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With mural saved, East Austin groups seek clarity on public art process

Monday, May 6, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

A community gathering Wednesday at Givens Park in East Austin is expected to look at how the city and residents can work together to prevent a repeat of controversy over a mural created to memorialize a recent murder victim.

The event, which starts at 6 p.m., was organized last week in the midst of discussions between the Parks and Recreation Department, residents and various community leaders over what to do about the mural created April 19 to honor Andre Davis, who was shot and killed in the park earlier that week during a robbery. PARD staff was notified about the mural soon after and considered how to treat it, since it was created outside of the department’s standard process for installing art in parks and other public places.

The possible replacement of the mural had caused some friction with area residents, who called the city’s decision-making process insensitive because the mural could have been considered graffiti, which brings misdemeanor penalties of $4,000 or one year in jail, and felony fines of up to $10,000.

District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison’s work with community leaders and the parks department helped to broker an agreement to keep the mural in place, at least for the near future.

“The impromptu mural honoring the late Andre ‘Big Dre’ Davis isn’t going anywhere soon,” she wrote in a post on her official Facebook page. “After meeting with Parks and Recreation Department staff and other community stakeholders (including Six Square Austin’s Black Cultural District, the Community Advocacy & Healing Project and Raisin in the Sun) today, we created an agreement that will keep the mural in place.”

Harper-Madison went on to say she hopes Wednesday’s gathering will make it easier for local artists to engage in the public art process and receive compensation from the city for their work.

In a released statement, a parks department spokesperson said, “PARD recognizes that this mural is an ad hoc memorial to a community member and further community discussion regarding the piece is warranted. PARD would like to work through an engagement process with that in mind.”

For now, Six Square will act as the steward of the mural and work to increase participation by East Austin artists in public art placement.

Nefertiti Jackmon, executive director of Six Square, said PARD staff and other city workers showed an understanding of the situation and began talking to Harper-Madison and other leaders about how to handle the mural. She said certain discussions and rumors on social media made it appear the city was on the verge of painting over the mural, which she didn’t see as likely to happen.

“We will be meeting to hear from the public about the importance of the content of that mural, and then talk about how do we empower the community to work collaboratively to address their needs,” she said. “From the beginning, (PARD) have demonstrated sensitivity to this issue, and the communication to them was to stand down when it came to doing anything.”

Fatima Mann, director of the Community Advocacy and Healing Project, which is a co-organizer of Wednesday’s gathering, said she and others want to know how long the mural will remain in place and how it might evolve with the work of other local artists.

“Now the conversation is what does ‘a while’ mean as far as how long the mural will stay, what are the next steps so that this doesn’t happen when someone is being honored and memorialized?” she said. “We should be able to memorialize ourselves and it may not go with how the system says it should, but that does not mean we’re not willing to abide by the system. It’s important to get information about how things do work.”

Photo courtesy of Natasha Harper-Madison.

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