Parent Amy Averett Tells Her Story

Amy Averett and her family have been involved with Creative Action since her son Walter experienced our interactive performance, Courage to Stand, in the fourth grade. Through camps, after school programming, and – currently – our Changing Lives Youth Theatre Ensemble, Amy, her son Walter, and their family have remained strong supporters of our mission. This is her story.

My son Walter has been involved with Creative Action since early elementary school. Walter would be an easy target for bullies – he’s a self-professed nerd complete with glasses falling off his nose, food on the front of his shirt and a desire to talk to you AT LENGTH about Lord of the Rings. He has epilepsy, which resulted in brain surgery at age 8, ADHD, and a noticeable stutter. So yeah, he pretty much fits the stereotype of the kid most likely to get crammed into a locker.

I remember when Walter came home from Maplewood Elementary in 4th grade telling me about the Courage to Stand program – an interactive classroom performance where two actor-teachers take students on a magical journey through history to learn about courage, how to stand up,  and what it means to be an ally to someone being bullied. He insisted that I come to school to watch one of the performances, which I did, and I fell in love with the work Creative Action was doing. After that, my family became “power users.” He attended camps every summer, producing TV shows, dancing, drumming (and can I just say that there is a special place in heaven for people who willingly give drumsticks to children) and learning all facets of comedy, as you can see in this photo. He also attended Creative Action’s after school program at Maplewood for a number years. I knew that the staff really knew Walter and they were rooting for him. And although Creative Action isn’t specifically tailored for kids with disabilities, they accepted him with all of his quirks.  I knew I was sending him to a program where he would be safe, both physically and emotionally.

Now that he is in high school and a little too old for camps, I twisted his arm to go to the Changing Lives program auditions.  Sometimes it’s hard for Walter to work collaboratively within a group – his stutter and impulsivity require some patience. The Changing Lives directors Noah and Meg have worked hard to make the group fully inclusive for kids like Walter who might struggle to fit in.  The kids in Changing Lives receive a stipend for their work, so Walter considers this his job. I can see the pride when he tells people he has to “go to work tonight.” It’s a big deal for a teenager with a stutter to get up and perform in front of other people, much less middle school students, but he did just that this week through Changing Lives.

All along the way I’ve been grateful.  Grateful that Creative Action helped create a bully-free environment at school.  Grateful that Walter could get on stage with confidence. Grateful that the acceptance he experienced at school and camp translated into self-acceptance throughout middle school.  And with the heightened focus on sexual harassment and assault, I’m incredibly grateful that my teenage son is learning about healthy communication and relationships through Creative Action and sharing that message with others (because believe me, he doesn’t want to talk about it with his mom!).  

Knowing that Creative Action works with thousands of “Walters” throughout Central Texas gives me tremendous hope for our community and kids.  Our family has been fortunate that we could afford after school and summer camp enrichment programs like Creative Action – but so many families cannot. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to support these incredible artists and activists.

Easton Park Trolley, Inspired by Del Valle Students

Last year, Creative Action embarked on a partnership with developer Brookfield Residential to create a piece of fun, engaging, and ultimately interactive art at their Easton Park community.

The canvas? A blank, gray trolley with an attached slide that sits nearby the new homes and looks like the perfect place to play, even before it was painted.

Here’s what it looked like before Creative Action Teaching Artist Larissa Stephens got her hands on it:

The plan was to incorporate student vision into the talented artistic ability of Larissa Stephens, a local mural artist, who works in our after school and teen programs. Because the mural’s base is a trolley, Stephens, along with Creative Action Visual Arts Specialist Lindsay Palmer, envisioned imbuing the piece with a psychedelic, San Francisco-in-the-1960s vibe updated for present-day Austin. To bring together these various sources of inspiration, Palmer, who served as the project’s Art Director, looked to Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Wildish project, where students used neighborhood plants to design the final art piece.

Our students did something similar, collecting plants and leaves from the Sustainable Food Center community garden that backs up to our Center, and printing them on paper. Along the way, they learned about the healing and beneficial properties of the plants.

