In El Paso, Texas, artist and photographer Peter Svarzbein is using art to inspire a political movement. With a fictitious advertising campaign promoting a trolley system to transport citizens from El Paso to neighboring Juarez, Mexico, Svarzbein has begun a community-wide conversation that questions the media and Americans’ opinions about the Southern border.
There was once a real-life trolley: From 1902 to 1974, it ran daily between El Paso and Juarez but with Mexican drug cartel violence and American anti-immigrant sentiment, those bonds have frayed.
“If you can’t imagine a better future, you can’t have a better future,” says El Paso-born Svarzbein, and he set out to do just that. The idea began as his MFA thesis project in 2010.
With the help of Fusion magazine and Ltl. Monster, a production company, “Temple to the Future” brought together more than two dozen artists from both sides of the border to cover a city-owned abandoned structure that stood near the heart of downtown El Paso which was set for demolition. For “Faces of the Frontera,” Svarzbein photographed 2,154 citizens on the border and created this 7 x 10 ft trolley mural as part of a 8 x 60 ft installation in the City of El Paso’s Chalk The Block Art Festival.
“Faces of the Frontera”
The artist’s large-scale posters, appearances by actors as trolley conductors, videos, news coverage, and public art projects “Faces of the Frontera” and “Temple to the Future” have inspired a conversation about the social issues related to the drug wars and the segregation between the sister cities.
The most recent act of the project was a grassroots push for a streetcar system in El Paso, connecting the university area with downtown. Close to 500 ballots were collected from across El Paso calling for a streetcar system to diminish drunk driving and to offer an alternative to car-dependent sprawl. With the highest amount of ballots for a downtown signature project, El Paso received a $100 million grant from the Texas Department of Transportation for this streetcar network.
Alejandra The Trolley Conductor.
Alex The Trolley Conductor.
The City of El Paso’s remaining PCC’s Streetcars.
Posters in downtown El Paso.
Campaign Launch for the El Paso Transnational Trolley, Thanksgiving Weekend, 2010