From the Walls to the Web: "Austintatious," Austin's Original Mural, Goes Online
A new interactive project celebrates the 23rd Street fixture's golden anniversary
By Joelle DiPaolo, Fri., March 24, 2023
In 1973, equipped with paintbrushes and a dream, three art students walked off of the University of Texas campus to 23rd Street to create "Austintatious," Austin's first mural. Now, 50 years later, not only has the mural defied the odds and survived, but filmmaker Mike Woolf is preserving its story through a new interactive website.
"Austin's got this great vibe," Woolf says. "I think you can trace it all back to the 1970s in Austin, Texas, and the Drag was the very beating heart of the city."
Woolf and his team worked with Austin design agency the Graphic Standard to create an interactive website (23rdstreetmural.com). Viewers can click on different parts of the mural to watch short films depicting core parts of Austin history. "This was a mirror of what was happening on the streets and in the city in 1973," Woolf says. "Fifty years later you can look at this mirror and see this reflection of the people and what the scene must have been like. But it's two-dimensional and I think this project was a way to bring it to life."
In 1972, Austinites ultimately won over City Council to officially close down 23rd Street for the Renaissance Market. Michael Kleinman, the owner of Planet K and the Phogg Foundation, said the mural overlooking the street represents far more than its layers of paint. He explains, "That mural was a celebration of our victory."
Kerry Awn, one of the original mural artists, says he didn't expect the mural to become a lifetime job. "We thought it might last maybe five or 10 years," Awn says. "With Austin changing so much it's like, why keep this hippie mural up here? It is kind of amazing."
Over the years, each time the mural has been vandalized, original artists Rick Turner, Tommy Bee, and Awn come to the rescue. Awn says restoring the mural allows him to reconnect with his "best friends in life." He says, "We get together, it's like, let's make art, make each other laugh. ... It's a reunion with the artists because otherwise we don't really see each other ever really, for years."
Another film Woolf directed, "Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs," inspired him to make an in-depth project focusing on the mural, using unused footage from the film as a starting point. Video editor Landon Peterson says the mural is a "little portal to memories ... It was like being a kid in a candy store with all the fun we were having digging up these gems of history."
With each restoration of the mural, artists have added new elements. Peterson says it is "not just about lost Austin," but a celebration of the city's spirit. "It's about living Austin and some of the treasures that are tied to such a storied past."
Woolf says he hopes the video serves as a reminder of the specialness of the city. "[When people move here] they should have to go to the website and learn about what made Austin so cool that they want to overpay on rent."
When Awn first painted the mural, everyone said it was "too California." Looking back, he's proud that Austin's first mural didn't end up being its last. "I'm glad that murals kept going on," he says. "It's like, just take [art] to the people on the street."
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Austintatious April 1, noon at 23rd and Guadalupe, 7:09pm at TexPopAtx, 1516 S. Lamar, texpopatx.org.