McAllen understands the value of public art. It’s good not only for business, but also for the community.
“Public art makes people feel good,” says Nancy Moyer, McAllen Public Art Committee chairperson and professor emerita of art at the University of Texas-Pan American. “It’s attractive to businesses, as it makes the city feel like it’s moving forward.”
Through public art, local eyesores are transformed into objects of beauty. McAllen’s many standpipes, for example, now serve as mediums for colorful mosaics. In 2015, the Public Art Committee installed the second of five mosaic designs that grace a cluster of standpipes along Bicentennial Boulevard near the International Museum of Art & Science and a new walking and biking path.
From Irrigation to Inspiration
In their original state, the standpipes, once used for irrigation, added little to the aesthetic appeal of this busy part of town.
“The committee decided to do something with the standpipes that would add ambiance,” Moyer says.
The Public Art Committee reviewed several design submissions and unanimously chose a proposal from local visual artist Linda Lewis.
“She submitted a sophisticated design that easily translated to mosaic,” Moyer says. “We were just blown away by her design.”
Lewis, who has a longstanding interest in tile mosaics, wanted to create “a meaningful design that reflected the culture and nature of McAllen,” she says.
“I selected designs used in woven textiles — I am also a weaver — that referenced the different cultural influences in McAllen. I decided to use the color schemes of five of the most colorful birds that reside in the valley: black-bellied whistling duck, red crowned parrot, golden-fronted woodpecker, kiskadee and green jay.”
The black-bellied whistling duck and the green jay (McAllen’s city bird) designs have been installed, with the remaining three on the horizon.
Motorists who cruise down Bicentennial Boulevard can take in the abstract designs, while pedestrians can stop, admire the mosaics and read corresponding plaques about the project and the inspirational birds.
Public Art Priorities
In addition to the standpipe project, the Public Art Committee has brought a range of sculpture to McAllen. In conjunction with the City of McAllen and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, it oversaw the installation of “Three Graces,” a 12-foot-tall steel sculpture by Mick Reber. Douglas Clark’s bronze sculpture of an irrigation worker stands on Nolana. Johann Eyfells’ recently installed sculpture marks the Dr. Pablo Perez Elementary School turnaround on North Main Street.
Public art isn’t the only cultural outlet in McAllen. The city’s arts and culture community thrives, with a wide array of art exhibits, performing arts and music. The International Museum of Art & Science hosts regular exhibits and events. During the Friday night McAllen Art Walk, residents can explore the city’s many art galleries and studios. Music lovers can enjoy free outdoor concerts from a variety of acts, as well as performances by the Valley Symphony Orchestra & Chorale and the South Texas Lyric Opera.
“I write art reviews for the local newspaper, and there is a good show every week that I can write about,” Moyer says. “That is significant for a community of our size. There is a lot of good energy here, and a lot of art production going on.”