The students’ finished product looked like this:

Larissa then used that artwork to create vector images of the pressed leaves, like so:

Plantlife is, of course, full of color, so the next step for Larissa was to come up with a vibrant, but grounded palette from which to work. Here’s what that looked like: 

Then she took each individual plant piece, created by a local student, and mapped it to a template of the trolley. Once the design was finalized, and the base color selected, it was time to paint!

Larissa and Lindsay use a convenient parachute cloth technique to create Creative Action murals. The process involved cutting dozens of leaves out of parachute cloth before painting each individual leaf, then eventually adhering the cloth to the trolley. This allowed students — the same young artists who create the original plant prints — to help paint the final mural without having to climb all over the play piece.

Once all pieces had been painted and the trolley had been primed and painted a base cream color, Larissa went to work layering the plants on top of one another to finally create the finished mural you see below.

Murals of East Austin: A Guide to Local, Public Art

Austin, Texas is a city that appreciates a good mural.

As an organization that appreciates an art-loving community, our Color Squad teen program combines the two — mural and community — to design and execute a brand-new piece of public art each year. This year’s mural, titled “Welcome to Austin,” focuses on the themes of community and home, and will be unveiled at Lott Pocket Park on Memorial Day, May 28.

To celebrate the upcoming unveiling, we are recognizing a few of the murals that have become colorful symbols of East Austin. In the coming weeks, we will also release a self-guided tour of those murals so that community members can more easily check them out in real life. Check back each Monday for the release of a new mural, and stay tuned for details on the installation of “Welcome to Austin.”

Til Death Do Us Part

Location: East 7th Street and Waller Street

Artist: Federico Archuleta

We’re kicking things off with the very recognizable Til Death Do Us Part mural that sits at the corner of 7th and Waller streets.

You’re likely very familiar with Federico Archuleta’s art, even if you don’t recognize his name. The graffiti artist and illustrator works with stencils to create his Mexican-inspired, bright, pop-y works that cover much of Austin.

His tools of choice allow him to recreate a prolific number of colorful murals, including the piece featuring two loving skulls, giving them the ubiquity they’re known for. Til Death Do Us Part is iconic here in Austin, but it’s not Federico’s only recognizable piece. You probably also know and love his Selena portrait, the full-body Virgen de Guadalupe, and the Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan figures that grace Manor, South Congress, and Guadalupe respectively. Federico’s colorful aesthetic is heavily influenced by the fusion of Latino and American cultures he grew up with on the border in El Paso, Texas.

Map Your Roots

Location: (The back of) The Center for Creative Action, 2921 E. 17th St., Building B

Artist: Creative Action’s Color Squad

Map Your Roots, designed and created by Creative Action’s Color Squad group in 2015, tells the story of the Chestnut neighborhood where the Center for Creative Action resides, through the use of symbolism. After a thorough period of research and community engagement, Color Squad teens used what they had learned to design the large scale, color mural on the back of the center facing the Sustainable Food Center Garden.

The foundation of the mural is three hands used to represent the three periods depicted in the work. The hands on the left cradle dirt (like that in the nearby garden), and stand in for the time before the 1960s when the neighborhood was largely agricultural.

Directly below the farming hands, are goats that represent the Meyers goat farm, a part of the area’s agricultural history that sat where Flatbed Press and Austin’s Christopher House site currently. The farm, and a log cabin that was a part of it and is also depicted in the mural, were still in operation throughout the 1960s according to local lore.

The next hand, located in the middle of the mural and balled into a fist, represents both the civil rights movement and neighborhood resistance to industrial environmental contamination in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time, the Chestnut neighborhood was home to the Featherlite cement factory which left a thin layer of cement dust on cars and clothesline directly across the street. That dust is symbolized the pink clouds at the top of the Map Your Roots mural with the factory itself painted just below. Three community activists — Ethel Fresch, Robert Humphries Jr., and Ida Manor — who helped remove the factory, and the pollution it brought, from the neighborhood also have a place on the mural to the left of the pink clouds.

Next to the factory, in line with a tall building that represents the ongoing period of growth in Austin, is a mouth that represents the arrival of Creative Action in the community. The mouth symbolizes youth voice, which Creative Action engages to help address community concerns. And above the mouth and to the right of the tall building is the Metrorail train that the Chestnut Neighborhood Planning Team conceived of the improve the neighborhood’s access to public transportation.

