Look: There's a large, varicolored group of long glass blades that, though separate, hang together in harmonious mid-air concert, each part of the creation adding to the beauty of the whole.
If you're impressed by the sculpture suspended from the main dining room's ceiling at Mettle, Bridget Dunlap's new restaurant in the southwest corner of the refurbished warehouse complex at 507 Calles, you could walk across the wide hall to East Side Glass Studio and see what other wonders the artist Leigh Taylor Wyatt has created. You might have to scoot around a cluster of people in that art-filled gallery, though, because folks have crowded over from a beer tasting at the popular Hops & Grain Brewery just a little farther down the concrete-floored walkway. You could taste some of that beer yourself, too; but, if not immediately, then back at Mettle, where the brews are proudly stocked – or maybe during the next mixed-martial-arts bout at the Eastside Austin Elite training center that anchors the other end of the still-in-progress complex, because that local bastion of extreme physical fitness is likely serving up a refreshing Hops & Grain elixir in their VIP viewing area. And, as you continue exploring these neighboring businesses, who knows which MMA champion might be taking an aerial dance class at Sky Candy right next door to the glass studio, while someone at Artists Screen Printing Co-op down the hall pulls a custom print for that high-flying school?
You see what we're getting at here? There's a steel-framed epicenter of creative and culinary and calisthenic energy at 507 Calles, instigated by the same developer who helped bring Austin the renascence of Penn Field, and each part is adding, in ways large or small, to the whole. And we haven't even mentioned that the complex also houses MASS Gallery and industrial-design wizards Pump Studio and digital multimedia outpost the Bakery.
"This space is what met the plans for our next stage of development," says MASS Gallery's Xochi Solis; the gallery, in its former and more meager incarnation, was for years attached to the Blue Theater on Springdale. "We wanted to have studio spaces," says Solis, "and to be more in an area where we could strengthen our community engagement. And this space has enabled us to share a lot of artists from all over the country with new people. The brewery and the restaurant bring in people who are often totally unfamiliar with contemporary art, and they come in and ask a lot of basic questions, and it ends up being a nice information session for most visitors. They're young folk, most of them, who are interested in creative spaces. I think being with good, creative neighbors gets us a target audience who are interested and invested in the arts."
"It's a weird building," says Jules Buck Jones, a current artist-in-residence at MASS, "and you get quite a diverse group of people coming in. It's cool to have strange neighbors. They do some crazy things over there at the MMA place, but it's nice, because when your neighbors do crazy shit, that allows you to do crazy things. Peter, the guy who owns the building? He has few rules, but one of them is that he wants all the tenants to be homegrown Austin businesses or arts-related things."
"We've made a specialty out of that all over East Austin," confirms Peter Barlin, questioned while the investor stopped to check in with his two teenage daughters who were running the reception desk at Eastside Austin Elite, where Barlin's brother Ben, wily MMA veteran, is the head honcho. "We sort of advocate for people who normally can't get a space," says Barlin. "We finish out things that they can't get finished out, give them a rent that they can afford."
"Peter encourages mixed-use, artistic-focused warehouses," agrees Sky Candy Executive Director Winnie Hsia. "In fact, when we moved in and some of the other neighbors were like, 'Are they gonna be playing loud music?' Peter's like, 'You're moving into a warehouse with aerialists – that is your problem.' And we were like, 'Thanks, Peter – thanks for being so cool!' He definitely supports small businesses, the arts, bootstrapping."
"We love being part of such a vibrant, alive building," says Sky Candy co-founder Joanna Wright. "There are times when the brewery is having an event, and the MMA gym is doing stuff, and there's a glassblowing demonstration, and the whole building is just pulsing with energy. You can feel it. I mean, then we all kind of grumble about finding a place to park, but it's really exciting here. There are a lot of cool, creative people who hang out here and it's – it's a good place to make art, y'know?"
"Everyone here's pretty like-minded," says Hsia, "and it's great having a place like MASS Gallery and ASPCO right down the hall. We're asking the screenprinters to make a sign for us, and we've already had some people in the building take classes with us. And with Hops & Grain doing their weekly tastings, and then Mettle opened, and suddenly this place has a lot more foot traffic."
Which brings us back, on narrative foot, to that new restaurant with its industrially inflected design and its Leigh Taylor Wyatt-created sculpture. "Bridget [Dunlap] was a fan of Leigh's work," explains Daniel Brooks, Mettle's general manager, "so she wanted to get East Side Glass Studio to do, well, it's not a chandelier. It's an illuminated glass sculpture."
"And Bridget said I could do whatever I wanted," says Wyatt, who runs the public-access glassworks with co-owner Shara Funari. "As an artist, I've been put into boxes so often; people can get really specific when they commission something. But with Bridget, it was more of a free-for-all."
"I think the only thing we did was come over and look at some powder colors," says Brooks, who spends some of his off-duty hours working out at the Eastside Austin Elite gym. "Because we already knew what the rest of Mettle's design and wallpaper was gonna be, so we wanted something that would kind of mesh with the colors, but we didn't want to give Leigh any limitations."
And what has this sort of modus operandi ultimately led to? Look: There's a growing, mixed-use array of creative businesses that, though separate, hang together in harmonious steel-girdered concert, each part of the complex adding to the synergy that powers the whole. It's called 507 Calles, and it's right there where Sixth Street ends.
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