Where does one find Austin's best art—in a museum or a great hall? At the auction house or inside glass boxes? Actually, Austin leaves its artwork out for all to see on its walls.
Navigating through Austin, you won't even need to look for murals because you are bound to see artwork galore, sheathing buildings near and far. It has become such an Austin staple, business owners are clamoring to have the best murals on their buildings.
Some of Austin's most famous murals adorn South Congress: the 'I love you so much' mural, which tells an iconic love story; the 'Willie for President' mural, which sought to liven the mood in a difficult political climate; and many, many more.
Fans of Mr.Rogers flock to Home Slice Pizza to pose with the 'Won't you be my neighbor?' mural on the other side of Home Slice at 1421 S. Congress Avenue, commissioned by one of the pizza chain's partners, Jeff Mettler.
Mettler said they loved the former Shepard Fairey mural that graced the wall but when the wall's wheatpaste started to deteriorate, it came time to invite something new. Mettler called upon Austin-based artist Niz to brainstorm a new mural to unite the South Congress community.
"(We) really just wanted a beacon of positivity and kind of just like a love letter to our community, the message being like everyone's welcome," Mettler said. "People love Mr. Rogers, so they're naturally drawn to that. I think we achieved our purpose of creating a positive mural, and people just really smile whenever they saw it."
Beyond the restaurant's desire to cover their walls in art, Mettler said back in the early 2000s, many artists weren't in it for the money—they just wanted a safe place to paint. Mettler said he has been proud to give local artists a space for their creativity.
"Other than us and the graffiti park on the west side, at the time, we were really the only places where graffiti artists could go on private property and not have to worry about police," Mettler said.
Hope Outdoor Gallery, otherwise known as graffiti park located at 1008 Baylor Street, is now defunct. However, it plans to open again in a new location near the airport soon.
Austin artists have been painting the city for years, often illegally.
Austin native Nathan Nordstrom made a name for himself as Sloke One, one of the most prominent graffiti artists in Texas, and has traveled the world showcasing his spray painting skills. You've probably seen his art, ads and murals on walls in Austin without even realizing. He's even sold a graffiti painting to Mayor Steve Adler.
Though he's successful now, he started out young in the 1990s by "getting up," a term those in the game use for painting illegally.
"There's a big rift between the murals and the illegal graffiti," Nordstrom said. "(Graffiti) went from being an art form that was looked down upon and illegal to now being something that is celebrated and promoted by developers and businesses."
Even though it turned out great in the end for him, Nordstrom paid a hefty price for his art. Nordstrom said he has been arrested several times and served enough jail time to never want to go back, all for slinging spray paint.
"We weren't liked by the public, we weren't liked by the politicians and we weren't liked by the police because what we did was illegal," Nordstrom said. "We come from the streets."
The tables turned as Austin continued to grow. With more folks coming in from larger metropolitan areas around 2010, graffiti became more mainstream because new transplants were already used to seeing it and social media made it more widespread.
Nordstrom said it was frustrating to be chastised for his art one minute, then when it became popular, it suddenly became okay, praised even. He said that was when he noticed money getting involved.
"It comes down to money," Nordstrom said. "But what happens when it's not popular? People are still going to be doing it. If you're in it for the money and the fame, you're probably in it for the wrong reasons. Because there are going to be some dark times where there are no art jobs and maybe you'll go to jail for doing graffiti. Your heart has got to be in it."
The commercialization of graffiti and street art has alienated Nordstrom, to the point where he has turned down jobs that would have paid him well. He still paints, but on his own terms. He still does graffiti in it's purest form—illegally—but you'll never find out where.
But not all muralists started out in graffiti. In fact, many artists consider street, graffiti artists to be very different in the mediums they use and the meanings behind their art.
Opposite of Nordstrom, Austin-based muralist Avery Orendorf said she is in it for the money.
