- Nancy Flores American-Statesman Staff
It’s been three years since artist Chris Rogers first found himself painting a mural on the corner of 12th and Chicon streets. At the time, Rogers sought to make his artistic mark on a city he had just began calling home. The intersection, too, was in search of an identity after years of drastic transformation in East Austin.
On Friday, Rogers returned to the same spot where in 2014 he had created a mural featuring African-American music legends including Tupac Shakur and James Brown. But this time, he was painting a new mural after his original creation was painted over in May — an incident that incensed the neighborhood.
“I really want Austinites to feel like this is their mural,” Rogers said.
The new mural design, which was inspired by community feedback, will have a similar look to the original mural except for the inclusion of more female, local and Latino icons, Rogers said. Influential women such as Barbara Jordan, Maya Angelou, Sade, Coretta Scott King and Beyoncé might be among the featured faces on the new mural, which will take about a month to complete.
After the controversy this summer, Austin’s black cultural district, Six Square, reached an agreement with the building owner and business owner leasing the property at 12th and Chicon streets to gain conservatorship of the wall for the next three years. Ahead of the Juneteenth parade, the nonprofit had a quote from the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall painted on the wall while it conducted community meetings to seek feedback and raise awareness of the significance of cultural murals and how to prevent their disappearance.
“We’ve been able to build community around something that could have been very negative,” said Six Square Executive Director Nefertitti Jackmon.
She said that Veronica Ortuño, owner of the clothing store and art gallery Las Cruxes, who had the original mural removed, had been involved in the community conversations and continues to collaborate with the nonprofit as it moves forward.
In a statement this summer, Ortuño said: “Las Cruxes is an independently owned and operated small business with long-standing ties to the East Austin community. As a 14-year resident, I consider Austin my home. We are taking into consideration and listening to all concerned parties. As persons of color ourselves, we do not take this issue lightly.”
Jackmon said her goal is to create an environment where the community isn’t reactionary but instead active.
“Historically, murals have been protest pieces or ways for communities of color to be heard,” she said. “Murals are a source of inspiration and should serve as a binding piece to bring people together.”
On Friday, Rogers paused in front of the wall, closed his eyes and took a moment to reflect before painting the first stroke of teal paint on the wall. He said it’s important that people see images of themselves in public art. It’s why, he said, many people connected to his original mural.
“When Chris’ mural was erased,” Jackmon said, “It spawned a heightened awareness for certain groups to do something.”
Six Square plans to include the new mural in tours of the district as a way to raise ongoing awareness.
“In the face of all the changes,” Jackmon said, “What (Rogers) creates will add beauty to this community.”