Austin cultural center helps establish street art as a respected art form

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Photo Credit: Isabella Palacios | Daily Texan Staff

As a more widely respected art form, street art is no stranger to Austin. From the HOPE Outdoor Gallery to the famous “Hi, How Are You?” mural, street art pops up all throughout the city. SouthPop, a cultural center committed to documenting Austin’s art and music scene, is contributing to this positive view of street art with its latest exhibit. 

The center, located on South Lamar, documents people and places that have shaped Austin over the years, usually through photography. Its current exhibit, “Austin Graffiti Art: Celebrating Austin’s Street Art,” is a compilation of photos that capture a wide array of the city’s street art. Leea Mechling, the cultural center’s director, hopes the pictures will help to establish street art as more highly regarded. 

“Street art is a worldwide phenomenon,” Mechling said. “We’ve just been watching it transform here in Austin, and I think that once people see this exhibit they’ll start
to see it as its own distinct art form instead of destructive tagging.”

The idea that the photographs could preserve a type of art that is traditionally so temporary is equally important in Mechling’s eyes. To ensure this preservation, the cultural center included some photos of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery, a graffiti park. 

“We feel like that section is really important,” Mechling said. “Shortly after the art is painted on one of the areas, it’s quickly painted over. For this art form, whose nature is really temporary, it’s really important to document it.”

The non-permanent nature of the art form is not something that phases Austin-based artist Cody Schibi. Schibi said the idea his work might not last forever is just something that comes with the territory of being a street artist.  

“The couple of times I did something over at the HOPE Outdoor Gallery they lasted a couple of weeks,” Schibi said. “Recently, people have started providing walls where the art will stay up for a while. It’s hard to make it stay, but that’s expected.”

Although Schibi has been commissioned as a muralist for festivals such as Austin City Limits Music Festival and South By Southwest, he works primarily as a freelance illustrator.  

“I like the scale of street art,” Schibi said. “Making it on a wall or anywhere you can put it. I like the spontaneity of it; you have to keep adjusting. I’m used to illustrating and doing things on a small scale, so painting something that’s like 12 feet tall is pretty cool.”

For Austin artist Federico Archuleta, who is also featured in SouthPop’s exhibit, it wasn’t the size of street art that appealed to him — but rather the size of his potential audience. 

“The biggest difference between street art and other art forms is that you’re presenting it to the public,” Archuleta said. “You’re taking your art to the people instead of waiting for them to go see it in a magazine or online. You get to use a public space as a canvas.”

Archuleta said places such as SouthPop, that are taking the time to document street art, are helping artists like himself gain more recognition. 

“Street art is starting to come full circle,” Archuleta said. “Even though you could say it has been around since the cavemen, it’s starting to be viewed as a modern art form.”