Four Austin artists — Aimée Everett, Emmy Laursen, Mark Menjivar and Jade Walker — have alighted to the small Central Texas town of Bartlett to use its empty historic buildings to create immersive, site-specific installations.
The Bartlett Project is sponsored by the Austin artist collective ICOSA in collaboration with the City of Bartlett. Leslie Moody Castro will act as the project’s curator and facilitator, and will maintain a dialogue between artists and Bartlett residents.
Located about an hour northeast of Austin, Bartlett was once a prosperous cotton shipping center in the early 20th century. The Bartlett Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places with some 90 percent of its early 1900s commercial buildings bearing historical significance. Its hand-lain brick road were built in 1900.
While the artists are currently at work in Bartlett, an exact date for an early summer public opening of the installation has not been set.
In the meantime, ICOSA is organizing a book drive for a pop-up art library that will accompany the project. Donate children’s books or art books from 1 to 3 p.m. April 3 at ICOSA’s gallery in Canopy, 916 Springdale Road.
After the project’s end, the books will be donated to the Bartlett Public Library, the Bartlett Independent School District Library, and to the residents of Bartlett themselves who will be invited to take a book home.
Bartlett is frequently referred to as a ghost town — especially by the Texas Film Commission which markets it for post-apocalyptic films and television, like the series “Revolution” which shot an episode there. Richard Linklater’s movie “The Newton Boys” also filmed in Bartlett.
Lying between Williamson and Bell counties, the city’s current census figures list a population of 1,879 with a poverty rate of just over 20 percent. Its Williamson County area is considered part of the Austin-Round Rock MSA.
Recently the City of Bartlett has positioned itself as an Austin-adjacent place eager to attract “small business start-ups, entrepreneurs, artisans, professionals and residents looking for modern conveniences within a small town atmosphere,” according to the city’s website. And Texas Highways magazine featured a series of articles on “Reimagining Bartlett” focusing on New York entrepreneur Robert Zalkin, who in 2019 bought 15 buildings in downtown Bartlett with the intention of re-developing them, and the town. The former Bartlett National Bank has already been transformed into a bed-and-breakfast by realtor Jennifer Welch.
But first, the artists.
ICOSA’s Bartlett Project charges Everett, Laursen, Menjivar and Walker with producing “an exhibition that maintains the town’s history and its residents at its core.” Artists have access to the detritus left in each building and are expected to create work relevant to the local community.
When the project opens to the public, each installation site will remain open as long as the building is not in use.