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Town soon to be populated by 7-foot mermaids

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Mermaids are set to make a comeback in San Marcos this fall, as 7-foot mermaid statues will be installed throughout the city.

The mermaid legacy in San Marcos began as a tourist attraction in the mid-1900s, when the former Aquarena amusement park provided entertainment though underwater performances by women dressed as mermaids. However, a new plan—courtesy of the Arts Commission—is seeking to put the San Marcos mermaid back on the map.

“The mermaid was born in San Marcos,” said Clay DeStefano, chair of the Arts Commission. “It’s part of our modern culture, and it’s a part of our local lore.”

A design has been commissioned and will be reproduced 10 times, said Lisa Morris, recreation programs manager. Rather than creating 10 individual statues, copies will be made of the original statue.

“The (San Marcos city) council has approved a particular vendor for the job, the Fountain People, who have done similar work for cruise liner companies and Disney,” DeStefano said. “Luckily, they happen to be based in San Marcos, so we have not had to outsource.”

The Arts Commission provided the Fountain People with a rough sketch in order to give a clear starting point. City officials currently await the completion of the final rendering.

Each statue will be 7-feet tall, mounted on a rectangular “butter stick” slab of limestone, which is projected to increase the height of the installations to approximately nine feet.

“The mermaids will be standing upright on their tails, to make them more human, more approachable,” DeStefano said. “People connect with and like the mermaid. We’re ready to rally around this concept of the mermaid as the protector of our heritage and our river.”

“Next, we have to issue a call to artists to reinterpret, decorate and rethink the mermaid,” DeStefano said. “Each proposed image will be presented to a community panel much like mural committee, for evaluation, to see if the image is aligned with what we’ve envisioned.”

From there, 10 finalists will be selected to work on making each mermaid sculpture unique.

“We’ll be sourcing from primarily local artists,” Morris said. “We’ll do an open call, but most of the artists will likely be from the Central Texas area.”

The idea was inspired by a similar project done in Wimberley, where decorated statues in the shape of cowboy boots were placed around town. The idea was finalized around August 2015, and the Arts Commission hopes to have the project completed and ready for installation by next fall, Morris said.

“It’s like the guitars in Austin a few years ago. Lots of cities around the U.S. have had public art projects similar to this, but the concept is new to San Marcos,” DeStefano said. “The commission decided to use the mermaid image because it’s something unique and different—something that leads to dialogue.”

The ultimate goal with any public artwork is to bring art to the people, and to create something positive to look at, Morris said. This particular project is expected to help drive tourism, and add to the products the tourism department can sell to visitors.

“In past artworks, people have been very interested in depicting historical imagery, but right now we’re looking for something more imaginative and engaging,” DeStefano said. “As a result of that, the mermaid is our image of choice. She has a built-in wow factor.”

In addition to being on the San Marcos Arts Commission, DeStefano also acts as co-founder for the Mermaid Society of San Marcos, a local collective focused on promoting the image of the mermaid as a facilitator of entrepreneurialism, environmentalism and river stewardship.

DeStefano said the Mermaid Society has spoken with city council in order to discuss the organization’s overall vision and its importance to the community. During the course of one meeting, Mayor Daniel Guerrero purportedly suggested San Marcos be named the “mermaid capital” of Texas.

In order for San Marcos to be officially declared the state’s “mermaid capital,” the motion has to be passed through state legislation, DeStefano said. Guerrero has spoken with state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, and it has been requested the item be addressed in the upcoming legislative session.

“It was announced by Mayor Guerrero at our official launch in January that he was moving forward with declaring San Marcos the mermaid capital of Texas,” said July Moreno, founder of the Mermaid Society.

The society wishes to work with all of the arts community, but there are no shared projects currently on the radar, as far as a collaboration with the Arts Commission is concerned, Moreno said. Although the statues are specific to the Arts Commission and are by no means a product of collaboration with the Mermaid Society, Moreno remarked upon the well-timed coincidence.

“It’s not one of our goals necessarily, but it is a wonderful opportunity for San Marcos to have,” Moreno said.