[upbeat music] - I would like to paint the town.
I would like to see murals everywhere.
[laughs] [upbeat music] [Narrator] Look up in Austin, Texas.
Art is everywhere.
From fences with simple messages to walls with towering icons... murals are transforming spaces, giving voice to causes, and impacting communities.
- You could walk any block with a lot of blank walls and not be engaged.
But if that blank wall was full of murals, it will change the way we view a city.
[Narrator] Dive into the murals of this capital city and meet the artists and organizers who are awakening the walls here on "Muraling Austin."
[dramatic music] [upbeat music] - Having art in public spaces and accessible to everyone is critical for many reasons.
Just take street art.
It's oftentimes painful.
It's oftentimes seen as destructive, but it's a platform It transforms your journey.
You might hate it, you might love it, you might cry over it.
And I think that that's what being a human is all about is that expression of emotions.
- The public art installation takes it a step further because it's free.
It's free to everybody to come and take in.
That carries power, it carries weight.
It can really inspire folks, bring people together, and restore communities.
[Narrator] Murals spring up on the walls of Austin from the imaginations of rogue street artists and grassroots leaders.
They also arise from impact organizations that are financing and commissioning large scale murals citywide.
Molly Alexander is founder of the Austin Downtown Alliance Foundation, created to bring art to spaces and urban neighborhoods and provide opportunities for artists.
- Our goal really was, how do you make a downtown for everyone?
How do we elevate the place?
How do we elevate art and how do we elevate the artist as well as elevating the conversation?
And so we launched this idea that downtown is a canvas.
What better than a can of paint to transform how you experience a place?
And so we began to look at what were those opportunities that we could come out and really do a big project first off for the foundation and make a big impact.
So the Writing on the Walls was our first project in March of 2020.
Great timing [laughs] but that's okay.
So it was the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Giving not all women, but women the right to vote.
And so we commissioned a large scale piece around the commemoration of the Nineteenth Amendment.
[upbeat music] [Narrator] "The Beauty of Liberty and Equality" mural is the largest in Austin, standing 12 stories high on The LINE Hotel at a major downtown intersection.
The collaborative work was created by Canadian artist Sandra Chevrier and American Street artist and graphic designer, Shepard Fairey.
- Most of the images I create are portraits with a mask.
I work with a model.
I will create a mask on their face and I do a photo shoot.
So it's reference to the pop culture with the comics and the superheroes.
But for me, there's a deeper message.
This image was really about the celebration of all the women before us that fought really hard because finally there was a victory.
- It was important for a man and a woman to collaborate because equality really has to be a joint venture.
It was a really great opportunity to show alliance and to show that sense of equality and cooperation.
[upbeat music] - So these were like the first ideas.
That's the Wonder Woman breaking the chains.
I headed the "United States of America" with the quote, "Remember the ladies," the word "vote" so that the message would be very easy to read.
This was the mask that was glued on the face of the model and then the image was sent to Shepard.
- I added text that says "Equality," a reworking of the female symbol that has a dove, Lady Justice, and text about the Nineteenth Amendment.
- We would send back and forth the images.
Then you could really see that it was a collaboration between two artists and you could see my signature and his signature.
- Sandra had never painted a piece on that scale.
So that was where my experience of painting over 100 public murals was really valuable.
- I'm more of a studio artist, so to do like a big project like this was, uh, was crazy, you know.
- The way the mural was executed, I print the entire image out in gray scale on thin sheets of paper, and then start to cut the stencils directly on the surface.
- They started with all the stencil part.
After that was done, I came back with my brushes and did all like the details in the black and white spots.
- It was a feat of engineering and part bravery.
The seven days it took to paint the mural and it unveiling, you could just see the surprise on people, Instagram, Facebook, and other social interactions.
I mean, just being down on site, and people cheering, and just watching, and just stunned by the scaffolding, and how quickly, in seven days, you could transform this building.
[uplifting music] - It's about celebrating an historical event but it's a mural that is really relevant now and that will be in the future.
