In March 2011, the urban core of Austin, Texas, a park like no other would appear. The park didn’t have a playground, at least not a conventional one, the park wasn’t aimed at Austin’s dog culture, or even to hikers. This park was different than what you would typically expect in an urban park, but it embraced an urban culture that most would find ugly, or amusing at best. The park is officially named The HOPE Outdoor Gallery, but is better known by its other name: the HOPE Graffiti Park.
History of HOPE
Sitting just below the oddly shaped castle like building that houses the Texas Military Institute, and born out of the skeleton of a failed condo complex lies the gallery. The gallery’s exhibits require no curator, nor are the artists necessarily required to register for approval. The only thing required to have your work shown here is an idea and a spray can. It is a celebration of art in the purest sense: no gatekeeping, just expression.
The abandoned concrete foundations that make up the walls of HOPE weren’t always freeform canvases for artists to workshop their work. For over a decade the condo’s skeleton sat idle, collecting nothing but dust, weeds. and the occasional tag. It wasn’t until 2011 when a nonprofit director who was looking for a place to promote Austin artists and connect creators to causes they cared about, did the once derelict buildings finally got a second chance at life.
HOPE never began as a project to give artists an open wall to work with. Originally an organization based out of Los Angeles by Austinite Scull Cheatham, cofounded the charity with the help of the world famous street artists and graphic designer Shepard Fairey. Inspired by stories of genocide in Darfur, Cheatham wanted to raise the awareness of the horrors overseas. And so began Helping Others People Everywhere, an organization geared towards inspiring hope in others.
After years of hard work Cheatham was getting nowhere. She struggled with the reality: that despite all the work that was put into HOPE, nothing was making a difference. In defeat she moved back to Austin and began looking for a new path to bring her organization down.
Once in Austin Cheatham pivoted HOPE. HOPE would no longer be about one specific cause, but instead would focus on connecting artists to causes they cared about, no matter what the cause was. HOPE also stood as a bastion for the Austin food community, beginning with a farmers market in 2010.
In 2011 Cheatham was looking for a place to promote the farmers market. She wanted a large venue where she could have artists put up inspirational works focuses around the market. A friend of hers knew the perfect place: the failed foundations of an failed condo complex in downtown Austin. With permission of the property’s owners, Cheatham and HOPE were able to secure the site for promoting the market and local artists.
And so Austin’s most unique art gallery began.
Just like the city it resides in, the only constant at the gallery is change. You could be a world renowned muralist using a wall to workshop your latest piece, but don’t hold on hope that it’ll last long. After you pack up your tools and finish taking a few photos for your fans on Instagram and leave for your car, bag of paint in hand, the piece is now open for anyone to paint over. Perhaps another artist will move to workshop an idea they need to get out of their head, and that wall you used is in the perfect spot, or maybe some teenager trying to be funny will cover your masterpiece with a bunch of crudely drawn dicks.
The fact that HOPE attracts so many different artists of different talents, and maturity puts the weird in Keep Austin Weird. Going to the gallery is an adventure in itself. You can go there one day and find a piece you absolutely love, and return the next day with your friends to show it to them only to see it has been covered up by another. It is pure art anarchy.
With the foundation of the gallery the city’s creative scene boomed. HOPE began featuring artists who were regulars on their walls in exhibitions and installations all across the city. Meanwhile the nonprofit side continued to connect artists with causes and spread awareness of issues from HOPE for India to HOPE for North America, the charity insures anybody looking for a voice will have one.
HOPE for the Future
Just like the art on its walls, the location of the gallery was never permanent. Since 2011 the land had been on loan from a local development group, and with the ever increasing prices of downtown real estate the land would eventually become too lucrative to not sale. The gallery was doomed to disappear and make room for something more exclusive, it was only a matter of when not if.
In the winter of 2017, HOPE was given the official orders to relocate. The land had been sold to the highest bidder.
There is still hope for the gallery. After the land was marked for development the City of Austin put a hold on development until the site could be properly documented with photos to preserve the site’s influence upon the city’s culture.
As for the future of HOPE, the organization will still live on. The nonprofit plans on giving the gallery a permanent home on the outskirts of Austin. On one hand the relocation is great for the gallery, no more property disputes, but the relocation from urban to suburban will make the gallery lose some of the urban art charm. Visiting the gallery will no longer be a short stop during tours of downtown. The gallery will continue to be a haven for Austin artists, but in the opinion this author the charm will never be the same. But at least there is hope for the future.