Amidst the cool November weather, 1,800 yellow, Japanese lucky cats are currently sitting on an East Austin lawn, in a perfect Fibonacci spiral, ready to bring warmth and joy to the visitors of the 15th East Austin Studio Tour.
Entirely hand made by UT alumna and local artist Teruko Nimura, the display is meant to visually represent one-tenth of the animals rescued every year by the Austin Animal Center, the largest no-kill animal rescue center in the United States Each of the cats can be purchased by donation to help the shelter.
“My auntie that just passed away a couple of years ago was a real connection to my culture,” Nimura said. “She had [cats] that were about half of an inch [tall], all the way up to these giant ones. They were these sort of talismans for her, but when I see them anywhere I [connect] these symbols to her and to the rest of my family and my own culture.”
Nimura’s work usually focuses on her Asian-American identity, Japanese cultural traditions and female stereotypes within the Asian-American community. For this piece, she used her Japanese heritage to create something with which she feels personally connected.
She said she hopes the tradition of good fortune will follow the lucky cats into the lives of those who take one home like an exponential good luck charm.
“They are glazed in different shades of yellow so it is this bright, optimistic, cheery image and the history is supposed to add to the good fortune for both the animals and the people that buy them,” Nimura said.
The piece, titled "1,800 Lucky Cats," will be on display on Nov. 19 during the EAST Austin Studio Tour. The event, founded in 2003 by three friends in an Austin warehouse studio, has gained more than 500 participants in the past 15 years and consists of free, self-guided tours around the east Austin art scene. Exhibitions will last throughout the weekends of Nov. 12–13 and Nov. 19–20.
EAST was originally created by several artists who banded together, hoping to draw more attention to their work by putting on a collective exhibition rather than just one opening. Hannah Packard, director of development at EAST’s host company Big Medium, said the tour has succesfully attracted wider audiences.
“The old school way was that you had to have a gallery representative or had to wait for acceptance in the art world,” Packard said. “There is something really special about when artists can connect with a person [and] directly show them their process, not just their end result.”
Nimura said she thinks EAST has become a much anticipated tourist event and gives excellent exposure to local artists. Alexa Johnson, recipient of one of the Big Medium fellowships for event participants, said she also believes the tour is helping bring attention to Austin area artists on a a larger scale.
“It brings a really diverse group of people out to meet the makers, artists and crafters that are residents of Austin and you get to speak with them on a more personal level that you wouldn’t be able to if you were out in public or at an art opening,” Johnson said. “You are in a very intimate space because that is where artists spend time making their work.”
Johnson, whose work focuses on photography that explores issues faced by young women, said as an alumna she believes the tour is especially helpful for young artists.
“I think it is important for artists that just graduated and may not feel that sense of security from when they were in school where they were constantly being critiqued and had to meet deadlines,” Johnson said. “I think EAST can serve as a guideline that they can follow to help continue the discipline and get feedback.”
EAST, Nimura said, has become a representation of the growing Austin art community working with one another.
“I think it really helps to knit us together more,” Nimura said. “I think Austin artists [are supportive] towards one another and I think institutions are starting to catch up to that supportiveness.”