This past spring Timothy Brendler gave students in his music and media communications course at I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA an interesting assignment: compose a handful of songs for an augmented reality art walk.

They received their assignment as Neighborhood Leap, the app that would use their music, was being developed. The walk would wind through the streets of the Near Southside neighborhood, bringing existing murals and newly created works to life through narration, animations and a custom soundtrack students would help create.

For Brendler, the project clicked well with one of the school’s missions, which is to develop partnerships in the community that give students real world experiences.

We sent over an army of different tracks. Every single kiddo sent a minimum of six tracks to them and some of them that loved it sent even more,” Brendler said. “We were just really thrilled for the opportunity.”

To begin the process, students looked through storyboards and written reflections about the project. Brendler asked students to create music of varying lengths that followed different prompts about how the music should sound. For example, one piece should be an upbeat, rhythmically driven track while another should be a little more low-key and reflective.

Jazmine Peoples, 19, a recent Terrell graduate, was one of those students in that class who made music for the virtual art walk. She started learning to play the piano at age six and would later transcribe pop music by ear.

I learned to apply it (music theory), and that’s when I really felt like, ‘Wow, this is a whole language here that I can use to make art that helps express how I feel.’ And that’s when I started writing,” Peoples said.

Her interest in production stemmed from there. “I was like … there’s got to be a way that I can just put all of these instruments that are in my head together in one concise noise, essentially. So I started really dabbling in production, and it was thanks to Terrell that I was actually given the resources to make that happen.”

She was grateful for the opportunity to work on a project rooted in the community. Her classmate Frederic Situmorang, 16, a rising junior who is a piano major at the school, also expressed gratitude for the opportunity. 

I’ve never really had to, like, fit my music to certain guidelines or certain specifications. And so it really forced all of us to think outside of the box and come up with creative solutions and ideas,” Situmorang said. “And I think that’s really beneficial to our musical journeys as students.”

But it’s not just students who were in on the project. A group of artists at various stages in their careers, from emerging to long-established, also participated in the art walk.

Making something that would engage the community on multiple fronts was a priority for Kathleen Culebro. As the artistic director for Amphibian Stage, she said this project was initially dreamt up during the early phase of the pandemic when it wasn’t clear how long a shutdown might last and when many artists were unable to work.

We wanted to get cultural tourism. We wanted to get people familiar with Amphibian. We wanted to provide income for artists, and we wanted to provide visibility for the neighboring businesses. We’re just a very close knit community, and so we help each other a lot,” Culebro said. “At the same time, a friend of mine in England created his own virtual art walk and we said, ‘We want to do that.’”

Amphibian partnered with the Blue Zones Project, an initiative of Texas Health Resources, and put out a request for proposals on the project.

Fernando Rojas is a visual artist with a background in architecture based in Fort Worth. He describes his work as a modern take on Western and Mexican art, and for this project, he created a virtual mural he named “Inspired” that consists of three layers.

It’s showing a person blossoming from the hands, floating in space. It’s pretty much a metaphorical way of saying that if you’re inspired to do something, if you’re looking to use your creativity in any sort of way, just go for it. And I think (the Near) Southside is a great place to do that,” Rojas said. “I mean, you see all the artwork, all the different restaurants and all the different people just walking around. I think it’s very much a place to be inspired and be creative.”

Dallas-based writer Fabiana Martinez also participated in the project. She wrote a short story to accompany a handful of portraits Ross Reitzammer made of people from various walks of life who make up the neighborhood.

“I was trying to use a mechanism where the walker would feel included into the set of characters portrayed in that specific space,” she explained. “I really hope that once they listen to their story, at some point they realize that they are also part of that narrative.”

At various points throughout the walk, users are encouraged to stop and consider not only what the artist might have meant, but to also think about how they might contribute.

Since the project is a new collaboration and includes a lot of moving parts, it’s meant to be iterative, and Culebro said its evolution is likely to continue.

At least three new murals have gone up in the area since planning for the project began. One of them was finished early enough that they were able to integrate it into the app’s recent launch.

That mural, titled “Chromesthesia” by DAAS, was commissioned to commemorate The Cliburn’s 60th anniversary. Situmorang, the piano major at Terrell and Cliburn fan, was excited to see the final product even before he knew his work would be the soundtrack to the DAAS piece.

It’s really exciting because you get to expose your music to a lot of different people and it’s just a really great opportunity to expose yourself and your interests and your talents to the outside community,” Situmorang said. “I think it’s pretty cool.

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Marcheta Fornoff

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...