HOPE Outdoor Gallery, Austin’s famous graffiti park, is about to be demolished to make space for condos. Though founders plan on building a replacement in East Austin, the gallery won’t be the same. Layers and layers of deliberately-placed, original work at this space will be lost. When Austin’s Historic Landmark Commission approved the park’s destruction, deciding the park has community value but is “not historic,” they made a mistake — one that reveals a lack of respect for graffiti and its original location.
HOPE Outdoor Gallery and graffiti artists deserve the status their craft merits. Graffiti is an art form with a low cost to create and display, and HOPE Outdoor Gallery should be valued as site-specific art and a rare haven for artists to create without the risk of fines or jail time.
Places like HOPE Outdoor Gallery are significant because they’re so accessible for artists. Art’s cost should not be confused with its quality — graffiti is cheap to create, and that is one of its greatest strengths. This quality expands artistic opportunity and allows young artists to think big for little, which is not possible in other mediums. UT art students in oil painting, photography and sculpture routinely spend more than $50 per month on materials. Large-scale projects are often extremely expensive: One 60 inch by 70 inch canvas at the UT’s Art Co-op costs a whopping $274.99. Graffiti offers an avenue for young, practicing artists to create without heavy financial burdens. Artists can make a sprawling mural at a place like HOPE Gallery for the price of a few $4 spray paint cans.
Viewing graffiti is also uniquely democratic. There are no strict museum hours or entrance fees, no “no touching” rules. The work is free and open to all — beers, loud friends and flash photography encouraged. Austinites have brought all of these to enjoy graffiti park and famous murals like “Jeremiah the Innocent” and “I love you so much.” Graffiti has weaved itself into this city and is highly beloved.
HOPE Outdoor Gallery is a place that showcased graffiti as the freeing medium that it is, attracting hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors since it opened in 2011, when it was founded by Shepard Fairey — the artist behind Barack Obama’s iconic “Hope” campaign poster. A place of such significance cannot just be recreated. Once the walls are torn down, years of art will be destroyed and young artists will lose a place where they feel comfortable — free to create without fear of legal ramifications. The Austin Historic Landmark Commission should have valued all of these things more highly.
Though Austin will gain a few nice condos by tearing down HOPE Outdoor Gallery, we will lose a place for artists to think big, paint big and exhibit their work on their city and for their city — no pretensions, no entrance fees. HOPE Outdoor Gallery might not have had walls or air conditioning but it is a gallery like any other, one with a dynamic collection, and Austin will be a little less beautiful without it.
Laura Doan is an English and Plan II junior from Fort Worth.