Drawing Lines and Building Bridges

Drawing Lines and Building Bridges

By Elizabeth McGuire

When Austin changed the format of its city council from an at-large to a geographic system, there were various reactions across the community. Some saw hope for a broader, more-inclusive representation. Others saw the potential for silos and myopic leadership. A group of creative thinkers saw an artistic opportunity.

Several Austin leaders, including 2012 Essential alumni Jennifer Chenoweth and Meredith Powell, designed a plan that would use art to explore this seismic political change in the city.

The idea? Pair one artist with each of the 10 new districts to create place-specific public art projects that reflect the new political structure and each district’s unique culture.

The result is Drawing Lines: Explorations of Place, a collection of vignettes ranging in form from sculpture to food to murals to music. The only common thread is that they all capture the charm and diversity of our complex and growing city.

Created by GO Collaborative and managed in conjunction with Public City and Fisterra Studio, the project was funded with the help of the City of Austin Economic Development Cultural Arts Division and a coveted grant from Art Place. The grant allowed them to give each artist $10,000 for their project.

After a nomination and selection process, the final 10 artists met with city council members, Leadership Austin representatives and city demographer Ryan Robinson to glean insights and research about each of the 10 districts.

The artists spent several months creating and collaborating, and they eventually presented their projects on-site in their district sometime over the course of the past year.

Visual artist Teruko Numura worked with residents of District 7 to fold origami wish lanterns that were used to create an illuminated corridor along the bridge at Beverly Scheffield Park.

In District 3, Grammy award winning musician and producer Adrian Quesada teamed up with neighborhood students and musicians to produce a song and accompanying video that bridged generations and cultures found in their rapidly evolving district.

Chef Sonya Cote and The Homegrown Revival redesigned land in District 5 where 25 homes had been demolished by historic flooding. They replaced the area with a community garden and honored the homes with a 25-foot long handmade table to encourage gathering and camaraderie.

The 18-month long Drawing Lines endeavor culminates on April 1st with an exhibition and public opening party that will bring all 10 art projects together for the first time under one roof.

Chenoweth, who serves as the liaison between the artists and the project, said the experience has given her a much deeper understanding of the challenges each district faces. “In District 1 our greatest challenge is preserving the African American community and keeping them in the city,” said Chenoweth. “In 2, 3 and 4, affordability is a huge problem. There is a rapidly growing Hispanic population and without representation or a sense of unity, they are easily disenfranchised.”

Chenoweth’s greatest takeaway is that the new geographic system is beginning to work and will continue to be a powerful tool in giving voice to every citizen in Austin. “I am now a passionate advocate for the 10-1 system,” she said.

The exhibit runs from April 2-10, 2016, at the McKean-Eilers Building at 323 Congress Ave. For more details on the opening party and exhibit visit www.drawinglinesaustin.com