Now in its fifth year, WEST (West Austin Studio Tour) takes place over two weekends in May. Participants are encouraged to seek out remarkable works of art during this free, self-guided tour.
On May 14-15 and May 21-22 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. daily, artists and galleries open their doors to interact with patrons who want to see their work, talk about technique and inspiration and purchase artwork. This event is the perfect opportunity for artistic discovery west of I-35.
If this concept sounds familiar with a bit of a location shift, you’re probably already familiar with EAST, East Austin Studio Tour. I spoke with Big Medium’s Executive Director, Shea Little, about what makes WEST distinctive and how it has developed over the past four years.
The Large Impact of Big Medium
WEST was molded after EAST as a companion tour. The events are scheduled six months apart from each other in order to provide more art-oriented events for the city and additional programming for Big Medium. Big Medium is a nonprofit organization that produces these two major tours, as well as the Texas Biennial and regular exhibitions and events at Canopy, a large artist complex located on the east side.
Before 2007, Big Medium consisted of only three artists working part-time to produce engaging art events: Shea Little, Jana Swec and Joseph Phillips. But after the organization gained nonprofit status, they were able to balance working as artists with developing events. After founding EAST, they realized they wanted to keep staff year-round and continue to learn and grow, so they established WEST. Eight years later, they have gained funding from the city to grow their tours, and they have three full-time and six part-time/contract staff members.
Exploring EAST to WEST
In its first year, WEST included roughly 220 participants in studios and exhibition venues, but there was no categorical difference between the two. Now that the tour has taken root, working studios and galleries have been separated. Also, businesses have become interested in the increased traffic, so they’ve started showcasing artists in their places of business.
WEST has even grown enough to add the category of “happenings,” which are free singular events like temporary installations, educational programs or celebrations. This is the second year Select Events have become their own category, after being successful during EAST over the past four years. Select Events are happenings that Big Medium backs by helping to produce and promote. Often they require a ticket.
Admittedly, WEST is a bit more difficult to navigate than EAST. It’s not as easily walkable/bikeable, so it requires planning and people tend to visit fewer locations. EAST has about 460 artists in 150 locations while WEST has 300 artists across a much larger geographical area. Part of the reason there is less artist density is the lack of sizable artist complexes, so many WEST participants show their work out of their homes.
Some people like the anonymous feeling of walking into complexes. They’re concerned that it’ll be awkward if they have to enter a home studio with less traffic. But this is actually where WEST shines. Individual studios garner attention, while the personal nature of the tour is rewarding to visitors because you can see the artists’ process in the space they create.
Basically, you get a chance to (courteously) snoop around someone’s studio and mind. As a mechanically-minded person, Executive Director Shea Little loves this aspect of WEST: “to see an artist in their space and talk about their tools and techniques is not just for other artists. It’s really for the general public to explore.”
Plan Your Route
Up until a couple years ago, Little didn’t like to recommend locations on the tour, but he realizes it can be a great help to people discovering the tour for the first time.
For 2016, Little recommends the following five exhibits:
- #83 Manik Raj Nakra (artist studio): Thick, teeming tropical jungles, exotic Asiatic animals, gore, romance, mythical severed heads, and the ancient artifacts and architecture of temples and alters. Manik’s work applies a contemporary lens to post-colonial anachronisms and historical Indian iconography.
- #105 Jenn Hassin, Elisabet Ney Museum: Artist Jenn Hassin will be activating the space with a sculpture using rolled paper and wants you to be involved. Write your dreams, prayers and hopes on handmade cotton rag paper and help in the making of this work. Hassin currently works out of her studio with the intention of making a difference.
- #123 de stijl | PODIUM FOR ART: This is de stijl’s first exhibition, “One / Sixth,” and features six African American graduates of The University of Texas Master of Fine Arts program. An Artists Discussion on May 15 from 2-3:30 p.m. will focus on the individual artworks and the broader implications of being among the few African American Master of Fine Arts artists in society.
- #177 OESTE: A Collective Latino Art Exhibit, La Peña Gallery: This gallery’s mission is to support artistic development by providing exposure to emerging and established artists, and offering Austin the full spectrum of traditional and contemporary Latino art.
- #250 Robert Wymer, Aldo Bohm, Alejandra Almuelle and Rachel Koper, Austin Woodwright: Robert Wymer, owner of Austin Woodwright, has created paintings, abstracts and plein air watercolors recently shown at The Renner Project. Aldo Bohm is a master woodworker and artist with an inventory of lathe-turned objects, sculpture and furniture. Alejandra Almuelle makes figurative sculptures out of clay and mixed media. Rachel Koper creates oil paintings, drawings and occasionally watercolors.
If pre-planning isn’t your thing, Shea recommends Thornton Road Studios as a good access point, since it’s a small complex and can ease tour-goers into the groove of this self-guided journey.
Due West is the official fundraiser and kickoff party for West Austin Studio Tour. This event is the premiere for WEST Group Exhibition, featuring the work of more than 200 participating artists, and the release of the WEST catalog before it’s available to the public. Guests are welcomed to complimentary bites and drinks from Uchiko, La Condesa, Trace, Lick Ice Creams, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Austin Beerworks, Austin Eastciders, Juiceland, Chameleon Cold Brew and more! There will be tunes by DJ Soundfounder of Exploded Records and a raffle offering a unique Austin experience. The event takes place May 6 from 7-10 p.m.
One of the reasons I’m so passionate about WEST is that my backyard art shed, Offbeat Art Studio, is #193 on the tour. This year I’m showing psychedelic eggshell art and demonstrating interesting egg art techniques like pysanky (Ukrainian Easter eggs). I have always appreciated how EAST and WEST give me a goal to work towards and connect me with people I may not meet otherwise.
Get a Clear Visual
A full list featuring three images from each artist along with a map will be available online. A mobile site, perfect for planning on the go during the tour, features one photo from each artist and location information.
The tactile catalog is my favorite way to discover artists and locations. Catalogs will be available at the group space, as well as all library branches. The catalog is a hefty, beautiful book with an art piece photo and information on each artist and it’s perfect for bookmarking.
Any year you participate in West Austin Studio Tour, you’ll have new experiences of talking with artists, discovering art techniques and simply looking at artwork you find interesting. Remember to be curious, but respectful, and buy a piece from artists selling their work if you can!
@MadameKLM wants to know:
Have you been a WEST or EAST tourist?
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