It can shock you, make you laugh or snap you out of your daily routine. Street art in Austin, from mega murals to purposeful graffiti, delivers messages from diverse community voices. Sometimes a signature is proudly left next to intricate pieces; other times, the artists remain completely anonymous.
The city’s growing street art culture has earned widespread attention for a uniquely Austin brand of uplifting messages. From the iconic, “Hi, How Are You” mural on Guadalupe Street to the warm and fuzzy “I Love You So Much” graffiti at Jo’s Hot Coffee on South Congress, these messages have become part of the city’s DNA.
“Austin is an original city,” says Todd Sanders, owner of Roadhouse Relics gallery on South First Street and one of the artists behind the soon-to-be-restored “Greetings From Austin” postcard mural on the side of his building. “That’s just a part of who (Austinites) are as a people. We don’t want to take art and keep it private or hide it in our homes like they do in some other cities. We want it out on the street — and big.”
While some images become a part of the city’s identity, others are gone just as quickly as they went up. When graffiti appears in Austin without the property owner’s permission, it’s a crime punishable as a misdemeanor or felony. The city’s graffiti abatement program helps property owners remove any unwanted initials, slogans or drawings, although some property owners have chosen to embrace it. The beauty of street art is in the eye of the beholder.
Sanders, who is partnering with students from an after-school art program to raise funds for the “Greetings From Austin” mural’s restoration, says maybe street art is embraced more here because Austinites enjoy having something to share as locals. “With the influx of people moving in, I think there’s more pressure to embrace what’s real about Austin.”
In an occasional series, we’ll explore the depth of Austin’s flourishing street art scene — and the spray cans behind it. Here, we take a look at a few reminders across the city that encourage us, no matter how bad things get, to keep pushing forward.
“Never Give Up” (Railroad bridge over Lady Bird Lake)
On a recent afternoon when gray skies over downtown Austin threatened to pour rain, bicycle riders Meredith Teglar and Brady Shipp paused near the railroad bridge over Lady Bird Lake. Teglar says she’s often inspired when she spots uplifting messages while riding her bike. She dreads the day that the “Never Give Up” reminder on the wall of the railroad bridge disappears like other encouraging messages that have come and gone in that spot.
For Shipp, it was more about the aesthetics. “I’d rather look at positive art than some rusty old wall.”
César Chavez mural (1816 E. Sixth St.)
As the neighborhood around it changes, the East Sixth Street César Chavez mural remains a reminder of an era gone by, one where Rabbit’s Lounge served ice cold beers and played a big role in the city’s Chicano politics. It was the meeting place for many aspiring candidates and trailblazing East Austinites who hatched their political plans there. So it makes sense that civil rights activist and labor leader César Chavez’s words graced the exterior wall of the former humble bar. Rabbit’s closed in 2011 — it’s now a hip new spot called Whisler’s — but the mural remains, overlooking new bar patrons.
You’re My Butter Half (2000 E. MLK Jr. Blvd.)
How do you engage the community in a meaningful way? For graphic design agency Creative Suitcase, that meant volunteering to design and create a mural for the United Way for Greater Austin. John Rockwell, creative director for Creative Suitcase, sketched numerous ideas for the United Way team, but “You’re my butter half” brought just the right amount of humor and sweetness to the project.
The popular mural, painted last year, regularly brings out folks to pose for pictures with their significant others or pets. About 15 members of the Creative Suitcase team volunteered to work on the mural. Rockwell wanted to bring people together through the mural in the same way that United Way brings the community together. “You want to know that you’re important to somebody,” Rockwell says of the mural’s inspiration. “And it’s more playful when it’s food.”
“The Help” quote (East 11th and Branch streets)
Most people recognize the quote on this wall from the book or movie “The Help,” where an aspiring writer sets out to write a book about the lives of African-American maids. Those were the encouraging words from a maid/nanny to a little girl.
You, too, can get inspired by the collage-style piece while standing in the long lines at Franklin Barbecue across the street.
“Take A Moment…” (1016 W. Sixth St.)
When life’s moving too fast, park at Lululemon Athletica on West Sixth Street. The yoga-inspired athletic company offers Austinites a reminder to slow down with a whole wall full of calming messages.
Each Lululemon store in Austin features a mural that reflects the personality of the neighborhood. Designers from the company’s Vancouver headquarters came down to Austin last year to listen to mural ideas from employees, says Laura Clemens, one of the store’s managers. The designers later created the mural based on those ideas and their own impressions of the city.
Clemens says she hopes the mural’s message, which encourages people to “Take a moment to catch your breath,” inspires passersby “to start something new and to get from good to great,” she says.
This is the first of an occasional series that explores Austin’s street art scene.