"Drawing Lines: Explorations of Place"
The final exhibit of this public art project shows how every district in Austin has had artists working for it
Citizens of Austin, prepare to meet the official representatives of your 10 City Council districts. Oh, not the ones you voted into office and who spend every week arguing policy on the dais at City Hall. I mean, the creative representatives of those districts as established by the public art project Drawing Lines. A few years ago, as our growing metropolis was contemplating the switch to a single-member district system of government, Lynn Osgood – a specialist in urban planning and design, and a five-year veteran of the city's Art in Public Places Panel – started wondering how public art could help Austin with this political transition. The answer she devised, along with architect Sarah Gamble, her partner in the firm GO collaborative; visual artist Jennifer Chenoweth of Fisterra Studio and Generous Art; program designers/experience builders Meredith Powell and Sharon Lyle of the consulting firm Public City; and staff in the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Development Department, was to embed an artist in each of the new geographical areas for a year, during which time this creative representative of the district would work with its residents to co-create a work of place-specific public art and exhibit it.
With $256,500 in support from ArtPlace America, artists were nominated and selected for the districts, and they embarked on their residencies in the spring of last year. The works they made were shown in their home districts over the latter half of 2015, but for the first 10 days of April they're being shown together in the McKean-Eilers Building, 323 Congress. Although it removes the art from the area that inspired it, "Drawing Lines: Explorations of Place" allows visitors from all over Austin to experience in one location the range of its creative representatives – chef Sonya Coté, hip-hop poet/theatre artist Zell Miller III, musician/composer Adrian Quesada of Grupo Fantasma/Brownout/Spanish Gold, video/film documentarian Deb Esquenazi, muralist Josef Kristofoletti, et al. – and the diverse character of the districts that they represent, as well as the fact that all belong to one city.
"Drawing Lines: Explorations of Place" opens with a free public party April 1, 7-10pm. Here's a guide to the artists and art of Drawing Lines. For more information, visit www.drawinglinesaustin.com.
District 1: Los Outsiders, /Person/Place/Thing
Los Outsiders, the creative collective behind exhibitions such as the Austin Critics Table Award-winning "Heir Today Gone Tomorrow" and "Gently Fried" and projects such as Dance Your Pants Off and #ATXLoteria, decided to get to know District 1 on an intimate level, through community, memory, and object. Members Jaime Salvador Castillo, Michael Anthony García, Hector Hernandez, and Robert Jackson Harrington interviewed district residents, gathering stories and personal objects that became the basis for an exhibit of mementos the people of District 1 hold dear and images of the area they call home. They originally showed these at the Cement Loop studio and gallery last fall.
District 2: Deb Esquenazi & Carrie Kenny, Portraits
Documentarian Deb Esquenazi, whose work often highlights social inequity and criminal justice, and writer-artist Carrie Kenny, who owns Prizer Gallery, created a mobile portrait studio and invited families and individuals who live in District 2 to sit for a portrait. They also recorded resident stories for the audio component of an installation where portraits of participants were projected in large scale, along with maps of District 2 and street scenes encountered by the artists as they explored the area. For taking part in the project, residents received a printed 5" x 7" photo as an expression of gratitude. The project was shown at the Dove Springs Recreation Center last October.
District 3: Adrian Quesada, Windows
Not surprisingly, Grammy Award-winning musician/composer/producer Adrian Quesada turned to music for his project in District 3, where he and his wife have lived for 15 years and raised two daughters. He produced a song and video in which students from District 3 schools and the Anthropos music program performed alongside veteran musicians who call District 3 home. His hope is to engage students "in this idea that they're part of this community, at large in the city and in the district, and that the city is changing, and that there are concerns." The song – a cumbia juxtaposed with a funky marching band beat – was performed at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center in October.
District 4: Zell Miller III, Youth Voices of the Four
Zell Miller III grew up in District 4, and knowing what it was like for him then and what it's like for young people now led the award-winning poet/playwright/theatre artist/hip-hop artist to focus on the relationship between the children and their community. "I used to walk from my home to school," he says. "Kids today can't really do that anymore, so for me I'm very invested in the youth and what's going on in their heads, and how they feel about it. I want to know what is safe to them, and ask them, 'How do you feel? Do you feel like you are being taken care of? Are you getting what you need from the city? How big of a voice can we be for you?'" He held writing workshops for youth to share their thoughts through poetry, followed by an event at the Gus Garcia Recreation Center where the poems were read by community figures such as Salvage Vanguard Theater Artistic Director Jenny Larson, hip-hop artist Da'Shade Moonbeam, Lotus Dance Company Artistic Director Melissa Villarreal, University of Texas professor Omi Jones, SafePlace Executive Director Julia Spann, and Lanier High School Principal Ryan Hopkins.
