Last summer, we embarked on a journey with Six Square, a neighboring arts and culture nonprofit, to help it continue its mission of engaging the East Austin community with its history and culture.
Named after the six square miles established as the “Negro District” in Austin’s 1928 plan, the nonprofit was founded in 2013 as a way to preserve the district which has undergone rapid change in recent years due to gentrification. The district is bordered to the north by Manor Road, to the south by Seventh Street, to the east by Airport Boulevard, and to the west by Interstate 35. Our current offices sit in the Chestnut neighborhood of Six Square, making the area’s history and revitalization especially important to us.
We kick started this collaboration with Six Square to help create a sustainable and viable arts culture in the district. After receiving funding from the City of Austin, and the National Endowment for the Arts, we were able to host a fellowship in which creative community members worked to design and implement arts projects to create a strong sense of place in East Austin and to create a more unified community of small businesses, restaurants, bars, and cultural events. The work the eight selected fellows did after the past few months will also help inform the design of wayfinding placemakers, as well as helping to shape the community’s vision of the future for their neighborhoods.
Since January, the fellows have come up with unique ways to engage the community in our joint project:
- Beginning their research process, the fellows hosted and participated in story circles with residents to facilitate the sharing of different lived experiences in the East Austin area.
- The story circles became a catalyst for a neighborhood postcard project, where the fellows engaged more than 200 community members to write their own experiences of living in East Austin on postcards featuring district landmarks, like the mural on the George Washington Carver branch. The postcards will be used to help inform the eventual design of placemakers in East Austin.
- Fellows presented the postcards and participated at nine different arts driven community engagement events this year, including events within the Six Square district at venues like Givens Park, Boyd Vance Theater, the African American Cultural Heritage Center, the Alamo Recreation Center, Creative Action, and more.
- Fellows also helped host historic tours of the Six Square district. Tour participants were asked to share their wishes for the future of the community by sharing “I wish this was. . .” statements about buildings and spaces in the district.
Before the fellows begin designing wayfinding placemarkers as the next phase of the project, we’re looking for feedback and input from the community at large, as well as neighbors to help us celebrate!
Join us at a community meeting to be held June 19 and become a part of this project and its mission of community celebration and preservation. Our goal all along has been to excite the community and the people who live here and to get them involved in this work that impacts them.