Gentrification, cultural erasure, the need for arts venues and an Austin under increasing economic pressures were just some of the topics that a panel of artists and arts professional discussed in a 90-minute public conversation centered on the arts and gentrification in East Austin.
“Sightlines Spoken: Artists Respond — Considering Place and Culture,” took place Nov. 15. See a video of the complete event below.
The event, part of the East Austin Studio Tour, was collaboratively presented by Big Medium; the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogical Center; and Sightlines.
Artist and independent curator Michael Anthony García moderated the panel which included muralist and painter Fidencio Duran, artist Cindy Elizabeth, and Nefertitti Jackmon, executive director of Six Square: Austin’s Black Cultural District.
“Affordability in Austin is problem that everybody is facing,” said Jackmon. “The city has an obligation to help (curb displacement). So does our philanthropic (community) and the corporate sector, like developers. We have to work together collectively to find a solution.”
Having grown up in East Austin, the 32-year-old Cindy Elizabeth has witnessed first-hand the monumental changes in a part of Austin that for her, always was a vibrant African-American neighborhood.
“I’m not sure a lot of artists are as aware as they should be of the history of displacement in this community and everything that has led up to the current situation,” she said. “A lot of those artists who are at the forefront of those conversations (about affordability), (are not) artists who are part of the historical communities here in East Austin. The conversation should begin with the history of the displacement of people in East Austin and Austin in general.”
Added García: “I think a lot of artists don’t think about the context of what it means to get that cheap studio space, and the community that that affected, until (the artists) themselves are gentrified out of (that studio space).”
Referencing the controversy surrounding the temporary arts space on S. Pleasant Valley Road, which some anti-gentrification groups protest as art-washing, García asked the panelists, “What can a city do to mitigate some of these issues while also supporting artists and culture, and at the same time not damaging existing communities?”
Cindy Elizabeth re-iterated her call for more awareness of the history of East Austin while also “supporting the (artistic) work that is already happening, and has happened, here.”
Duran, whose murals tell the histories of Latinx communities in Austin and Central Austin, said, “Artists can always make connections between different cultures… and I wish more of that were in the public realm.”
The Nov. 15 “Artists Respond” panel was one of two planned public discussions, the second of which has been re-scheduled for Jan. 17.
“Placemaking and Displacement: A Public Dialogue at the Intersection of Art, Community and Gentrification” will again take place at the Carver Museum.
A multi-ethnic and multi-generational group of artists, scholars, community historians, and activists will explore how an arts community can work positively in a city where profound economic and cultural displacement has and is occurring? Panelist will also explore strategies for limiting the impact of displacement and preserving the cultural history of Austin communities.
Priscilla Hale, executive director of allgo, a statewide advocacy group for queer people of color, will facilitate the conversations.
Confirmed panelists to date are John Yancey, professor of studio art at the University of Texas, who created the “Rhapsody” mosaic mural that occupies the Charles Urdy Plaza at E. Eleventh and Waller streets in East Austin street.
Also confirmed to participate is Alan García, independent archivist and creator of the Instagram account ATX Barrio Archive, a virtual museum of visual culture that documents Latinx and African American neighborhood history.
“Placemaking and Displacement” is at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina St. The event is free and open to the public.