The Austin Art Walk – Douglas Barber’s Love Letter to the East side’s Street Art
If you find yourself walking around E Cesar Chavez around 10 a.m. on a Saturday, you will likely find Douglas Barber, wearing a floppy hat and a microphone around his neck surrounded by tourists and Austinites, alike. He and his partner, Eileen Barber, started the Austin Art Walk three years ago out of their love for business, art, and the city of Austin. On the tour, they take their groups around the East Side to different street art installations, promoting the street and graffiti artists of our city.
How It Started
The road to being a spokesperson for Austin street art was a winding one for Douglas. A native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, growing up in a construction family, gave him a mind for business and an appreciation for the act of creating something out of nothing. He and Eileen, an artist herself, have lived all over the world, working as high-end decorative painters, using plaster to create pieces of art for homes. They even spent a spell as art dealers in Mexico.
very few years they contact an astrologer to read their astrocartography, the study of how your astrology plays into the energies of specific locations. At this point of the interview Douglas stopped to say he thought the whole thing was a little “woo woo”, but his wife convinced him and he was impressed the first time they went with how much the astrologer knew about his past experiences living in certain cities.
“Doors open when you are supposed to be doing something, if they are not opening maybe you’re not supposed to be doing that thing right now,” said Douglas.
The doors kept opening. When moving to Austin, they contacted their son’s art teacher in hopes he could teach them about the local art scene. Turns out the teacher was a street artist in his own right. “I got lucky,” Douglas said. He took them around the East Side explaining the history of the pieces and people that make Austin so colorful. That’s how the idea of a tour started – a history of the East Side tour – eventually evolving to only focus on street art.
When hearing his story you are struck by the feeling that he was not so much “lucky” but meant to be doing this. His love of art and business, and people, which you realize soon after meeting him, all intersect in this tour. He knew what he wanted to do, so he figured out how to do it.
The tour takes place on the East Side, mainly on Cesar Chavez. A historically black, then Hispanic area, it is now a battleground for gentrification, with the increase of big businesses coming to Austin. Some of the art reflects this struggle-the tour stops by a mosaic Virgin Mary and a mural of the Mexican game Lotería, commissioned as a nod to the majority Hispanic population of the area.
However, Douglas said, street art isn’t often a protest or even rebellious, as many people view graffiti. First, what’s the difference between graffiti and street art? Is there a difference? Douglas makes it clear that the answer is more complicated than the question.
Graffiti is really about getting your name out there. You tag your street name or sign out there, as often and in as many places as possible. It is why you see so much graffiti around bus lines-access. Sloke One is a longtime Austin graffiti artist, “the Father of Austin Street Art”, said Douglas.
Street Art is a catch-all term, but it tends to be more about making something that looks nice, rather than tagging. Like the murals, mosaics, stencils, and sculptures all over town. It doesn’t always need to have a meaning. Sometimes companies commission street artists to make a cool design for their store, sometimes artists have something to say and use a wall to say it, sometimes paint on a wall is just supposed to be pretty. The first stop on the Art Walk is a mural by Will Hatch Crosby that has an octopus and bull saying hola friend and hi amigo. When talking with the artist, Douglas asked if the piece is commenting on the changing demographics of Austin. Crosby said it’s whatever you want it to mean.
Graffiti and street art, seen on the tour, have commonalities. Many street artists start in graffiti krews (groups). They are two arms of the same community that share the same values and goals. It’s understood that if an artist is working on a wall you shouldn’t paint or tag over it. If you make it, get your work commissioned, or have a recognizable tag, your job is to help and mentor younger artists, said Douglas.
This, he explained, is the key to the movement. Austin artists are traveling to other cities, like Cape Town, South Africa, helping establish street art scenes in those cities. New areas for street art are always popping up as more buildings are built. Cities are seeing the benefit of putting something unique up, instead of the plain beige walls. Philadelphia set up a city fund for community art that will go toward putting up street art. A similar initiative is active in Austin.
When asked if there is one thing he hopes people take away from this article he said: “If you could start seeing street art as a collection of people supporting each other.”
Douglas is one of these supporters. He makes a point to say that he is no expert just, “a lover of the genre”. Besides the tour, he is on the board of Raasin in the Sun, a production company that does community outreach through art programs. He got most animated when asked which artists and groups (and Instagrams) he wanted people to know about, which I put below.
So, buy a ticket, wear some walking shoes, and find yourself on Cesar Chavez on Sunday. Find the guy with the floppy hat and a look that seems too happy for 10 am. But he really is, because this is what he was supposed to be doing.
Artists: Sloak One, Luis Angulo (Street Name: ULOANG), J. Muzacz, Zuzubee, BritPaintsAlot, Sleepisfamous, TVhead,
Events: MuralFest, Walls Unite
Groups: Raaisin in the sun, Something Cool Studios