And hopefully, it will make some people vote.
- I hope with that mural on that wall, it could create a template for empowerment for people and then motivate them to act.
When we can see ourselves in a concept, in an image, and then realize that other people see themselves, then you build community, and that can lead to real movement.
- It's very inspiring to young girls and women all throughout the city.
This is a great busy street, it's very eye-catching and I think it's very inspirational, especially being a woman myself.
And I'm very girl power.
I love it.
I think it's awesome.
- I think it's really empowering.
- It's one of the most beautiful murals in Austin.
It was one that I was drawn to originally.
And now knowing what it means, I think the mural is a really beautiful representation of that.
- This one brings people joy.
I see a lot of joyful expressions.
I see a lot of young women, kids, others jump off the trail right by the mural, and they take their picture like Wonder Woman.
She's like, "I'm freeing myself.
And I'm freeing myself for all women in the whole world."
[upbeat music] [Narrator] Murals created on a smaller scale also have a strong presence in this tight-knit street art culture.
Many are collaborative efforts with multiple artists and or ganizations working together.
Raasin McIntosh is founder of Raasin in the Sun, an East Austin-based nonprofit organization that focuses on environmental initiatives and urban beautification through murals.
- I love murals.
Large, tall, medium, you know, small, [laughs] 20 stories.
Mural art... for everybody.
[race gun fires] [crowd cheers] [Announcer] Raasin McIntosh running the third leg for the USA red team.
[crowd cheering] [Narrator] A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a former Olympian, Raasin's travels as a world-class athlete and the influence of her creative family motivated her to make a difference in her own community.
- Being an Olympian and being a world-class athlete really exposed me to a lot of different communities around the world.
And it also exposed me to the potential of what you could do as an individual and how it can inspire others.
And I was thinking, "Well, I'm a creative.
I was a creative before I started running.
And so how could I create something that inspire folks on that level?"
[lively music] Let's start off with small things to restore spaces like cleanups, right?
So let's find the dirtiest corner you can probably find with trash everywhere and see what we can do with encouraging folks to come out to volunteer to pick up trash.
And then it went from that to seeing empty spaces where we could create gardens.
And then we started looking at walls, you know, decrepit old walls that were in communities that needed their story to be told.
And so we started creating this mural arts program which kind of skyrocketed.
[Narrator] In collaboration with other organizations such as the Austin Parks Foundation, the Mueller Foundation, neighborhood associations, and the City of Austin, Raasin in the Sun murals are gracing surfaces all over East Austin.
[lively music] Each mural is unique to its location and inspired by community input.
The Bolm Road fence mural is one of these joint projects.
The fence spans 900 feet in the Govalle neighborhood.
The images honor those who fought to eliminate industrial contamination in the area, and to protect the natural environment surrounding it.
- PODER is an environmental justice nonprofit here, people in defense of Mother Earth's resources.
And in the '90s, Govalle had tank farms that were poisoning the air and the water, and people were getting cancer.
And PODER pushed to remove those, and they were triumphant.
And so, some of the images on the wall will reflect the story of PODER.
- When I paint community murals, I always ask the people who I'm representing, "What do you want me to say?"
I'm just a tool.
So my piece is going to be inspired by three of the founding members of PODER.
It's based on Susana Almanza, one of the founding members, Sylvia Herrera, and another of the members, Janie.
Just kind of gonna show a little bit about the fight against the tank farms with protestors from the community.
And on the right hand side, it's kind of leading towards the victory and the future, and the hope for the kids to live and grow up in a clean and safe environment.
[gentle music] - Respect and validation is absolutely paramount.
Because if you come into a community, you have to honor that legacy.
That is the key to come in and honor everything that has been done before us.
And so I think we lead with that.
We make sure that we say yes to projects that advocate for that, and give us the autonomy to tell those stories.
- I'm painting the portraits of two community members that live literally down the street from here.
The mural and the message is an ode to them and the neighborhood.
Mary's main message that she wanted to portray in this mural is that it's about how you raise your children.
