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Austin's Inaugural Artist-In-Residence Takes Up Her Post

Martin do Nascimento
Rehab El Sadek, the new City of Austin artist-in-residence, at her home in Round Rock last month.

Rehab El Sadek marries silly and sober. Take her outfit: a colorfully patterned turtleneck atop a stern dark skirt. Her straight, black hair in low pigtails. Glasses.

And while her paintings and prints line the walls throughout the home she rents in Round Rock, El Sadek’s pieces have hung in galleries in Europe and Africa.

“Inspiration for me is being in a different place, doing something different, and that’s how I get ideas,” El Sadek says. She was recently named the city of Austin’s inaugural artist-in-residence.

Credit Martin do Nascimento / KUT
El Sedek's artwork hanging in her home.

What inspiration she’s found in far-flung places, she’ll now be asked to find in Austin’s Watershed Protection Department – a department, El Sadek says, that is vital.

“The water is just life for us,” she says. “For everybody of course on the planet, but I’m talking here, especially in Austin.”

In January, the City of Austin began accepting applications for its first-ever artist residency. El Sadek won the spot, beating out 32 others. She will be embedded within a department for nine months, working roughly 30 hours a month. In total, El Sadek will be paid $8,750 for her work.

And while there is no expectation for what a final product may look like – or even that El Sadek will produce one – city staff said the hope is that the artist will come up with a way to connect the community to the work of Watershed Department. El Sadek was chosen because her work is often interactive.

“One of the things that we were looking for was this participatory experience,” says Jessica Wilson, education manager for the Watershed Protection Department. “So, how do you involve people in the creation of the piece of art?”

Credit Martin do Nascimento / KUT
"Tea Party" by Rehab El Sadek

While investigating what work she might create during on a residency on the Sinai Peninsula in her home country of Egypt, El Sadek noticed the lack of women in public spaces. So, she handed the men she met pieces of beige, cotton fabric, and asked them to record the names of women in their lives.

“Just write names with black markers,” she remembers telling them.

Eventually, El Sadek fastened the cotton pieces to an old water container on the side of the road – thrusting the names of these women into the public eye.

“I covered it with names and now everybody when they go back and forth, driving, now they can see,” she says.

Another goal of the residency is to create more paid work for artists in the city, ensuring that they can stay in Austin. Last March, Austin City Council members adopted Mayor Steve Adler's Music and Creative Omnibus, a hefty list of programs the city could institute in order to keep its artists in town – including ways to create more affordable housing. El Sadek, for example, lives in Round Rock because she said she can’t afford rent in Austin.

“We’re also supporting the creative economy here in the city,” says Susan Lambe with the city’s Art in Public Places program. “We have been working hard to think about ways that we could do our work faster, better, and including more creative resources from the community like our artists.”

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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