Galleries have opened and closed and studio space for all mediums continues to be elusive. A 2016 map of cultural assets published by the city of Austin showed there was not a single visual arts studio open to the public in Northwest Austin.
But things are beginning to change up north. Two new galleries have opened to the public in the past 24 months, and a third gallery—a pop up organized by some Northwest Austin artists—will open throughout the month of November.
All three of these galleries will feature in the upcoming Austin Studio Tour, a self-guided art event produced by nonprofit art organization Big Medium. The tour is being held over the first three weekends of November.
Previously divided into two separate events—the West Austin Studio Tour and East Austin Studio Tour—this year’s Austin Studio Tour now provides an opportunity in the spotlight for artists who have long tolled their talents in Northwest Austin.
“There are a lot of quality artists that are basically unseen,” said Andrea Loomis, an abstract glass artist and photographer. “The North and Northwest community—we’re hoping—is about to take off.”
NORTHWEST AUSTIN SPACES OPEN THEIR DOORS
Loomis is at the forefront of a push to organize and elevate the Northwest Austin art community. The artist is opening her Northwest Austin home studio to visitors for the first time this year as part of the Austin Studio Tour. Loomis said she has participated in Big Medium’s events since 2012, but has never had the chance to include her own studio on the tour until now.
“I was traveling with my stuff, showing in car ports, in a pedicab garage, showing in an old Austin home—all of these different places,” Loomis said.
Three other artists will be on display in Loomis’ studio during the first two weekends of November. A collection of Northwest Austin artists have carved out the first two weekends of the Austin Studio Tour and to create a tour of Northwest Austin art spaces.
A total of six stops—3 home studios and 3 galleries—are on this tour, with more than a hundred local artists on display between them.
ArtUs Co alone features a large chunk of those artists on display. The Arboretum-area gallery, shop and studio space, which first opened as a holiday pop up market in late 2019, will feature 27 artists this year as part of its Austin Studio Tours event.
That is in addition to the more than 100 local artist vendors ArtUs Co displays in its shop, located at 10000 Research Blvd., Ste. 118, Austin.
Maggie Lyon, the gallery curator and studio manager at ArtUs Co, said featured artists will host workshops and live painting demonstrations over both weekends of the Austin Studio Tour.
“We're just looking for different ways to get activated,” Lyon said.
ArtUs Co will serve as the pickup and drop off hub for the Art Bus Tour, a guided outing of spaces featured on the Austin Studio Tour. The bus event is organized and curated by Almost Real Things Magazine and tickets start at $35.
One of the stops on the Art Bus Tour will take guests to the Paper Plate Gallery, an almost-hidden house gallery tucked away under groves of trees just off MoPac in North Austin.
Stern Hatcher opened the gallery at 3601 McNeil Drive, Unit A, Austin, in September 2020 and has since hosted several shows featuring painters, photographers and sculptors.
For the Austin Studio Tour, the Paper Plate Gallery will showcase a dozen Texas artists, including the work of a 14-year old Austinite.
The Paper Plate Gallery participated in last year’s edition of the Austin Studio Tour, but the entire exhibition was hosted outside in a drive-thru style format where art was hanged from trees. This year, the gallery has moved the art inside into more intimate spaces and Hatcher said they have taken precautions to prevent spreading COVID-19, including installing air filters and keeping a constant tunnel of air flowing in and out of the gallery space.
Hatcher’s space also features a large backyard, and the gallery operator said they intend to use the outdoor space for live entertainment and live art displays.
“If you get to walk through this space and outside with the new people who are going to be joining us, there's going to be something that you gravitate to connect with,” Hatcher said.
Across from ArtUs Co, Modern Living Art debuts early November in the Gateway Shopping Centers. Northwest Austin’s newest gallery, which can be found at 9507 Research Blvd., Ste. 250, Austin, will likely go as soon as it appeared—the popup space expects to wrap up operations at the end of November—said artist and gallery organizer Deb Otto.
Modern Living Art will showcase the work of 9 Austin professional artists, including abstract paintings, glass work and ceramics.
“It is just going to be a true art experience. There is going to be an 8-foot-tall mural being painted on the back wall where [the artist is] bringing in primed pieces. We're screwing it to the wall and she's painting it live during the weekends. I'm going to be live-painting. We're going to have a gal that does jewelry, so that she'll probably be making some on the side as well. And then definitely large format, serious art,” Otto said. “This isn't crafts. These are, you know, big pieces.”
Otto and some of the artists featured in the gallery grabbed the open retail space after learning that Big Medium was accepting applications for in-person stops on the Austin Studio Tour. The Northwest Austin-based artist said the nature of the location—a vacant retail space—means the gallery will be short-lived.
If Modern Living Art is well received throughout November, though, Otto said it is possible the collection of artists will be able to extend its lifespan.
“We've been told we can go ahead and keep going there if we get some kind of response,” Otto said. “This is definitely a test run.”
THE ARTS COMMUNITY LOOKS AHEAD
This is the second gallery in Northwest Austin for Otto, who ran the Mill & Leaf in the Arboretum area before the gallery closed its doors a few years ago. Whereas the former art and furniture gallery at times stood as one of the very few cultural art spaces in North and Northwest Austin, the area now has several galleries open to the public. This, Otto said, is evidence the arts community is active and productive in the northernmost sector of Capital City.
Now, with the expansion of the Austin Studio Tour, it will be possible for Northwest Austin residents to see locally-made art right in their backyard.
“They're going to see how much art volume is being created up here. We've always been creating it, we've just had to go downtown and peddle it,” Otto said.
For some artists in Northwest Austin, this year represents an opportunity to connect with other artists who live nearby.
ArtUs Co is looking at launching an incubator project in the near future that will connect artists to workshops, critiques and networking opportunities.
“I've been observing what artists need over the years, and we're trying to see if we can kind of fill a niche,” said Joshua Green, executive director for ArtUs Co. “Studios are kind of basement level, but there are other things they need. We'd like to get ... stuff to basically reduce costs, and then have workshops on how to be tax smart, increase your income and best business practices.”
At the end of the day, all of the artists that spoke to Community Impact Newspaper all agreed one vital, undeniable tenet is imperative to keep the arts thriving in Northwest Austin—creative studio space.
That space is increasingly shrinking, Otto commented, as rental rates skyrocket across the city.
“Rents have gone through the roof from the time I looked pre-COVID until now. Some of them have even doubled,” she said.
Loomis, who has to work out of her home studio in Northwest Austin, believes the upcoming studio tours have the potential to help solve that problem.
As more Northwest Austin residents interact with and support the arts, buying pieces in galleries within a 5-minute drive from home—from artists that could live down the street—the opportunity for hyperlocal demand may grow.
“We have a lot of new neighbors, you know how Austin is. I think [the Austin Studio Tour] is going to be a great, integrating moment,” Loomis said. “I want to show an excited audience that they actually have this thing in their neighborhood that they can support, so they can visit more future events.