Finally, the final hand at the top, right hand side of the building throws an airplane toward the right, representing Creative Action’s hope for the area’s future, as well as the uncertainty of what lies ahead.

Victory Grill Mural

Victory Grill Mural

Location: 1104 E. 11th Street

Artist: Trust Your Struggle Collective

Austin soul songstress Lavelle White, Victory Grill founder Johnny Holmes, and pianist Roosevelt “Grey Ghost” Williams have graced the side of legendary restaurant and music venue Victory Grill since the traveling Trust Your Struggle artist collective painted the mural on the side of the legendary cafe and music venue in 2008.

Victory Grill — so named because it opened on the day Japan surrendered in World War II — was intended as a place where returning black soldiers, as well as locals, could enjoy the nightlife of segregated Austin.

It quickly became a music venue go-to for popular, traveling acts, including James Brown, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Billie Holliday, Bobby Bland, Tina Turner, and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. As one of the few remaining original nightclubs on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” of the 1950s, Victory Grill established Austin as a music destination, and cemented East Austin as a center for black culture in the city. The mural commemorates that musical and cultural history.


Location: E. 11th Street, Charles E. Urdy Plaza

Artist: John Yancey

The gorgeous and colorful mosaic tiles of East Austin’s Rhapsody mural combine to create an animated tribute to East Austin’s musical past.

The 50-foot-long artwork was designed in 2003 by University of Texas Art Professor John Yancey to commemorate a time when blues and jazz music filtered through the east side of segregated Austin. Yancey, a longtime local resident, searched through old photos and documents to help inform his design, though he has seen much of the change in East Austin firsthand.

The work was part of a larger project called “Eleven East,” funded by the Austin Revitilization Authority to memorialize African American institutions along East 11th Street. The plaza where it sits, Charles E. Urdy Plaza, is named for a respected community leader.

Check back on Monday for the next featured mural!


Join us Memorial Day, May 28, for a new mural unveiling. 

Coming soon! Together We Are/Juntos Somos Mural

Location: Lott Pocket Park, 

Artist: Color Squad

Join us to see the full design of this colorful new mural designed by Color Squad, a Creative Action teen public arts collective. We’ve partnered with GirlForward Austin, a local organization dedicated to supporting refugee girls who have been displaced by conflict and persecution.

The mural explores the vision of a truly inclusive community, with the belief that what makes us different makes us stronger. 

There will be BBQ from Micklethwait Craft Meats, live music, mural tours led by our teen artists, a splash pad, and art activities!


Guest Post by Free Minds: Creative Action Kids Sing with the Dreamers

Guest post by Free Minds. The Free Minds Project provides Austin-area adults living on limited incomes with a chance to explore their intellectual potential. Creative Action provides programming for the children of those adults to remove barriers like child care.

Creative Action Free Minds

Creative Action students with Barbara Jordan’s statue at UT Austin.

While Free Minds students analyzed the photographic portraits of Frederick Douglass last week, the younger generation was having a similar conversation down the hall, via an award-winning picture book.

As a partner that offers art-focused education for the children of Free Minds students, Creative Action builds bridges between generations of Free Minds participants. This year, the focus has been driven by world events our cohort of young ones have watched unfold around them.

“I’ve been so proud of the young voices that have risen up from Parkland, Florida, and we have powerful young voices right here, too,” said Freddy Carnes, the Creative Action teaching artist who leads the group each Monday and Thursday evening. Some themes were planned, says Carnes, but many of the subjects they’ve tackled this year came about by asking the students what they wanted to talk about. Their passion turned outward.

In their most recent project, kids collaborated to write “Amyaah, the Dreamer,” a 36-line song about a Cuban woman who moved to LA. From start to finish, the children created Amyaah’s story, empathizing with her struggles and dreams and picturing themselves in her shoes. “Amyaah wanted her daughters to be safe, to have clothes, food, shelter and a career. She wanted them to feel love and happiness, to feel brave and not to fear,” reads the song’s second stanza.

You don’t get 36 lines if the subject doesn’t mean anything to you. They’re compassionate about these issues,” said Freddy. “It’s easy to write a song about a puppy or a shark…but you realize that third graders are capable of this kind of thought.

