A Reincarnation Of Austin's Beloved 'Graffiti Park' Is Revving Up To Open This Summer
Austin's beloved Castle Hill graffiti park is being reincarnated into a nearly 18-acre open-air cultural center fit with art exhibits, food and drinks, practice paint walls and a market. The project, which is set to open by the airport sometime this summer, is much larger than the original and less central. But it’ll take aspects of the original with it — including one of the walls itself.
When the graffiti park was created in 2011 by HOPE, a nonprofit that connects artists with social causes, it quickly became an Austin icon. It attracted people from all over to climb the concrete walls on Baylor Street to paint a temporary masterpiece or pick up a can of spray paint for the first time and think for a quick, exhilarating moment: Wait, isn’t this illegal?
But, like many Austin icons, HOPE Outdoor Gallery, as it was formally known, was temporary. When the park closed in 2019 to make room for development, local artists and visitors alike grieved. The founders saw this as a chance to expand, recognizing that the need for a free and open art space hadn’t gone away.
“I think HOPE historically has always kind of made things based on a need, and that's how we feel about the park now: that we're continuing to build a place that the community can enjoy and come to,” Andi Scull, HOPE Outdoor Gallery’s founder, said.
One of the original slabs is being saved from the old site to serve as a memorial to the project’s origin. Some of the rubble from the original location is also being recycled for use at the new park.
“We proposed to the developer there, since they have to demo those walls anyway, if they wanted to bring some of that demo here, we would recycle those walls in the ground and places where we could put that rubble,” Scull said.
The new park will still have walls where people can paint freely, but it will also include curated exhibits that change throughout the year. The space will showcase all types of art — creative technology, digital pieces and interactive installations, as well as culinary arts. Patrons will be able to order coffee, beer, wine, cocktails and food from local businesses. C.K. Chin, a HOPE partner and restaurateur behind Swift's Attic and Wu Chow, is curating the food and beverage offerings.
“Part of the food and beverage program for me is to say, well, then let's talk about the culinary arts, too,” Chin said. “So, [the park] becomes this whole cultural experience from soup to nuts, all the way from the beginning to the end.”
In many ways the site itself will be a work of art. The walls spell out HOPE, which stands for Helping Other People Everywhere. People flying into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will be able to see it from the sky.
“It averages about 10 planes per hour,” Scull said. “So, we're excited to see how that ends up helping kind of support the message of HOPE and supporting the arts and the idea of ‘helping other people everywhere’ as a continued icon of Austin.”
Sustainable design was also important to the founders. The park will have solar panels, rainwater collection stations, gardens and a bee apiary.
The new site off Dalton Lane had been used to dump dirt and debris from construction projects across the city. Instead of hauling the dirt off elsewhere to make space for the park, the construction team decided to use it to make the bricks for the park walls. With 40,000 of these bricks, the park is the largest earthen-brick project in Texas history, according to the founders. But record-breaking wasn’t the goal.
“This is something important to us in the way we live our life,” Chin said. “One of the mantras I always say is I want to leave the place better than I found it, you know? And I think that we're doing that here.”
The act was also symbolic. Built from the remnants of high-rise and apartment building projects, HOPE’s walls will literally be “made out of Austin,” Scull said.
The original graffiti park, too, was built on things left behind. The site had been home to a failed condo development called The Foundation, which was demolished in the ‘90s, leaving behind slabs of concrete. The area remained undeveloped for years until Scull approached the landowner about turning the space into a temporary art gallery to provide people with a place to create art. It launched during South by Southwest in 2011.
The space was wildly successful, eventually attracting between 50 to 200 people per hour, Scull said. Ice cream trucks would fight over who could park in the prime spot near the gallery. Over the years, it was used as a backdrop for concerts, music videos and photoshoots.
The new space will also support local vendors and artists. It’ll feature 12 repurposed shipping containers that will be used as retail stores, gallery space, nonprofit office space and a weekly HOPE market, a rebranding of the HOPE farmers market that took place at Plaza Saltillo for years. The site will also have educational programs for young people to learn about careers in the arts.
But the owners aren’t trying to pin down everything the park will be just yet. They want to keep it flexible so they can meet the needs of the public, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“What if we started screening kids’ movies?” Scull said. “If there's a need still for more outdoor space that could be supportive of families. We're just staying open to however we could do more.”
Like with the old space, the most important factor behind this new park, Scull said, is that it’s free and open to the public.
“Whether a family was from West Lake-Austin or from East Austin or from South Austin, it didn't really matter,” she said. “We got the same response that going to HOPE Outdoor Gallery was different than going to a gallery museum. It felt very welcoming to everybody.”
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