Pushing Border Boundaries

The El Paso Transnational Trolley Project

Through a fictitious advertising campaign to bring a trolley system to transport citizens from El Paso, TX to Juarez, MX, artist and photographer Peter Svarzbein began a movement towards political change that questions the media and the opinions of Americans about the southern border.

El Paso born Svarzbein began the idea as a MFA thesis project that later grew to a campaign gaining political traction. From 1902 to 1974, a trolley ran daily between El Paso and Juarez but due to Mexican drug cartel violence and American anti-immigrant sentiment these bonds have frayed. Large scale advertisement posters, appearances by actor trolley conductors, videos and news coverage and most recently a public art projects " Faces of the Frontera" and " Temple to the Future" inspired a conversation about the social issues related to the drug wars and the segregation between the sister cities. With the help of Fusion Magazine and Ltl. Monster, "Temple to the Future" brought together over 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.

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 offer an alternative to car dependent sprawl. With the highest amount of ballots for a downtown signature project, El Paso has received a 100 million dollar grant from the Texas Department of Transportation for this streetcar network. With each mile of trolley track laid, that memory of the trolley and of border-crossing remains alive.

The El Paso Transnational Trolley Project Reel 2010-2011 from peter svarzbein on Vimeo.