“Anti-Gentrification” Protesters Target Austin Creative Alliance

“Hoodz” vandalize Jim Hightower offices, next to ACA

Early Friday morning, around 3am, a small group of people apparently connected to “Defend Our Hoodz” vandalized the offices of Jim Hightower on San Marcos Street. They threw rocks through two windows and spray-painted slogans on the front wall.

Offices of Hightower & Associates, San Marcos St. (Photo courtesy of Austin Creative Alliance)

The slogans read “Art Wash” and “Sellouts Fuck Off,” and the assault appears to actually be directed not at Hightower, but at Austin Creative Alliance – ACA’s offices, which include a gallery space, are behind those of Hightower & Associates. The day before, an art installation by Jean-Pierre Verdijo – “Agency at the Crossroads” – opened in the ACA gallery, and a couple dozen DOH members attended (at Verdijo’s invitation). The installation, painted and constructed on the gallery walls, is in part a meditation on the effects and meaning of “gentrification” in Austin Eastside neighborhoods. Verdijo said that he attempted to engage the protesters in conversation, but they generally just yelled at and denounced him (including through a bullhorn in the small gallery).

“I’m hoping to start a dialogue, a conversation,” said Verdijo, “and for that to happen, all sides need to take part.” “Agency at the Crossroads,” Verdijo says, is conceived as a two-year project, in various media, attempting to understand and document the neighborhoods and people under pressure from change and redevelopment. “My work is to study this – gentrification, how the arts affect it and are affected by it – and to try to find solutions.”

Verdijo said that the protesters demanded he join the “boycott” of the proposed Arts District planned for the area near East Riverside Drive and South Pleasant Valley Road, sponsored by the Creative Alliance and underwritten in part by the Presidium real estate group, which has plans for major redevelopments nearby. “They insulted the art, and that’s fine,” he said. “I didn’t really take offense … in some way, maybe we have started a conversation.” (The exhibition will remain open until March 1.)

Defend Our Hoodz recounted its protest on their Facebook page, denounced Verdijo and the ACA as “gentrifier collaborators,” and wrote, “Jean-Pierre invited us to have a ‘conversation’ about gentrification at his exhibit, but we came to shut it down instead.”

Other than the noisy confrontation, the opening was uneventful. But early Friday morning, three people wearing hoods were recorded on a security camera as they vandalized the building. They threw rocks through the windows and spray-painted their slogans across the building’s front. According to John Riedie, director of the Creative Alliance, the Austin Police Department was contacted Friday morning and asked the ACA staff to document the damage for further investigation.

It’s not the first run-in the ACA has had with Defend Our Hoodz. At a November festival to celebrate the initiation of the Arts District, DOH protesters leafletted the artists, demanding they boycott the event, and a group surrounded and assaulted Larry Sunderland, a neighborhood participant. One man was arrested for “injury to an elderly person” and another was charged – those cases are pending.

Riedie said, “It’s a real shame that these folks won’t dialogue, because I think we share a lot of the same values.”

Laura Ehrlich, executive director of Hightower and Associates, said staff members arrived this morning, found the damage, and have begun repairs. She said it’s obviously directed at their tenant (ACA). “We support anti-gentrification efforts,” Ehrlich said, “but not tactics that destroy property and damage small nonprofits that are doing good in the world.”

For more on this story, follow the Daily News and next week’s print edition.

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Austin Creative Alliance, Defend Our Hoodz, Hightower & Associates, Jean-Pierre Verdijo, John Riedie, Laura Ehrlich

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