At a spirited and at times charged public panel discussion, five Austin artists and cultural leaders engaged in a wide-ranging discussion that encompassed gentrification in East Austin, systematic racism and economic inequity in the city, and how Austin’s arts community intersects.
Held Jan. 17, the event, “Placemaking & Displacement: A Dialogue at the Intersection of Art, Community, & Gentrification,” the discussion was pointed, and honest.
The program was collaboratively presented by Big Medium; the George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogical Center; and Sightlines, as part of its “Sightlines Spoken” series.
Priscilla Hale, executive director of Allgo, a statewide queer people of color organization, served as the panel’s facilitator. Panelists were theater artist Florinda Bryant, independent archivist and historian Alan Garcia, visual artist Xochi Solis and artist and University of Texas professor John Yancey.
Bryant said that in the face of deep systematic racism and economic inequity, personal accountability needed to be a tool for those in arts community.
“What are the opportunities you can use whatever privileges you have… to hold space for someone else, share the resources that you have,” said Bryant. “When you get a chance at something, and there is someone who is marginalized and who does not look like you, who does not have the resources you have… you’re going to have to make opportunities for artists of color.”
Garcia said that as someone who grew up in Austin, it was hard for him to participate in many arts events in East Austin, including the East Austin Studio Tour. “It feels odd to go to former warehouses on the Eastside that lots of arts spaces are opening up in. I’m still looking for some acknowledgement of the damage that was done to what was there before… something to let people know what used to be there. If there’s a way for the arts community to address that tension… that’s a change I’d like to see.”
Said Hale, “I’m sure there’s tension in this room right now from some of you with arts organizations… yes, we are talking about you. And it’s alright, because you have to acknowledge the displacement that has occurred and the loss.”