Austinites are brimming with talent. While some art forms such as music are easily accessible, Big Medium is working to insure that artists and artisans aren’t left behind.
For the past 13 years, Big Medium has produced one of the most celebrated yearly art events in town: the East Austin Studio Tour (EAST). EAST is a free, self-guided tour through studios, galleries and exhibitions in – you guessed it – east Austin. It strives to bridge the gap between the art world and the local community.
To get you ready for this year’s Tour on November 15-16th and November 22-23rd, Here’s the scoop on Big Medium, art in Austin and this year’s massive event featuring 412 artists: EAST.
Big Ideas Behind Big Medium
Big Medium is a big deal. It’s an artist founded and funded nonprofit with big ideas and aspirations. I spoke with Executive Director Shea Little about the nonprofit and inspiration behind East Austin Studio Tour.
The original idea was simple: make east Austin artists and their studios more accessible. When the event began 13 years ago, it took place over one weekend with a handful of artists. Today, EAST has taken on a life of its own and has independently become a big deal.
It’s such a big deal that some artists purposely rent studio space on the east side just for a chance to participate. I even spoke with one artist who purchased a home on the east side just for the tour!
As EAST grew, more big ideas formed. By 2008, so many artists wanted to participate that they experimented with holding the event over two weekends to allow for more artist exposure. And it stuck.
Maintaining an event of this size featuring hundreds of artists takes more than you might expect. Staff is needed and committees are formed to review work submitted and verify studios.
The popularity of EAST eventually led to another big idea: create year round programming with West Austin Studio Tour. This allowed staff to be employed all year long and in turn made both tours better. And WEST allowed traditional neighborhoods in west Austin to be highlighted.
Free for All: Why Support the Arts in Austin?
Big Medium Executive Director Shea Little poignantly said, “Austin risks the fate of San Francisco.” San Francisco, the once epicenter of American culture, has become too expensive for modern revolutionaries. In Austin, we are on the brink of a cultural revival and need to support it and each other. Exporting talent is a huge problem for Austin, according to Little. As the cost of living grows and affordable housing in the city diminishes, we risk losing our top talent and cultural influencers to other cities. As an Austin native, Little’s goal is to bolster the arts in Austin and raise our art scene to a higher level.
Everything seems to be free in Austin. Free shows, free drinks and free art exhibits. We are spoiled! There’s no denying it. But there’s a tipping point when free events no longer benefit the community.
Don’t get me wrong…I love free. But if everyone is taking and no one is giving, we’re going to find ourselves down a dangerous path where we won’t know how to move forward. Yes, EAST is a free event, but many of the costs associated with putting on an event of this size fall on the artists themselves. Over the years, Big Medium has held various fundraising events such as Due EAST, to help lessen the burden for artists.
So check out some studios and give back by donating, volunteering or, in this case, purchasing art. “Just think of artists like athletes,” says Shea Little. “Athletes need continuous practice to improve and maintain a certain level of athleticism. Artists are the same. They need to make art and practice as much as athletes.”
I’m a big fan of being an active participant in the local community. By supporting local artists, you allow them to keep practicing and hopefully convince them to stay here in this wonderful city.
Must See Events and Artists
There are four categories of events taking place during EAST: Special Events, Artists & Studios, Exhibitions and Happenings. I highly recommend doing as many things possible both weekends (November 15-16th and November 22-23rd). If you need help choosing a few, here are my tops picks.
- Art Night EAST | Friday November 14th – Art Alliance Austin’s 6th annual VIP preview. They’ll shuttle you around to preview 4 galleries and feed and fuel you along the way. Art Night EAST will highlight some of the unique spots on the Tour, allowing guests to meet artists and gallery directors. Tickets are $55 a person.
- B-social Art Ride | Wednesday November 19th – Join Austin B-cycle’s group ride event where participants will enjoy several studios, eat some snacks, sip on some drinks and enjoy music and live artwork at the final destination.
Artists & Studios
- 1200 E 2nd St | #277-282 | Fisterra Studio – Here you’ll catch several installation, video and performance artists for a more interactive experience.
- 916 Springdale Rd | #79-135 | Canopy – This once east Austin warehouse, now art complex, houses 45 studios and 3 gallery spaces. With sculptors, painters, sketchers and jewelers, you’re bound to find something to take home.
- 5305 Bolm Rd | #348-352 | Big Medium at Bolm and Revival Cycles – Check out artwork from Big Medium artists themselves at their Bolm Studio and head next door to Revival Cycles to catch some photography.
- 501 Perdenales St | #332 | SprATX – This street artist collective is responsible for many of the pieces seen around town and at HOPE outdoor gallery.
- Where is Your Heart? Wall | Saturday November 15th, 11 AM-6 PM | 612 Calles St | #402 – If you’re feeling inspired to create your own artwork, head over to the “Where is Your Heart? Wall” and leave your mark.
- Backyard Story Night | Sunday November 23rd, 7-10 PM | 2203 Santa Rita St | #405 – A great way to end EAST with “Backyard Story Night.”
EAST Quick Reference Guide
- When: Two weekends – November 15 & 16 and 22 & 23 from 11 AM-6 PM
- Where: EAST. Defined as the area east of I-35, north of Lady Bird Lake and extending north to Hwy 290 and west to Hwy 183
- How: Walk, Drive or Bike. Pick a few neighborhoods and wander around, map in hand.
- Get the catalog: Head to any Austin Public Library to pick up your free limited edition copy or access a map directly on EAST’s mobile site.
So instead of heading to Ikea to get a print to put over your couch, consider purchasing a one of a kind piece of art from a local artisan. Even if the investment is more that you initially planned to spend, knowing you won’t have the same print as half the country is pretty special. And who knows, you might end up passing it down for generations.
@jpino9 wants to know:
Who’s your favorite Austin artist?