Orendorf enjoys painting so much, she minored in fine arts in college. However, she never saw it as a viable career path because her parents discouraged it. After graduating, working an office job for a few years and later leaving, she was left with no idea what to do.
"I'm not a hobbyist… so I knew that if I was going to do this, I had to do it as a career path," Orendorf said. "I started the business first and kind of learned how to paint murals as I just sort of jumped in and really approached it from a business mindset from the very beginning."
She has been making a living painting murals for the last eight years. Furthermore, the majority of projects she works on are commercial, since she came into the business needing to make money immediately.
Orendorf said she also thinks art and murals have become commercialized. Although, she said she doesn't take issue with it because she loves seeing art around the city.
"I think there is sort of this other side of the mural community where they feel like the commercial mural work is sort of selling out and doing something for the man," Orendorf said. "I just don't think so—I think that we can still create cool unique stuff and cater to clients."
Something both Nordstrom and Orendorf have in common: they love seeing murals uplift the community and if they're going to cover something up, they are always respectful to the artist who occupied the space before.
Orendorf said she refuses to cover a beautiful mural if it is in good condition and is sad to see murals covered up with advertising. Adding to the sentiment, Nordstrom said he always takes a picture beforehand just in case the original artist doesn't have one.
Despite Austin's constant change and the hardship Nordstrom has faced in the city, he said there is nowhere else he would rather be, even after travelling the world.
"Deep down inside, as much as the change hasn't always been pleasant, I still love this city," Nordstom said. "This is my home."
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A $500 million mixed-use development spanning 1,400 acres is coming to Southeast Austin, near Tesla’s headquarters at Giga Texas.
Plans for the development by Houston-based real estate firm Hines include 2,500 houses along with multi-family and townhomes, and commercial land. Hines is partnering with Trez Capital, Sumitomo Forestry and Texas-based Caravel Ventures.
The development, which is known as Mirador, will be located off the 130 Toll and Highway 71, which the developers say provides easy access to the Circuit of the Americas Formula 1 racetrack and other Austin attractions like restaurants, parks and live music venues.
Hines also boasts amenities like a 60-acre lake, over 600 acres of greenbelt, community parks, trails and a swimming pool.
“As Austin continues to grow into the tech epicenter of Texas, coupled with a supply-constrained market, the demand for new housing is at its highest,” Dustin Davidson, managing director at Hines, said. “Mirador will be critical in providing more options for Austin’s growing population and we are excited to work alongside our partners given they each provide a unique and valued perspective in single-family development.”
The local housing market has been hot in recent years, with home sales accelerating earlier in the pandemic. In July 2021, the Austin metro area hit its pricing peak at $478,000. As Austonia previously reported, the area has been expected to see the Tesla effect, with the new workforce driving up demand for housing and other services.
The single-family houses are expected to be developed over the course of six years, in phases. Construction on the homes is expected to start this year and home sales will begin in 2023.
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Editor's note: This story summarizes Sports Illustrated's story detailing Michael Center's involvement in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, based on interviews with SI's Jon Wertheim. Additionally, Austonia received comments from Michael Center, included in this story.
Confined to his couch, former Longhorns tennis coach Michael Center praised his players via FaceTime after the program he built produced the Longhorns’ first national championship in 2019—a bittersweet moment as Center faced federal charges as part of the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal.
His name dragged through the mud, Center was fired, arrested by the FBI and sentenced to six months in a Central Texas federal prison after pleading guilty to two charges related to mail fraud. And over a year after his release, Center told Sports Illustrated he doubts he was the only one in burnt orange involved.
When the Varsity Blues scandal broke out to the public in 2019, the investigation was a perfect storm for nationwide attention: Hollywood glamour, blue blood conspiracy and faith in the tried-and-true American education system came to a head as 33 movie stars and other elites were found guilty of paying more than $25 million to pave their children’s way into eight colleges, including the University of Texas.