And it's not where you're from but it's how you bring them up, and that you can do anything you want, that you can dream big.
That's what she always instilled in her children and her grandson.
He's becoming a pilot right now.
So I really wanted to tie in the importance of her family.
- Austin is growing very fast, so a lot of people that live here now, just got here.
And they probably don't know the history about this part of town or the people that lived here.
So by putting these murals up, I think, it's, in a way, not only adding beauty to their neighborhood but also educating people that may not know about it, give them a little history lesson about the people who live here.
[cars whoosh past] [bright music] [Narrator] Another collaborative murals project on the East side took on an especially challenging surface.
In historic Rosewood Park alongside Boggy Creek and the EastLink Trail runs a 400-foot overpass.
Artists were commissioned to paint the round, concrete pillars that support the structure above.
- One very much community-driven project was The Pillars Project.
That was a project that completely came from the minds of people who live in that area and said, "You know, there's this space, it's over Boggy Creek, but you can't really use it as a park space.
It's really like an underpass with columns that are just kind of a drab gray.
So what could we do with this?
Could we make these into different murals?"
[inspirational music] And with the theme of community pillars, quite literally people in the community that we could represent who are very important people in East Austin in particular.
And so the idea was to revitalize that space, make it into a space that people feel welcome in that actually has a purpose.
- I'm here on my bike ride, look forward to seeing this art when I come by.
It's just a nice little moment to have, and just, you know, do your workout but also see some pretty art at the same time.
- Being proud of your neighborhood is reflected in art and I think having people put their impressions of a neighborhood in the neighborhood for everyone to see as a beautiful thing.
[uplifting music] [Narrator] These two projects are especially poignant for local artist Ruben Esquivel.
He has created murals for both The Pillars Project as well as the Bolm Road fence.
Ruben's uncles, Peter, Raymond, and Gilbert Rivera, as well as Gilbert's wife, Jane Rivera, are all depicted in the murals on Bolm Road.
- My family's been here for a very long time, fifth generation Austinites.
So these roots run very deep.
I was lucky that my uncles were on the list of subjects to be included in this mural project.
So, of course, I picked them.
And it's super special for me 'cause I'm from the East side.
I live here, born here, raised here, and here I am painting a piece in the East side, honoring my uncles is super special.
[Narrator] The Rivera brothers are lifelong East Austin residents, and were involved in multiple efforts to protect and preserve the historic Rosewood neighborhood and the surrounding area.
- We are in the Govalle neighborhood, which is pretty much still a Mexican American neighborhood.
This used to be a recycling center on the other side of the wall.
A place for really nasty bad graffiti that was being put up.
So the city commissioned them to do some artwork to make it prettier.
And they're putting up images of people that have been influential.
And this particular portion of the wall is my brother Raymond, he's my youngest brother, my brother Pete, he's the president of the Springdale-Airport Neighborhood Association.
- Why are you graffitiing up my wall?
[laughs] [Ruben] How are you?
[Gilbert] I'm doing great.
I love you.
- I love you.
- It's looking pretty, Ruben.
- Oh, wow.
[Jane] It's looking pretty.
[Narrator] Gilbert, a retired energy professional and former member of several Chicano civil rights groups, was born and raised in East Austin.
- I love the monarch, it's beautiful.
- He and his wife Jane, a PhD and longtime community development expert, have lived in the Rosewood neighborhood for over 40 years.
- The mural is basically dedicated to the work that's been done to preserve Red Bluff, the Mount Bonnell of East Austin.
It was being used as a dump, the neighborhood mobilized and for about three or four years worked hard to get the city to come and clean it up.
- You can tell over here, it's all debris and trash that people come and drop.
And the city knows about it, but they don't do anything.
- And then the next battle was to get it dedicated as parkland.
And so it's now known as the Red Bluff Nation Preserve.
And it's a pride and joy of the neighborhood and of the family.
All murals tell a story.
And so it's important for people to know what those stories are, 'cause that, in a blink of an eye can disappear, and we won't know the history.
