Blue Genie Art Industries Is Moving
And you’re invited to the farewell party, citizen!
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
4:05PM, Tue. Mar. 29, 2016
Blue Genie Art Industries is moving.
The group responsible for so many oversized creative and commercial icons in this town. The team that made that massive bas-relief sculpture on the front of the Texas State History Museum.
The whole company’s worked out of a humongous and only semi-ramshackle warehouse space on Springdale Road for 17 years. They were there behind the Canopy compound for more than a decade before Canopy existed, back when that elegant two-story warren of art studios and galleries was still a Goodwill processing facility.
And now Blue Genie is moving. To a new space on Burleson Road. But … why?
Well, you can guess why, and we can guess why, but journalism requires actually finding out from the main source – at least. So it was with much curiosity and a little bewilderment that we met with Blue Genie’s Kevin Collins and Chris Coakley and their crew in what remains of the company’s Springdale Road offices to ask, ah –
Austin Chronicle: What the hell is going on? Why are you guys moving?
Kevin Collins: For many reasons, Brenner, and one of the main ones is that Chris and I have been looking for a new facility for a while now. There are a lot of arts organizations in a scramble to find a more permanent home, and I’d say that this space has been a great home for us for almost 17 years, but we’re trying to do the things necessary to secure the future of this business.
AC: So the rent here is too high, or … ?
KC: I wouldn’t say it that way. Although, as a factor of our overhead, it’s probably on the high side. We had the benefit of very cheap rent for a really long time. I think it’s inevitable that it’s kind of catching up to us, but I wouldn’t say it was the major factor in our push to move.
AC: In that case, since y’all have been so well established here, and you’ve got this big huge warehouse for manufacturing, and you’ve got a big exhibition space, what IS the major thing that’s got you moving?
KC: Well, we’ve made so many friends here, and we’ll always be part of the Austin arts community – and we’re really grateful for all of that. But Canopy is a different animal, obviously, than who we are. I kind of feel like we’re the last pirate ship in this complex – we like fireworks and go-karts and Danger Derbies – as opposed to a lot of the other tenants, who are, ah, a little more subdued. After Habitat For Humanity left – and they were our neighbors for 15 years – when they found their new facility, I just got this vague sense that there weren’t a lot of other maker shops here. I felt like we always stuck out like a sore thumb, and once Habitat left, maybe even a little moreso.
AC: So this new space on Burleson, what’s surrounding it? What’s giving it the environment where Blue Genie won't stick out like a sore thumb?
KC: I just feel like we’re really adults in the new space. We’re gonna have a finished-out kitchen, and different compartmentalized workspaces, and it’s going to be largely climate-controlled. We’re going to have a lobby, and Blue Genie never had a lobby, we just, you know – so the amenities really rack up. And the only other people out there on that property, who are like-minded with us, is a speed shop, a race shop called Moorespeed. They maintain million-dollar vehicles, vintage and modern, for clients – and they service race cars.
Chris Coakley: There’s also a lot of space out there without a neighborhood right around it. There’s plenty of room to grow out there. We’ll see what comes of it. The city’s definitely growing out that way.
KC: Yeah – if anyone thinks it’s too far to travel, just wait six months and it won’t be.
Liz Carlin: I think that the facility itself reflects the area that it’s in, too. There’s this blank-space sort of feel to it that’s really kind of nice, because we’re able to make it exactly how we want it from scratch, without having to conform to something that’s already there.
KC: This space on Springdale happened so organically over the course of 17 years, we look back on it and we’re like, “Why did we do it that way?”
AC So this new space, it’s more intentional, more like a planned-city sort of thing?
KC: That sounds right.
AC: And you’re going to have even more space than what you’ve had here?
KC: It will be a little more working space for us, too, yes. We’re gonna build some outdoor work areas, some employee areas. And the interior square footage is actually about the same as we have here, about ten thousand square feet. But it’s nicer. There are, like, lights in the ceiling.
AC: Not to sound all Austin Business Journal-ly, but you guys definitely have a lot of projects going forward, right? There’s enough steady business to sustain Blue Genie in the future?
KC: That’s the thing, actually, why I wanted to reach out to you about this. I want to spread the message that Blue Genie isn’t going away. We’re just moving. Even the Canopy people were chirping when we took the Blue Genie off the roof, “Oh, Blue Genie’s done, Blue Genie’s done.” But, no, we’re just moving a little ways down the street where the rent is cheaper and it’s a nicer facility. And, as I’ve been telling everyone, never in the history of this business have I seen a healthier forecast for work. We have to button up that new facility because we have a lot of stuff to do. Design firms, state agencies, architects – a lot of people want to use us all the time.
AC: Are y’all still gonna be part of the East Austin Studio Tour and still do the Christmas Bazaar?
KC: We’d like to continue being part of EAST. We just met with Shea Little [of Big Medium] today and talked about remaining on the tour. We’ve been part of every single one of them, starting back when there were only, like, 15 or 20 studios. So maybe we’d be a guest back in this space, or – we’ll figure that part out. I think it’d break our hearts if we weren’t able to participate in EAST in some capacity. And of course we’ll still need a home for the Danger Derby, so we’re figuring that out as well. And, the Christmas Bazaar, yes we’ll still be doing that. But we haven’t done that here for years – it’s over in the Marchesa.
AC: Do you know if there’s already somebody slated to move in here once y’all are gone?
KC: I think so. What they did on the Habitat For Humanity side, they chopped it up into six studios. And they’re just gonna mirror that plan and drop it over here. The studios will be open for creative officing and just a little bit of everything.
AC: And you guys are having a send-off party, a final-night-in-the-old-space party, right? On April first?
KC: We are! There’s gonna be a big party on the first, and it’s completely open to the public, anyone who’s ever visited Blue Genie, or worked here or interned with us or whatever. It’s a celebration of the space and, I admit, it’s bittersweet. When you set foot in a place every day for 17 years, it’s gonna be hard not to go there any more. Chris and I live, in separate houses, several hundred feet from this building. So my commute is gonna be a little longer. I mean, whenever there was a Ride Your Bike To Work Day in Austin? I’d ride my bike to work, and they said it didn’t count.
KC: One more thing I want to say about this change is that, well, that’s the nature of life: Change is the only constant we all have. And Austin isn’t the only city that’s encountering these issues. But – what is our engagement with that, what’s our response to that change? So we’re just trying to be positive. I mean, my heart and mind are already in the new space.