District 5: Sonya Coté; and the Homegrown Revival, Share
In honoring the work that created District 5's Cherry Creek Community Garden, Sonya Coté drew on the spirit that led the Daily Meal to name her one of "Top 10 Badass Women Chefs in America." The owner and executive chef of Hillside Farmacy, Eden East, and the Homegrown Revival Supper Club built a 25-foot-long communal table from wood salvaged from the Bastrop fires in 2011. It represents 25 houses lost to flooding on the site where the community garden was established and is intended to serve as a new community gathering space. To christen the table, she prepared a Super Blood Harvest Moon and Total Lunar Eclipse dinner for the community using recipes and ingredients collected from the neighborhood.
District 6: Josef Kristofoletti, Roboticelli
Muralist Josef Kristofoletti – a native of Nagyvarad, Transylvania, now based in Austin – has an interest in nature, technology, space, and architecture, and the prevalence of high-tech companies in District 6 led him to develop a technologically geared system for generating art. It's essentially a mural-painting robot: a giant printer that can be temporarily attached to a wall or building for printing artwork and paint any image in a color dot matrix. Josef was an artist in residence at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
District 7: Teruko Nimura, Wish Lantern
For her District 7 project, artist Teruko Nimura took inspiration from Asian community festivals in which the lantern is honored as a symbol of hope, love, spirit, and contemplation. "I am intrigued by that feeling of warmth and protection that you can get from a beacon of light surrounded by darkness," Nimura says. "I wanted to re-create that for the community of District 7. I wanted them to experience that kind of communal, hopeful feeling that I feel lantern festivals represent." Working with the Northwest Recreation Center and Asian American Resource Center, she held a series of workshops in origami folding, with participants writing wishes on the papers, which were threaded onto solar string lights. The wish lanterns were installed along the bridge at Beverly Sheffield Park in February.
District 8: Patrick Bresnan & Ivete Lucas, $3333.33 Plant Give Away
While it may be that all of the Drawing Lines artists created projects with the idea of giving something to residents of their districts, Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas took that concept a step further in District 8. The two installation artists/filmmakers spent one-third of their $10,000 budget on plants to give to the district residents. But their big giveaway on Nov. 7 also included a performance element so they could document the residents' response to the gift. Posing as a news film crew, with actor/playwright Hannah Kenah of the Rude Mechanicals playing a reporter, people receiving the plants were interviewed about topics such as the state of the natural environment, property taxes, crime, and the school system.
District 9: Jack Sanders, Construction Event
Artist Jack Sanders treated the large amount of construction in District 9 as the basis for his project. Aware that construction sites will frequently appear without warning and in unexpected locales, creating abrupt interruptions in the urban landscape, he chose to echo that situation by setting a large sculpture made from everyday materials in a location where sculptures aren't usually seen. He made a large geodesic sphere – 16-20 feet in diameter – with scaffolding materials, and set it on the grounds of the Elisabet Ney Museum in Hyde Park for several weeks last fall.
District 10: Steve Parker, Sound Atlas
Steve Parker, the trombonist, composer, and curator who directs the Blanton Museum of Art's SoundSpace series, wanted to treat District 10 as a large musical instrument, so he collaborated with residents on an interactive composition made of sounds collected from people in the district, then developed an app so it could be played by anyone with a smartphone inside District 10's boundaries. A software developer helped Parker make the app trigger sound files based on GPS coordinates and other data, such as time of day and the listener's velocity and orientation. Sound Atlas 1.0 debuted in October, but Parker wants the work to evolve as residents are able to upload additional sounds, personal anecdotes, and oral histories of the neighborhood – in essence, growing over time as the district does.
"Drawing Lines: Explorations of Place" runs April 2-10, noon-5pm daily, at the McKean-Eilers Building, 323 Congress. A public grand opening kickoff party takes place Fri., April 1, 7-10pm. For more information about Drawing Lines and the participating artists, please visit: www.drawinglinesaustin.com.