Art is Everywhere: Best Public Art in Austin

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” – Thomas Merton

Austin is a vibrant city, full of creative energy. While many of us are accustomed to seeing art in a museum setting, a growing number of efforts help bring art into our everyday lives. One of these is the City of Austin’s Art in Public Places (AIPP) program, which was established 30 years ago to enhance public spaces for all residents and visitors to our city. Since the program’s inception, AIPP has supported the creation of nearly 200 works of art in libraries, streetscapes, public safety facilities, parks, pools, recreation centers, trails and bikeways, the airport and the Convention Center.

In the mood for an adventure, I set out to learn more about the collection and to pick some of my favorites. Some of the collection I was very familiar with, others I had never heard of, and a few were in spots I visited frequently but have never taken the time to fully appreciate.

ART IN PARKS AND PUBLIC SPACES

Big Chiller Blues (601 E. Fifth St.)

If you were in doubt that art is everywhere in Austin, you need to take in these 10,000 square feet of glass tiles which cover two of the walls of the parking garage for the Austin Convention Center. In addition to parking, the structure houses air conditioning equipment, which inspired the artist to create this soothing array of blue tiles.

Grotto Wall at Sparky Park (3701 Grooms St.)

What to do with a former energy substation located smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood? Transform its cinderblock wall into a rocky canvas embedded with dazzling rocks and mosaics. The park got its name for the electrical sparks which occurred there on occasion when the substation was in operation. This pocket park is close to the intersection of 38th and Grooms in Hyde Park.

Lou Neff Point Gazebo (2114 Lou Neff Rd.)

Visiting the Hike and Bike Trail to feed the ducks is an Austin rite of passage for kids of all ages. As part of a master plan for Lady Bird Lake, the City replaced decaying wooden gazebos around the Trail. The structure is made of steel and iron and is inspired by the movement of birds. The gazebo frames the skyline and provides a nice area to sit and enjoy the surroundings. Visit the Gazebo by walking from the Zilker Park playground, parking by the Great Lawn or walking from parking underneath the Mopac Bridge.

Nightwing (300 S. Congress Ave.)

Austin is a little bat-crazy, so perhaps it’s fitting that we have a moving statue of our favorite flying mammal quite close to where the bats emerge from their roosts on the Congress Avenue Bridge. The aluminum structure turns with the wind, and is located in a traffic island near the intersection of Congress and Barton Springs Road.

Open Room (115 Sandra Muraida Way)

One of the newer pieces in the AIPP collection is this 24-foot long table, meant to serve as a gathering space and stage upon which everyday life can unfold. The table comes complete with a lace “tablecloth”, benches and lighting structures, in an open-air “room” surrounded by trees. Parking is located nearby.

Stevie Ray Vaughan (800 W. Riverside Dr.)

There are few former residents which symbolize the spirit of Austin more than Stevie Ray Vaughan, the blues guitarist who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 18, 2015. This bronze sculpture presides over Auditorium Shores and provides a beautiful backdrop to our ever-changing downtown skyline. Parking lot located nearby.

Willie Nelson (310 W. Second St.)

If Stevie Ray Vaughan presides over the south shore of Lady Bird Lake, then Willie Nelson keeps watch over downtown, just north of the River. Willie first made his “appearance” in bronze in 2012, fittingly, in front of the building which is the current home for Austin City Limits. The statue is located at the intersection of Lavaca and Willie Nelson Blvd., a block of 2nd Street named in honor of this artist, who performed in the first episode of the long-running TV series. Street parking is available nearby, and visitors can also park for a fee at City Hall.

Your Essential Magnificence (2204 S. Congress Ave.)

 Just south of the hustle and bustle of the shops and restaurants of South Congress is this homage to iconic South Austin establishments. Embedded inside the sculpture are mementos from the Broken Spoke, Armadillo World Headquarters and the Cathedral of Junk. This streetscape, which resembles a peacock, is a throne of sorts, complete with a place to sit down. The two-sided sculpture would serve as a great backdrop for photos and has street parking nearby.

ART NEAR POOLS

A Day in the Park (4400 Avenue G)

This 600-square-foot mosaic includes special contributions from members of the community, as well as scenes from all the creatures who would enjoy a park. The piece of art covers what used to be a blank wall on the pool’s pump house. Shipe is located in Hyde Park.

Deep Eddy Mural Project (401 Deep Eddy Dr.)

This community-based tile mural integrates the work of thousands of local teachers, schoolchildren and volunteers to tell the story of Texas’ oldest swimming pool. Deep Eddy has its own parking lot.

Philosopher’s Rock (2201 Barton Springs Rd.)

While visitors yelp upon entering the chilly waters of Barton Springs, these gentlemen outside seem unfazed. In fact, these three individuals were important in preserving the springs for our children to splash in. Historian Walter Prescott Webb (standing, as he never swam), naturalist Roy Bedichek and writer J. Frank Dobie (both in swim trunks) are pondering the matters of the day. Parking is available in front of Barton Springs.

ART IN LIBRARIES

Go Forth & Voyage to Soulsville (1161 & 1165 Angelina St.)


The Carver Museum & Cultural Center has many works of art, but Go Forth and Voyage to Soulsville had the most impact on me. Go Forth is a sculpture which depicts a mother (Eternity) ushering forth her two children, Today (a girl) and Tomorrow (a boy). Soulsville traces the history of the black community, from the African diaspora to the present day. Carver has several parking lots.

Flights of Fancy (2200 Hancock Dr.)

When a movie theater was turned into a library, the City commissioned artwork to make the cavernous space seem more intimate. The result was a mural of children watching the sun set and metal birds hanging in the center of the space which resemble open books.

Rayo de Esperanza/A Beacon of Hope: Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Sculpture (1105 E. Cesar Chavez St.)

This tribute to Cesar Chavez also marks the entrance to east Austin. The base of the sculpture reads: “The answer lies within you and me. It is with all men and women who share the suffering and yearn with us for a better world.” The Terrazzas Branch is the largest repository in the area for books and videos about the leader.

Reading Between the Lions (5833 Westminster Dr.)

The lion which “guards” the entrance to the Windsor Park Library is reminiscent of the animals which guard the entrance to the New York Public Library.

Sea of Knowledge (2505 Steck Ave.)

This large laminated glass serves as a boundary between the main library area and the room in which storytime and other youth programs take place. The images of children taking adventures through books is perfect for the setting. The North Village Branch is located near Steck & Burnet and has its own parking lot.

Black Well (1800 S. Fifth St.)

If you don’t notice this mobile at your first time in the library, it may be that you aren’t looking…up. This mobile was made from 40 typewriters, all reconfigured to create new shapes. The mobile hangs in the vestibule at the Twin Oaks branch near South 5th and Mary.

There are still other works of art I’m looking to check out. What is your favorite part of the collection?

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