UT was one of eight schools caught in the college admissions scandal. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The figure behind Varsity Blues, “college consultant” Rick Singer, would plead guilty to four felony counts for faking SAT scores and bribing coaches at prominent universities for his elite clients—but not before throwing Center under the bus.
Singer's client, private equity executive Chris Schaepe, was looking for a way to bend UT's tight admissions policies for his son, who was seeking a position oddly as a manager on UT’s basketball team. Through a middleman, Singer contacted Center, who eventually agreed.
Schaepe's son hadn't played tennis since his freshman year of high school. It was a detail that Center says passed through plenty of hands before he was admitted, including "academic support staff, the compliance office, the sports supervisor and, ultimately, the athletic director," SI's Jon Wertheim writes.
No one in the entire athletic department, including seven "risk management and compliant services department" employees, was named, implicated or punished. After an internal investigation, Center was the only one named in the Varsity Blues "subterfuge" in a September 2019 UT news release signed by the university president.
He told Austonia he was never contacted by the university during the investigation, and when the NCAA interviewed him for its investigation, he says it cleared him of any violations.
“I almost fell out of my chair,” Center said. “I literally couldn’t breathe. There’s no college coach in America—much less at a state school, much less a coach of a nonrevenue sport—who can admit an athlete without consulting other people in the athletic department. What they were asking people to believe, it’s just impossible.” SI said Center's assertion was backed by multiple UT coaches and administrators at other schools.But why would the Forty Acres be complicit?
Center said UT’s then newly named athletic director Steve Patterson made clear that Center suddenly was responsible for more than building a successful tennis program. He was to be a "fundraiser first and coach second" and he would need to find donors to fund a new tennis facility. Patterson admitted to SI that he wanted his coaches to find donors and said the department was "$15 million in the red" when he started in 2013, though he denies any knowledge of the false tennis recruitment.
Center said he knew he would be "considered a team player" if he let in the son of a Silicon Valley magnate. And sure enough, Schaepe immediately began pulling out his wallet, donating $100,000 to UT tennis and a six-figure check to the school's communication program.
"I never entered this as a way to profit. This was a fundraising mission where I made a terrible mistake at the end,"
Months after Schaepe's son was admitted, Center agreed to meet Singer at the Austin airport and found himself accepting a backpack filled with $60,000 in cash meant for him, personally. He said he immediately knew he had made a mistake. He told SI “I put the money in my basement and gave most of it away.”
“Why did I do it?” Center told Sports Illustrated. "I go to bed and wake up each day asking myself the same question. I had to convince myself that I somehow deserved the money."
Once in court, Center showed texts with UT's compliance official and mentioned Chris Plonsky, a department executive involved in "overseeing men’s tennis, compliance, academic support (which generates letters of intent) and the Longhorn Foundation," according to SI.
“I knew I had to answer for my guilt,” Center said. “But I was like, 'Man, schools are going to get hammered.'"'
INMATE 77806-112 but out on Sunday: Actor Felicity Huffman in prison uniform outside low-security Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin to visit actor husband William H. Macy & their daughter. Huffman admitted to paying $15K to have fixer boost daughter’s SAT score. 📸: @TMZ pic.twitter.com/9jALmqnA0U
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) October 21, 2019
But Center was the only Longhorn to go down for the crimes. “I was no rogue actor,” Center said. “And this wasn’t my word against their word. There were signatures that went along with it. That’s the system... There wasn’t one point in the process where I thought people wanted to learn the whole truth.”
Back at home in Austin, Center watched as actress Felicity Huffman served just eleven days for her part in the scandal. Some served up to five months; others simply paid a fine, and others, like Singer, await sentencing.
And because the prosecution chose to blame individual coaches, framing schools as victims in the case, universities like UT have received less than a slap on the wrist for their possible involvement.
“I was always taught that actions have consequences,” Center said. “What I’ve come to realize is that, yes, for some people actions absolutely do have consequences. Serious, heavy ones. For others, actions can have no consequences at all.”
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