AUSTIN (KXAN) — Community members packed into the Eastside Community Church by the dozens, hoping to express their concerns over a mural that was painted over more than a week ago.
KXAN was not allowed inside the meeting of the 12th Street Merchants Association, but most of the attendees leaving the meeting said they left disappointed and without a chance to share their thoughts.
Down the street from the church is a new store on 12th and Chicon called Las Cruxes. Nearly two weeks ago, a wall on the side of the building featured a mural — now painted over in white paint.
The mural’s artist, Chris Rogers, said he was not notified when his art was painted over. He painted the mural in 2013 and it featured James Brown, Michael Jackson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Salvador Dali, Bob Marley and Tupac Shakur.
Rogers went to the meeting to find out what the next steps would be. He believes he will ultimately be the one assigned with recreating the mural. The conversation since the mural’s erasure left him under the impression that he would gather community ideas as opposed to recreating the mural exactly as it was.
“It is frustrating, it’s very frustrating and I think that was the consensus, because most of the people here wanted that information but it wasn’t being achieved,” he said. “But to me I feel like it should be far simpler than it’s playing out.”
Rogers said he just wants to start painting, but he also recognizes that for many community residents, it highlights a much larger problem.
“This is a community with a rich history that has been displaced and a painting of that mural in particular white of all colors was just a smack in the face,” Rogers said.
The community displacement Rogers is referring to is the gentrification in east Austin, an area with strong black culture and history. In the 1920s east Austin was set aside as a segregated area under the city’s zoning plan.
Fatima Mann, executive director of Counterbalance ATX, who works with neighborhoods in east Austin, explained that many of the black residents she has been working with are pushed out by the rising cost of living in the area.
“People who are seventh generation Austinites are having to move to Round Rock because they can’t afford to live here any more, and most of the seventh generation people here are black and brown,” Mann explained.
As a black Austinite herself, Mann explained that hearing about the mural being painted over was personally hurtful.
“To people who say we shouldn’t be mad because it’s only been up there for three years, it’s not about how long it’s been there, its the fact that it’s literally the only remnants of wall paint [in the city of Austin] that look like me and was by an artist that was someone of the non-majority [race] as well,” Mann said. “I want them to literally publicly say that they apologize for not seeing the issues and coming into the communities and just you know whitewashing.”
Mann said that she hopes the frustration around this mural can spark community changes. She wants concerned citizens to start contacting their representatives and city council members.
“So that when new people continuously move in, they know where they’re moving into,” Mann said. “They’re not just moving into this new city that was built for them, they’re moving into this new place where generations were built before.”
Lifelong east Austin resident Wilbert Buckner was also concerned about the mural being painted over. Buckner volunteers feeding the homeless in the same building the community meeting was held.
“The mural was a memory that everyone had, that mural will not be repainted as it was, whoever painted it took hard work and effort to do that you know, and whoever did it, they might have repercussions of doing that because to us,” Buckner said.
Veronica Ortuño, owner of the Las Cruxes store issued a statement to KXAN after the meeting was over, saying:
This problem was caused by haste and lack of communication, so I’ve given this time and consideration and I’ve been seeking wisdom and guidance from as much of the community we could reach and the many who have reached out to us. We have heard your concerns and agree that this particular wall can and should represent the community. Six Square is an organization dedicated to preserving the African American heritage and cultural assets of east Austin. So we have offered them stewardship of the wall which they have accepted from here on out we are gonna take a poll and try and do a meeting with the community by next week to try and discuss the next steps of the mural.”
Ortuño added that they will take the community’s input on the wall at the next meeting, the date for that meeting will be posted on the Las Cruxes Facebook page.