Picturing A New Future

Near East Side development creates larger-than-life canvas for San Antonio artists

Near East Side development creates larger-than-life canvas for artists

Essex Art Project
Essex Art Project has turned abandoned warehouse exteriors at a future mixed-use development into giant art canvases. Essex Modern City/Facebook

The developers behind Essex Modern City, a planned mixed-use development envisioned to be like the Pearl, are getting closer to breaking ground on their project. Situated on San Antonio’s Near East Side, which has seen a surge of redevelopment in recent years, Essex Modern City looks to boast new premium residential and commercial spaces close to downtown.

But in addition to real estate, the project site is also helping to boost the local street art and music scene beginning with the inaugural Essex Music and Art Festival running May 7-12. Located around the property at Essex and Cherry streets, the fest will feature 30 muralists, 15 music acts, panel discussions, a break-dancing competition, a BMX competition, vendors, food and drinks, and more.

Among this year's highlights is a performance by Snoop Dogg, who is scheduled to do a DJ set May 11, while Tech Bloc, the advocacy group for the local high-tech sector, will kick off the festival May 7 with a panel discussion.

Welcome to the neighborhood
The festival is the largest event yet at the future Essex Modern City site, but it's not the development's first foray into the local creative scene. The Essex Music and Art Festival is capitalizing upon momentum built by a popular second Saturday activity that involves mainly local artists and musicians.

The monthly event, #EssexArt Project, has converted the sides of abandoned buildings and warehouse bays on the former industrial complex into giant canvases for artists. Aside from second Saturdays, visitors can swing by the property on weekdays and snap photos of the artwork.

The second Saturday efforts began 18 months ago partially as a way for the site's developer, Harris Bay, to introduce themselves to residents and merchants in the Denver Heights neighborhood. 

A celebration of San Antonio heritage
Street art as a celebrated art form has a long history in San Antonio. Thanks to social media and fledgling events, it has reached new heights in the Alamo City — and Harris Bay and its partners want to be part of that scene.

“It has been about incorporating street art and building a community around it,” says Jon Leonardo, founder of TreeHouse Agency, which has been helping to organize the Essex Art Project and the upcoming festival.

Leonardo says the festival will elevate the spirit behind second Saturdays to another level. “We’ve tapped into who’s making a big impact with street around San Antonio,” he adds.

Essex Modern City isn’t alone in recognizing the power of street art. In March, the multi-phase San Antonio Street Art Initiative invited the public to a typically near-empty parking lot at Interstate 35 and North St. Mary’s Street to unveil a series of murals, many of which reflect local culture and heritage, and which currently cover nearby overpass pillars top to bottom.

Like the SASAI, the Essex developers say its murals will also be incorporated into the overall design of their community when it’s finally built out, a way to convey authenticity while continuing forward with development. “(Street art) is a catalyst for change," says Leonardo. "People react to it, and it drives emotion.”