For example, the butterfly was one of my mom's favorite, especially the monarch.
And the monarch migrates.
So we were migrants and all of that.
So that sort of relates to us.
[Narrator] Gilbert and Jane co-authored a book on the Rosewood neighborhood to honor its legacy.
That legacy includes the historic baseball grounds Downs Field.
The Riveras fought to renovate the facilities and create murals to recognize its past and players.
- Gilbert and I were among the people in the neighborhood who fought so hard to get Downs Field renovated.
It used to have barbed wire fence around it that just looked horrible.
So Downs Field has now been almost completely refinished.
And we're very proud to have that as a key historic element in the community.
[Gilbert] We did this.
[laughs] [Jane] Yes, we did.
[Narrator] Downs Field, in use since the 1920s, was once home to the Austin Black Senators, a semi-professional baseball team.
Renovated recently, the field now hosts local university baseball teams and community leagues.
- We were able to get funding to help put up a new fence, a sign, new lighting, and they just finished the historic bleachers.
We had murals, mosaics put up at Downs Field honoring the baseball players that were there.
Historic African American universities came to play.
- Jackie Robinson played there.
Willie Wells, who was a local baseball player, played there.
Its historical importance in the community can't really be overstated.
- And these murals sort of depict, kids would hang out in the outside and of the field, and if anybody ever hit a home run, they would grab the ball and take it to the snow cone concession.
And right here, you can see a little boy with his snow cone, and then he was able to capture the ball.
That's part of the legend of Downs Field.
[gentle music] Muralism has been here for thousands of years.
You know, Egyptians, Aztec, Mayan.
So they have all told their stories.
I think that murals are the hieroglyphics of today.
We need to save them because at some point, those may be the only things that are left that are reminders of the Mexican American and African American communities that were here in Austin.
- I hope that young children who are people of color, who see some of their ancestors, their heroes, in murals and in other public art will feel good about themselves, and feel like they can accomplish the same things.
A love for the people and a hope for harmony, I think are the two critical pieces of all of that.
- I'm over 50% Native American.
My people were here thousands of years before the Constitution was even thought of.
So nobody can tell me that I don't belong.
And that every mural is a source of pride.
Some people go around talking about that they're insulted by the murals.
They're insulted that they show different cultures, different histories, different dancing.
I've been told this to my face.
And so, whenever you hear that, that makes me more determined to do what I can to support the arts and the artists, the muralists, the painters, and everybody that is doing their part.
And what they're doing is that blanket that is being torn apart, every mural that is put together is bringing that blanket back, and re-sewing it together as a solid wall about our history and our people.
That gives you the image of, there's hope.
When [clears throat], when you're put down so much and for so long... you have to have images, you have to have opportunities, you have to have things to look up to and say, "I wanna reach that goal.
I know I can do it.
I've been told all my life that I can't, but I know that I can and I know that I will.
And I want to show my parents.
I want to show my children.
I want to show my grandchildren that there is an opportunity."
[gentle music] African Americans, Native Americans, women, are not part of the Constitution.
And so I fight to write those unwritten sentences, unwritten lines into the Constitution.
That's why I get so emotional because to me, every time somebody puts a brush to a wall, it's a brushstroke that is right in between the lines of that Constitution and saying, "I am here, I belong.
And you can't take that away from me 'cause I am a citizen of this country."
[gentle music] [uplifting music] - Art can really be part of your overall experience.
It's something that touches your heart.
It can engage your mind.
The joy of doing public art is watching the connection of emotion, and the connection of those feelings to the place.
And that's what makes memories for us.
- Walls, historically, are known to separate.
But walls could bring folks together depending on what you do with it.
- It makes people realize that someone had to create this, and then look at the impact it's having on me.
Look at the impact it's having on the neighborhood.
So every time I do something in public space, I'm hoping it's setting off a chain reaction of ways in which they might consider being participants in culture rather than just spectators.
[dramatic music] [gentle music] ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