by The Lone Spanger
When I first moved back to Austin after about eight years in Cali, what drew me here was the vibrant music scene and friendly locals. The rent was reasonable, although still much higher than it was when I first came through. I was a part of a nurturing community where a photographer, a musician, and an artist could go anywhere a businessperson or wealthy student could without feeling ostracized.
Those days are long gone.
There were whisperings that people from larger cities were relocating here for the cheaper real estate and burgeoning employment opportunities. Then I began actually meeting these refugees more frequently. It was just a quirk at first, then I noticed how exponentially more rapid the building of new apartments downtown had become. The construction companies were literally competing for contracts to build these new high-rent apartments at a fever pitch. The more units that got rented or sold to rich clients, the more the poor art scene suffered; and it continues to suffer.
Just three years ago, I was asked to do a gallery on street artists and their work. Nowadays, if you are even slightly associated with street art you are considered an undesirable and lucky to not go to jail.
My email used to be full of offers for commissioned “street art style” murals, interviews, and general fan mail. Now I sit in the grip of fear of what would happen if I even put up a sticker. It seems as though the artistic trends in our city are over.
It’s strange; The rich people want their new neighborhoods to be all Mayberry-d out but they don’t want the artists to leave either. The kind of art they deem acceptable becomes more restricted as their peer groups become larger and more picky. They want the art; They want it progressive and edgy; But they want the artists to disappear into the ether after it’s done being produced.
I’m sure those of you who have been involved in the art movement here are aware of the recent shift in consensus. I’ve heard tales of how the “we want art done by invisible artists” credo has completely destroyed once vibrant scenes in cities like San Francisco and Portland. The artists could no longer live like humans, so they left. Now those cities are actually having to bribe them to return with special housing incentives and work programs geared towards them.
How many years will it take before all culture and artful expression is driven out of Austin? I’ve had many tell me no more than 10 years. I hope all these rich apartment dwellers like beige, because that’s the only “color” that’ll be left once all the artists, musicians, writers, photographers, dancers, actors, and poets are bulldozed out.
It’s been said time and again that you can tell the mustard of a community by how they treat the poorest of it’s people. When the poor are artists and you drive them out with impossible living conditions after using them for their talent, that is not good. Keep that in mind the next time you or someone you know admire a mural but make fun of a guy walking down the street with paint on his clothes.
Did you enjoy this article? Want to read more like it? Great news! The latest issue of the Challenger Newspaper is available for download here. Or for a hard-copy version see our distributors map to locate a friendly Challenger distributor near you. Thank you for helping support our mission to end homelessness in Austin!