Resurgence of Arts in Austin: An Interview with Art Alliance Austin Executive Director Meredith Powell

Art Alliance Austin - Play Me, I'm Yours (2011 Project)

Play Me, I’m Yours (2011 Project)

For nearly 60 years, Art Alliance Austin (AIA) has been dedicated to engaging people with community art and carving out a creative space at the core of Austin’s identity. Ranging from events to commissioning site-specific public art projects, AIA’s mission of engaging people with top-notch art has led to the revitalization of community developments. Each year, AIA’s programs and partnerships engage more than 100,000 people and produce an estimated $2.5 million in economic impact. Executive Director Meredith Powell shares how local artists’ current projects are re-shaping the city and how the arts community aims to keep up with Austin’s inevitable growth.

Untapped Cities: What exactly is the relationship between artists and AIA in Austin?
Meredith Powell: We just started commissioning projects in 2008. In the beginning, artists were taking a risk on the organization. We didn’t have a history of commissioning projects. While we have great reach in terms of connectivity to artistic excellence and curators who are on the ground, we didn’t have a history of that. For the first few years it was us scouring on the ground. Now, we have more and more artists that are coming to us and larger scale opportunities. Just because we now have a track record and artist that have willing to work with us. But, I do think it needs to be a balance of us seeking them out and vice versa. The caliber of those projects on helping AIA grow. The larger scale projects we work on, the more sophisticated we get.

Art Alliance Austin - "Art Bus" - Ian Cion's rendering on Austin Capital Metro Transit (2011 Project)

“Art Bus” – Ian Cion’s rendering on Austin Capital Metro Transit (2011 Project)

Art Alliance Austin - Lamar Signs - Magda Sayeg Knitta Please (2010 Project)

Lamar Signs – Magda Sayeg Knitta Please (2010 Project)

Untapped Cities: In your mind, what factors are contributing to the growth of the arts in the Austin?
Meredith Powell: I like to think that there are a lot of factors that are attributing to the growth. For years, Austin’s population has been expected to double every 20 to 40 years. We are located in central Texas–not far from Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. The real economic centers of Texas. The university [of Texas at Austin] has so much to do with it. It keeps us fresh. It keeps us young. It keeps us generating new ideas all the time. I think the stability of local government being here [helps]. All of those created factors that keep our economy performing fairly well. Also, when you look around, we have the natural resources that are here. So, there are some things that about the things that are organically already here.

Art Alliance Austin - Bubbleware (2012 Project)

Bubbleware (2012 Project)

Art Alliance Austin - "I am ____." (2008 Project)

“I am ____.” (2008 Project)

 

Untapped Cities: How does AIA intend to keep up with Austin’s growth?
Meredith Powell: We have to think about the effect that art and design have on the city itself. Meaning, the integration of the artist and what [his] role is in the development of the contemporary city.  Recently, Austin Museum of Art (AMOA) and Arthouse merged. I think that the strength of the new institution will support the growth of the artistic community. I do think that as people come from other parts of the country from more established philanthropic cities that we will start to get the infrastructure and the components that make a strong ecosystem. The city has made great commitments to identify what the holes are and what the needs are of the creative community. And really lay the tracks to develop and meet those needs. You can already see much more happening all the time.

Untapped Cities: What current major projects is AIA pursuing?
Meredith Powell: There is a big project we are working on to raise the funds for called City Script. It is the largest scale project we have ever done. [CityScript] is a website and a smartphone application which creates a topography take on the stories of Austin. Once the stories have been selected and the specific stories and the specific locations have been designed, we will pair them with the 26 letters of the alphabet over a six-month timeframe. The pieces will be designed by artists across the world and tell the story of Austin through art. New and fresh stories about Austin all the time. We are partnering with Medium Place, out of Cambridge, on a digital platform for that which is really about the power of storytelling. We are connecting the community through new media, and ultimately, the secrets and the real depth of the city.

Get in touch with the author @UntappedAlley.