The students have many reasons to feel connected to the plight of the Dreamers. Vivalyn Jones, Creative Action volunteer, is one of them. Having emigrated from Jamaica years ago, Vivalyn raised two generations in this country, and has shared her story with the group.

Empathy emanates from this little M Station classroom. Looking forward, the group hopes to record their song, and maybe even create a music video. The kids have already proven they’re capable of big ideas, critical thinking, and compassion, just like their parents down the hall.

Color Squad’s Latest Zines Deal with Immigration and the Concept of Home

Each year, Color Squad, the young civic-minded visual artists of our teen programs, tackle a social issue — researching it and turning it over and over again to understand how they can best represent each angle visually.  

When the squad started brainstorming for the 2017 – 2018 school year in the spring of last year, Senate Bill 4, the measure banning “sanctuary cities,” had just been passed in the Texas legislature. Inspired by that law, and by the Trump administration ban of people from seven Muslim-majority countries, the teens turned their focus on refugee and immigrant advocacy, as well as community and inclusion.

The Process + The Zine

Choosing the year’s theme is just one part of the lengthy research and creative process that culminates with the installation of a public mural in the spring. It begins with community-building in the early fall and includes interviewing peers and meeting with community leaders and advocates.

Color Squad also partners up with a local organization each year to “help get their creative juices flowing,” as Arielle Levin, Program Manager at GirlForward, puts it.

GirlForward, this year’s organization, works to create opportunity and community for teen girls who have been displaced by conflict and persecution. Color Squad’s partnership with the group began with a mixer last year, where youth from their organization had a chance to interact with other teens in their community. Youth also had the opportunity to learn about some of the girls’ home country

“It’s really cool for both groups to get to see, ‘Oh cool, there’s these rad teenagers who are in other high schools around Austin and this is what they do two nights a week, they do art.’ or vice versa. They may not otherwise get a chance to interface with each other,” says Levin. 

GirlForward members have since helped Color Squad brainstorm interview questions to inform their research and have contributed art to Color Squad’s latest home-themed zine, another part of the artists’ exploratory process. This Is Home: Portraits of Austin is an artistic take on what “home” means to each of the artists and includes illustrations of people, places, pets, and things.

Know Your Rights

This year’s theme also called for a second, zine-style pamphlet that educates readers on interacting with ICE and is a beautifully designed testament to art’s function as a tool of resistance.

Know Your Rights will be distributed to immigrants in Texas and was created in collaboration with American Gateways, an immigration legal services organization that dropped in on Color Squad to discuss scenarios when dealing with ICE. To really drive home an understanding of those scenarios, representatives from American Gateways, orchestrated a “choose-your-own-adventure” exercise in which students chose how to interact with fictitious ICE officers before learning the consequence of their actions.  

Color Squad had been interested in creating such a resource from the start and was lucky enough to connect with Elizabeth Gerberich, Outreach Coordinator at American Gateways, who just so happened to be in search of a visual pamphlet.

It’s really important to have accessible design and by that I mean design where, if it’s really hard for you to read large boxes of text, if you have limited literacy skills, that there’s something there to help you understand really important information. Illustration can help with that.”

A lot of American Gateways’ clients haven’t had an extensive education in their country the organization sees illustration as a useful way to “explain visually what to do” when ICE comes around. For those that are literate, the pamphlet is available in English and Spanish.

The support that the art represents is also an important product of the work, according to Elizabeth.

Though she doesn’t speak for the immigrant community as a whole, “it’s always really powerful to see images of yourself represented on a big platform and images, message of support and of hope and of resilience.”

And the fact that teens are executing those images is also powerful.

“A lot of our clients are youth. . . we help folks with their DACA and we help families with undocumented children so I think it’s very powerful to see their peers supporting them through a really rough time and really rough experiences,” says Elizabeth.

“It’s also powerful to see directly affected youth taking back that control of their narrative and their stories,” as the GirlForward collaborators have. 

Where to Find The Zines

Both zines are now available to browse at the Austin Central LibraryUniversity of Texas’ Multicultural Engagement Center, the Fine Arts Library, and the Ana Sisnett Library at the university’s Gender and Sexuality Center. You can also view the Know Your Rights pamphlet here or purchase This is Home: Portraits of Austin at most Creative Action events.