mary’s, and is open from 8am-12pm and 1-4pm, Monday-Friday. For more information about any of the events in the series, contact Nicole Chavez, CoA Development Associate, at nicole.chavez@utsa.edu or (210) 458-3121.