Austin Celebrates Women’s Right to Vote With Female-Empowered Murals
The Writing on the Walls initiative marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment
By Vanessa Blankenship
Photographs courtesy of Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation
This month marks a monumental moment in history for women across the country.
While many states are still battling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a U.S. presidential election is approaching, Americans are also acknowledging the significance of the women’s suffrage movement.
Nearly 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment was ratified and gave U.S. women the right to vote. In celebration of the occasion, the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation debuted a new program, Writing on the Walls, which includes two vibrant murals in downtown Austin.
The murals, which were designed and completed in March, are part of the new nonprofit’s mission to transform public spaces and create a community dialogue to discuss social change.
“Our role really is transforming public spaces and empowering the local community,” says the foundation’s executive director Molly Alexander. “Encouraging social engagement that creates these activations that celebrate Austin.”
Alexander recruited world-renowned street artist Shepard Fairey, whose iconic OBEY Giant campaign has spread around the globe, and Canadian artist Sandra Chevrier to create the 12-story masterpiece covering the west side of the LINE Hotel. The work of art, which features Wonder Woman breaking the chains of inequality, was the first assignment Fairey has worked on alongside a female artist who was also the lead designer.
“It’s hard to find international artists who will collaborate with people that they’ve never known, but this was the right fit,” says Alexander. “We looked at artists all over the world, in Austin, and in Texas, then the match really made sense with Sandra and Shepard’s work.”
Meanwhile, Austin-based artist Sadé Lawson’s mural, “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay,” went up next to the North Lamar Boulevard Underpass. It features three women depicted in primary colors of yellow, red and blue surrounded by landscape elements.
Emotional well-being and mental health topics are themes that Lawson regularly explores through her platform, which is also incorporated in her most massive project yet.
For Lawson, female empowerment is all about acknowledging and harnessing all of our emotions. Lawson symbolizes these universal sentiments through the vibrant colors found in her painting. The yellow symbolizes happiness while red represents anger, and the blue signifies sadness.
“It’s okay to not be okay, and you can still be empowered by everything that you feel,” says Lawson. “It’s natural, it’s healthy, it’s human. And every one of those emotions empowers who you are as an individual.”
After submitting the initial sketch, Lawson took a week to complete the mural with the help of assistants and other local street artists.
Lawson says the opportunity to represent people of color through her artwork and take on a large-scale mural for a historical event helped push her as an artist and reach new milestones.
“The whole experience of watching it come to life was really fascinating,” says Lawson. “The final paint stroke, putting on those little highlight details and signing your name, the moment that you’re actually done, you can take a step back and see everything that you were able to accomplish. That was probably one of the best feelings.”
The Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation is already planning another Writing on the Walls series and hopes to launch next March. The organizers are currently searching for more building spaces and brands to collaborate on future projects.
“As you can imagine, with what’s happening in the world today, it’s another great opportunity to really think about how we can empower the local community, and encourage social engagement, and produce great art,” says Alexander. “We think that there are some key moments right now that we might have the opportunity to use and work with.”