Hidden among the maze of one-way streets in downtown Brownsville and mere blocks from the Texas-Mexico border sits Galeria 409 where The Art of the Bicycle opened on March 17. The art show, curated by Mark Clark, includes prints, photos, paintings, sculptures and antique bicycles that create a collective visual celebration of the city’s proud cycling culture and Rio Grande Valley artistry.
The City of Brownsville provides 64 miles of on street and trail cycling paths that are a part of the Connecting Brownsville walk and bike master plan. From the resacas along Ruben Torres Boulevard to the murals and street art throughout downtown and the Belden Trail, cyclists can enjoy a variety of settings and scenic views while riding. The culmination of cycling pride is visible at the Cyclobia Festivals held regularly by the City of Brownsville since 2014. The event closes down streets temporarily for the safe enjoyment of pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclobia Brownsville brings together groups and organizations to create a family friendly time centered around educational and physical activities like healthy eating suggestions, obstacles courses, Zumba and much more.
The city is committed to expanding bicycling culture equitably and in 2016 Brownsville invested in bicycle accessibility and launched a bike share program to promote usage of alternative transportation in the downtown area. It is because of these accomplishments that Brownsville was named the Bicycling Capital of the Rio Grande Valley by the Texas Legislature and is the only city south of San Antonio to earn a rating by the League of American Cyclists.
While enthusiasts appreciate the recreational benefits of cycling, residents understand that it is much more than fun. Bike and walk paths provide secondary routes of transportation for many locals who rely on the public bus system and for students who walk to and from school. Cycling culture or the lack of can impact the landscape and development of neighborhoods and communities. The group Friends of the West Rail are an example of residents who recognize this and are politically engaged in advocating for the development of a route that extends along the historic West Railroad from Olmito to downtown Brownsville.
On the group’s website, Bike the West Trail, advocates suggest that a car-free green space would benefit the community by increasing mobility, improving health but also by spurring economic development and job creation. Indeed enthusiasts and entrepreneurs have noticed the City’s promotion of cycling culture, which has encouraged the creation of businesses such as 7th Street Cycles & Park Coffee, the self-proclaimed “source for coffee, culture, and local bike shop banter in Brownsville, TX.” A new food park called the Broken Sprocket is soon to open and will feature food trucks, live music, and a bicycle repair shop, adding to the city’s bike-friendly recreational alternatives.
Brownsville is at the forefront of RGV cities encouraging and investing in an active culture so it felt appropriate that Galeria 409 celebrate this accomplishment by inviting RGV artist to provide their rendering of the bicycle. The show opening featured artists such as Raquel Hinojosa, Marcy Gonzalez, Bryan Wedgeworth, Mark Clark, Gaby Rico, Rawmirez and much more. Each artist interpreted cycling culture uniquely to their vision, from abstract brushstrokes and drips on canvas to functional piñata bicycles. The Art of the Bicycle provides a range in aesthetics and styles that will resonate with many, not just cycling fanatics.
The show is an obvious ode to the city’s blossoming bike culture and a clear statement of support from the artist community. Rather than just a statement, this bike centered art show can begin conversations about how art can be used to promote physical activity, healthy living and augment the City of Brownsville’s cycling culture and message. Public art and murals, for example, can create cycling destinations. Good graphic design can create more appealing educational and informative material on bicycling for specific communities.
There are plenty of ways that artists can use their talents to promote cycling for the City of Brownsville but it is also up to the city and the cyclist community to promote and celebrate artists and their work. The Art of the Bicycle aside from being a wonderful and creative showcase should be seen as a call for collaboration between artist and the cycling community of the city and region.
The Art of the Bicycle is on display at Galeria 409 at 409 E 13th St., Brownsville, TX 78520. Contact Mark Clark for viewing availability at (956) 455-3599.