Sightlines Press

As High Costs Drive Austin Artists Away from the…

A longtime East Austin Studio Tour destination closes, while a new house gallery pops up on the West Austin Studio Tour.

Last year was the final East Austin Studio Tour for Jennifer Chenoweth.

Beginning with the first EAST in 2003 — when only 28 artists participated — Chenoweth annually invited a different group of artists to exhibit in her East Second Street home. Chenoweth’s orange bungalow became an EAST fixture, an annual destination that for 16  tours showcased 50 artists and fostered a kind of regular EAST community, with Chenoweth’s homemade pozole filling the house with comforting smells.

“I’m a collaborator by nature,” says Chenoweth. “Being a studio artist is a lonely gig and it’s always more fun when you can share with others.”

Chenoweth started the non-profit Fisterra umbrella organization under which she launched a number of collaborative projects, including her EAST group exhibits.

Jennifer Chenoweth’s house during the 2015 East Austin Studio Tour.

But, life changes. And now with a blended family of six, Chenoweth says the not-large East Austin house is no longer a viable home proposition. Neither are its property taxes.

“I have been unable to break even as an artist and it’s really heartbreaking,” she says. “Austin’s lack of affordability is not just an artist’s problem, it’s an everyone problem. My family has grown, and we have to shift gears, and we can’t do that and stay in the house I’ve lived in since 1999.”

Of course, in the nearly 20 years that Chenoweth has lived just a few blocks east of IH-35, the once-modest and historically African American and Latinx neighborhood has been gentrified tremendously.

But the real bitter irony? The artist-initiated East Austin Studio Tour helped brand the Eastside as “artsy” and ripe for gentrification.

In May, EAST originators Big Medium hosted the exhibit “Fisterra Retrospective.” A sweet tribute to the 64 artists Chenoweth hosted and the community they shared, the exhibit nevertheless felt like something of a memorial too — a symbol that a community era is passing while its creative environment is commodified.

“I’m not done being an artist,” says Chenoweth. “But there isn’t any freedom and creativity in poverty.”

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