Top Tourist Attractions: Hope Outdoor Gallery
The beloved graffiti park, located in Clarksville, is one of Austin’s top tourist attractions
by Sofia Sokolove
Photography by Daniel Cavazos
In 2009, Andi Scull Cheatham—founder and executive producer of the HOPE (Helping Other People Everywhere) Campaign—was looking for a way to promote the organizations’ farmers’ market. A friend suggested hanging some posters on a hill of concrete walls just west of Lamar Boulevard, at Baylor and 11th Streets. At the time, the central Austin spot was in shambles, the former home of an old condo project that had been abandoned for 30 years. The half -graffitied walls were crumbling, garbage was everywhere and the space was mostly vacated save for some homeless people and a few vans parked on the street where people were living. Six years later, it’s now the colorful, iconic and bustling HOPE Outdoor Gallery (HOG) — a paint park unlike any in the world.
“Let me think about what this could really be used for,” Scull Cheatham recalled telling her friend about the site back then, “This is a much bigger project than putting up posters for our farmers’ market.” Indeed it was.
The first thing Scull Cheatham did was reach out to the property owners, architect Dick Clark and Castle Hill Partners founding principal Victor Ayad. They agreed to let her use the dilapidated property for six months for her HOPE Outdoor Gallery vision. In 2010, she enlisted her friend, street artist Shepard Fairey—known for his work on another HOPE campaign with President (then nominee) Barack Obama—to spray the inaugural piece of art. From there, things took off.
Today, the paint park is a gallery with new art every day. Yoga classes, proposals and weddings happen almost weekly at the site. It has served as the backdrop for countless music videos, selfies from the spot flood social media and paint park photos adorn coasters sold on South Congress Avenue. Scull Cheatham estimates that nearly 1000 people visit the site daily, which she said would make it the most-visited tourist attraction in town.
It’s much more than a tourist stop. It’s an ‘open mic’ for artists with coveted large-scale canvases to practice on — for free. The result is a rich and diverse piece of public art that’s different every day. It’s hard to imagine curating a gallery space with the frequency, or the quality, of HOG. Anyone can paint (although you’ll need a ‘paint pass’: to get one email firstname.lastname@example.org) and everyone can enjoy.
Two years into the project, HOG’s financial angel Ayad was so enamored with the paint park that he purchased Dick Clark’s interest in the property. Since then, he has personally underwritten the park’s upkeep — he and his partners have spent over $1 million on property taxes, insurance and interest to date. He is the modern day Renaissance art patron. “A six-month experiment turned into a six-year project because I couldn’t bear to close it — it just wouldn’t have been right,” Ayad shared.
When you meet with him, as I did a few weeks ago at his office directly above the paint park at the historic Texas Military Institute Castle, you understand immediately the 58-year-old’s childlike love of fun. Dressed in a bespoke suit, he stopped halfway up the final staircase of his top floor office to look at himself in a funhouse mirror and laugh. “The fun never ends,” he said, clearly amused.
While HOG is only six years old, for Ayad it’s seeped with “old Austin.” The paint park is a throwback to the things that made him move to Austin 40 years ago from Amarillo: “The acceptance, the music, the arts,” he said. “In many ways it’s one of the last vestiges to when Austin was a hippie college town.” And to when there was a strong marriage between the musical and visual arts. “Back in the day there was the Armadillo World Headquarters,” explained longtime Austinite, HOG supporter and board member Chris Layton. Layton, founding member of blues rock band Double Trouble, explained, “The [Armadillo] had a stable of in-house artists…a real active connection to making really great poster art that represented every event that took place.” HOG, said Layton, harkens back to that: “It’s kind of like trying to keep the old ‘hood intact.”
HOG’s own ‘hood might be changing soon: Scull Cheatham and Ayad have been chatting with the city, Austin Parks Foundation and others to move the paint park to a more permanent and public location. “It was always meant to be temporary,” explained Scull Cheatham, “The real truth is we have outgrown the location.” There are limitations (and not to mention expenses) of keeping HOG on private property, and Scull Cheatham and Ayad are looking forward to the amenities of a public property. While the location of HOG is uncertain, the sentiment behind it is not. “We’re keeping it weird, baby, keeping it weird,” Ayad told me with a grin. “It’s my contribution towards keeping Austin as close to it’s pre-boom origins as possible…you look at what [the paint park] has become — how could you possibly put an end to it?”
The Humans of Hope
Antonio Madrid is a HOPE Board chairman & art installation director. He also is a partner in ICON Design & Build.
Victor Ayad is the owner of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery property.
Andi Scull Cheatham is the founder and executive director of the HOPE Organization, including HOPE Farmers’ Market and the HOPE Outdoor Gallery.
Tony diaz is on the HOPE Arts Advisory Board and is owner & founder of Industry Print.
Bob “Daddy-O” Wade is on the HOPE Outdoor Gallery Advisory Board and is an internationally known Austin artist.
Nate “Sloke One” Nordstrom is on the HOPE Arts Advisory Board and is a Austin-based professional muralist & spray can artist.
Steve Wertheimer is on the advisory board of HOPE Outdoor Gallery. He is also the owner of the Continental Club & C-Boy’s Heart & Soul.
Chris Scull is the HOPE Music Supervisor & a board member. He also D.J.’s under the name D.J. ChinoCasino.
Read more from the Neighborhoods Issue | June 2016