Murals and Mermaid Sculptures: How to Experience the Thriving Arts Scene of San Marcos
San Marcos has a growing art community and an emphasis on public art. This mural by local artist Morgan Haberle Egan is on the back of the Root Cellar Bakery and Catering Center.
San Marcos is famous for many reasons. It is notorious as a hotspot for all river-related activities. It is known as a great place to shop thanks to the San Marcos Outlet Mall—the largest outlet mall in the country. It is well known as a college town educating 39,000 students at Texas State University each year and possibly lesser known as one of the fastest growing city in the country.
While it is not traditionally known for its art scene, that is rapidly changing. San Marcos officials are dedicating money to public art to both beautify the city’s landscape and shine a light on the city’s thriving art scene. Visitors who have not been to San Marcos in a while might be surprised by all the colorful public art scattered throughout town.
“The creative arts scene in San Marcos is at an all-time high,” said Lisa Morris, the Recreation Programs Manager for San Marcos. “There is always something going on in town. Live music can be found around town every day, and artists’ works are being displayed in restaurants and coffee shops all over town.”
Where to Start
For traditional art installations, head to the outdoor sculpture garden at the Activity Center. Cultivate a Zen-like trance while walking through the gardens, taking in the beauty of Kate Ritson and Albert Tamez featured sculptures. Then head inside the Activity Center to view the Walker Gallery’s display of professionally curated artwork from local artists.
Hit up Art Squared, an outdoor art market every second Saturday of the month from March through December, to pick up a local piece of your own. The 3rd Thursday Downtown Walkabout is another great opportunity to shop local, plus enjoy live music, drinks, and food.
Don’t Miss the Mermaids
Perhaps the best part about San Marcos’ vibrant, colorful, and quirky nature is the mermaid statues and murals scattered around town. Start in the downtown square for the most concentrated area of public art. From small paintings to wall-sized murals to larger-than-life-sized mermaids sculptures to utility boxes wrapped in art, downtown San Marcos offers visitors color around every corner.
Want to take a selfie next to a mermaid holding a pig? Then check out the Mermaid March. This new public art project features 10 fiberglass mermaid statues standing seven feet tall. Mermaids became part of this landlocked town’s pop culture in the 1950s when the now-defunct Aquarena Springs amusement park used aquamaids in its underwater shows. Since then, the mermaid has become a town mascot and residents now view the mythical creature as river guardians protecting the town’s namesake river.
To highlight the mermaid’s significance to the community, the San Marcos Arts Commission asked local artists to design statues in her honor that were original, humorous, and uplifting in nature. Arts installed the first 10 sculptures in July 2018.
The mural program has been another fun public art program reflecting the city’s good nature. In 2013, then councilmember (now mayor of San Marcos) John Thomaides proposed the creation of the San Marcos Mural Arts Program to give local artists an outlet for their creativity, beautify the community with art and reduce graffiti on downtown buildings. The mural art program has turned into one of the city’s most popular programs. Since its inception, 25 murals have transformed dull space into a canvass used to display pieces of artwork.
San Marcos artist Mabel Sirup painted the first mural on a building in the Children’s Park. Grabbing inspiration from the San Marcos River, Sirup painted an underwater scenescape with three mermaids carrying a banner that reads, “Keep San Marcos Beautiful.”
Back in the Square, another favorite mural called “Dive into the Divine,” features a mermaid swimming through the San Marcos River with “Keep San Marcos Beautiful” outlining the mural. Artist Morgan Haberle Egan found inspiration from the old Aquarena Springs theme park when designing this mural on the side of the Roots Cellar Cafe and Brewery.
At the edge of Kissing Alley is the perfect Instagram backdrop. The colorful Greetings from San Marcos (78666) vintage postcard style mural is one of the city’s most snappable pictures.
Smaller murals are harder to find. Halfway down the red-walled Kissing Alley is a whimsical Cu-pig armed with his bow and arrow. Find the tiny mouse who is in love with a girl from the “right side of the tracks” outside the Taproom Pub and Grub or the Blue Heron picking up discarded cigarette butts near Smoothie Warriors. Another small heron mural on the east side of the Rio Vista Fallas shows a heron picking up discarded water bottles.
Embark on a mural scavenger hunt and see how many of the 30 you can find. If you are having trouble finding them all, check out the Interactive Map of San Marcos. But it can be just as much fun to discover them as you go. In a short period of time, the art scene has become yet another reason that San Marcos is a fun spot for a weekend getaway.
Written by Jennifer Simonson for RootsRated Media in partnership with San Marcos CVB.