Imagine a neighborhood where murals burst into three-dimensional life and familiar strolls to your favorite restaurant or watering hole are accompanied by original music from local hip-hop artists. Thanks to a new collaboration between Amphibian Stage and Blue Zones Project, that reality has come to South Main Street.

Neighborhood Leap is an augmented reality experience that allows users to engage with public art using a smartphone app.

“After the last two years of anxiety, social isolation, and fear, Neighborhood leap invites the public to experience physical, mental, and emotional inspiration through activity, art, and community,” a statement from project organizers reads.

During a recent preview event, I tried out the app, which is scheduled to be available on major app stores by June 25. Neighborhood Leap works on Apple and Android smartphones, I was told. The ideal starting location is Amphibian Stage. Since the multi-sensory encounters rely on smartphone technology, consider mornings or late afternoons when the sun is not directly above. This tip allows art explorers to avoid distracting screen glare.

We started our exploration near the north wall of Amphibian Stage where Sarah Ayala’s geometric mural looms large. I clicked “list” on the app, which brought up more than 20 destinations. Holding the phone’s camera up to the mural, the bricks that comprise the north wall fell away to reveal scenes from past plays by Amphibian Stage. The theatrical video montage was set to light whimsical music.

Leading the way to each new stop are small green circles on the sidewalk with blue arrows. The second stop at 126 South Main Street activated a poem reading. Then we crossed South Main Street to view an expansive virtual mural of a cowboy freefalling into two large open hands. The Creativity Loves Company mural at Backlot Studios became a three-dimensional projection that asked a question: What does Creativity Loves Company mean to you?

The app is still being tweaked and updated. Missing from our tour that day was an original soundtrack of music by I.M. Terrell Academy students that will soon be added. Jay Wilkinson’s black-and-white painting of deceased artist Jeremy Joel came with a poignant message.

“Sometimes we make art to honor the ones we love,” the narrator said. “Who would you paint?”

After a short stroll north of Hop Fusion Aleworks, a lone glass window activated first-hand accounts of Fort Worth’s racially divided history through short interviews with local civil rights advocates.

As our group passed Distribution Bar (formerly Shipping and Receiving), lyrics from a new song by local hip-hop stalwart Lou CharLe$ projected from the urban landscape. The upbeat number carried us to another large mural by Jay Wilkinson before we ended our tour by taking in the Near Southside’s newest mural. Commissioned by the Van Cliburn Foundation, DAAS’ sprawling and colorful work, once I activated the app, become animated by a musical staff radiating outward.

Neighborhood Leap combines the excitement of a treasure hunt with the emotional pleasures that come from spending quality time with quality art. Give the app a try and you’re sure to find new works of art that you may have missed. Even familiar artworks will seem refreshingly new when viewed through this newest addition to the Near Southside’s ever-blossoming cultural landscape.

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