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'She Really Did Believe That': The Ann Richards Public Art Project Celebrates The Late Governor's Words

A few of the 'Ann Banners' on Congress Avenue
Erika Rich
A few of the 'Ann Banners' on Congress Avenue

“It was 30 years ago this year the 15,000 people joined Ann Richards to walk up from the Congress Avenue Bridge – now called the Ann Richards Bridge – to the Capitol,” says Margaret Justus, former deputy press secretary for the late governor and founder of the Ann Richards Legacy Project. “Democrats, Republicans, independents, everybody from every creed [and] color. And it was a tapestry of Texans that day. And it was time to recognize that momentous event.”

One of the ways the Ann Richards Legacy Project is celebrating the 30th anniversary of Richard’s inauguration as the 45th governor of Texas is with the Ann Richards Public Art Project. They’ve partnered with the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation for the project, which has installed 96 “Ann Banners” along Congress Avenue. The banners follow the path walked by Richards and 15,000 of her fellow Texans on her inauguration day, January 15, 1991.

“We needed an opportunity to celebrate safely,” Justus says. “And folks can stay home and… look at photos online, but they can also mask up and take a stroll down Congress Avenue or bike ride or drive and take in these 12 different designs that have 12 separate quotes and photos that commemorate her legacy.”

Justus says one challenge in putting together the project was deciding on which 12 quotes to select from Richards’ quote-filled life. “We had a long list and then we had to whittle them down because, you know… there’s only so much space.”

One of her favorites – and one of the many Ann Richards quotes that shows her famous sense of humor – is “I get a lot of cracks about my hair. Mostly from men who don’t have any.”

“My favorite one still is ‘Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels,’” adds Molly Alexander, the executive director of the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation. “I mean, it just said it all.”

“As the banners were going up – and I had the privilege of watching them go up – you could see people… taking photos, laughing, some people snarking,” Alexander says. “Just the idea that art is a conversation. It’s always great to see a project come to fruition and watch how people interact with art, watch them interact in that place. So here it is on a street, it’s an unexpected set of and series of banners and quotes, and so it does engage the public. That’s what I love and get very excited about.”

Justus cites another favorite quote from Richards that is part of the banner project, one that comes from her 1991 inauguration speech: “Life isn’t fair… but government must be.”

“She really did believe that,” Justus says. “She was somebody who thought that one thing people deserved was a government that looked like them and a government they could trust.”

The Ann Richards Public Art Project is on display now on Congress Avenue, and was created by a partnership of the Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation and the Ann Richards Legacy Project.

Mike is the production director at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.
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