ATXFC Artist Initiative Puts Austin Artists' Work Front and Center

Austin's next art gallery?

Chris Rogers' Whispers of the Heart outside Q2 Stadium (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Sure, its attention is fully focused on what’s happening on the pitch, but that doesn’t mean Austin FC isn’t thinking about the rest of the city it calls home. Case in point: the pro soccer club’s program to support local creatives, the ATXFC Artist Initiative.

Spinning out of the Austin FC’s social responsibility pillars, one of which is “Confidence Through Creativity,” the program will dedicate the next decade to partnering with Austin artists on works that can be showcased both inside the club’s facilities and on merchandise such as T-shirts and posters. “Austin is way more than what might just happen on the pitch,” says James Ruth, senior vice president of marketing for Austin FC. So as a club wanting to be representative of the city, “we knew we had to do things that [represent] what makes Austin special. Creativity is the engine for Austin – it’s that zig where others zag,” which led the club to ask how it could engage the creative community in a way that “uniquely brought them into the identity of this club.”

The ATXFC Artist Initiative is the answer, a program that incorporates local art into the club’s visual identity and increases awareness of those artists who enliven Austin’s landscape without widespread recognition. “Austin has murals everywhere,” notes Ruth, “but maybe you don’t know the people behind them. You might drive past Chris Rogers’ mural on Chicon or one of Zuzu [Perkal]’s or Will Hatch Crosby’s mural on Cesar Chavez and not know who made them.” The Artist Initiative will ensure you know their names.

Some of the initiative’s efforts are already underway, such as a piece by Will Hatch Crosby at the St. David’s Performance Center, the club’s training facility; a “Listos/Let’s Go” mural by Tara Johnston outside the Zebra gate, the stadium’s northeast entry point; and a piece by Emily Eisenhart inside the Verde Store that’s painted entirely on Yeti cooler lids. But the centerpiece of the recently launched program is a rotating series of murals on a large space just outside the Zebra gate. The club has commissioned three Austin artists to each create an original work to be displayed on this huge wall during its home matches. (How huge? 39-feet-2-inches by 15-feet-7-inches. Fortunately, the artists will have the wonderful Show Goat Mural Works to help manage the business of getting the art on it.) That promises 20,000 pairs of eyeballs on each artist’s work, which is some pretty worthwhile exposure in this city.

"Listos/Let's Go" by Tara Johnston (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

In addition to that, Austin FC plans to collaborate with the artists to transfer their designs to merch like the aforementioned Ts and posters announcing club matches. And the artists tapped to create murals won’t be the only ones tapped to make poster designs; other local artists are being commissioned to design their takes on each home match from the season. And to further boost awareness of these artworks and their creators, they’ll receive feature coverage on Austin FC’s social media channels, and, oh yes, no small thing, the artists will also be compensated.

Fourteen artists have been selected as the first participants in the Artist Initiative, and they can certainly be considered a roster of all-stars. They include the aforementioned Rogers, Perkal, Crosby, Johnston, and Eisenhart, plus Matthew Rodriguez aka Dear Ninja, Nathan Nordstrom aka Sloke One, Jonathan “Chaka” Mahone, Peelander Yellow, Beth Consetta Rubel, Good Snake, Erik Ross, Ryan Runcie, and Will Bryant.

A list like that lends credence to the idea that Austin FC has a real sense of what this city is all about and that the club really means it when it says it believes in “the passion that Austin’s art community brings to the city” and that it wants to share that with its fans and the community at large.

The three artists who get to take a shot at the big wall this season will be Rogers, then Rodriguez, then Bryant. Rogers started on his, titled Whispers of the Heart, in late May, and Ruth reports that he’s put in 17-hour days to have it ready well in advance of the June 19 match against the San Jose Earthquakes. Not surprisingly, rich green hues fill the background of the piece, but everything else about it speaks more to “Austin” than “FC”: Musicians, dancers, and artists flank a young Black girl sitting among flowers, her dreamy sidelong glance suggesting that she may imagine herself joining their ranks someday. Over the weeks, as each figure has become more defined, more vivid, the idea of ATXFC supporting artists has also taken on a greater sense of reality. The proof is there for all to see.

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