The Art City Austin Festival Moving Forward

Eliana Legatt, Staff Writer

Austin is a city known for its vibrant art culture, and both residents and visitors alike can usually see a variety of art galleries and festivals. However, residents and visitors this year were denied these chances to experience artistic catharsis and wonder at Art City Austin, a festival that hasn’t been hosted since 2019.

Art City Austin is a festival organized by the nonprofit organization Art Alliance Austin. The festival was planned to have its 70th annual event in the spring of 2020, but due to the pandemic, the event was canceled for both 2020 and 2021. The festival brings together artists from around Austin by providing booths for them to sell their work, and the festival has also expanded in more recent years to have live music and food. 

Meredith Bossin is a consultant with Art Alliance Austin. Bossin began working with the organization in the fall of 2019 and is currently working with them to rework their business model.

“They’re kind of assessing what is the next move based on the pandemic,” Bossin said. “A lot of their programming was event based, and so they are rethinking those programs based on the pandemic and the possibility of being able to do in-person events again soon.”

Bossin said a large portion of Art Alliance Austin’s funding comes from money from the cultural arts funding from the City of Austin. Since a lot of the cultural arts funding comes from hotel occupancy taxes, they have had a decrease in funding. However, Bossin said a silver lining to the pandemic has been the opportunity to fix issues and plan for the future.

“They definitely intend on bringing the event back,” Bossin said. “I think it may have a slightly different format. We would definitely want to maintain a focus on local art.”

Bossin said that in the future, Art Alliance Austin plans on keeping different types of attractions such as food, music and the incorporation of different aspects of Austin’s history and culture. Bossin also said they may be adding an additional event in the fall alongside a larger-scale event in the spring.

Adreon Henry is an artist in Austin who has participated in the Art City Austin festival for two years. Henry graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2002 with a degree in graphic design and advertising. Before 2020’s festival was canceled, he was supposed to be the spotlight artist, a position where an artist has their work displayed on the Art City Austin website and whose work sets a theme for the event. Henry also worked with Art City Austin on some of its temporary art installations.

“Being able to produce art and share ideas with a community and the public in general, as well as being able to share ideas and thoughts and really represent local communities where installations or art pieces are installed, is probably my underlying mission as an artist,” Henry said.

Henry’s inspiration has come from many different artists, including John Baldessari and Andy Warhol. He draws inspiration from many different mediums such as graphic designs and album covers. Henry currently sells his art through the Nicola Collection on the west coast, the Carneal Simmons gallery in Dallas, the Camiba Art gallery in Austin and through his website. His style and technique have adapted over his career, but he said he currently makes fine art. Henry said he has enjoyed the festival and working with the organizers, and he plans on participating in the future.

“It was kind of a blessing in disguise to be able to kind of step back and say, ‘OK, what was working in these last few years, and what was not working?’” Henry said. “And let’s go ahead and reenvision those things that weren’t working and stay strong and amplify the things that were. So I have high hopes for the festival in the future.”

Bruce Bitter is an artist in Austin and has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art. He studied painting and printmaking for two years in Philadelphia and was a professional graphic designer for about six years. Bitter taught specialized courses like silkscreen, printing and airbrush in college. Bitter’s main technique is currently silkscreening, an art technique where artists use a fine mesh fabric with a negative design and apply ink or other materials to create a design on the fabric under the screen.

Bitter has participated in the festival for 20 years on and off, participating when he had enough inventory or wanted to. Since Bitter’s wife is an engineer, he said there is not as much monetary pressure on his art career. The festival was originally held in a gallery on west 35th Street, but they moved because it did not have enough parking space. Since then, the festival has moved between many galleries downtown, including the Austin Convention Center, which was the location Bitter thought was best for the festival. Bitter noted that the festival has become more expensive in recent years and thus has experienced a decreased turnout. 

“It was expensive enough where I offered people if they bought stuff, I would take the entrance fee and subtract it from the artwork,” Bitter said.

Bitter said he enjoys the festival, but he knows some artists haven’t made as much money during the festival in recent years as they usually did in the past. He said, though, that selling art is sometimes luck-based, and how much money an artist makes can depend more on who happens to walk past the booth and wants to buy the art.

Bitter asked for his money back for art shows that were canceled in spring 2020 rather than keeping the money invested in the shows in case they came later. Bitter said, however, that he does not remember the process that Art City Austin went through after the festival was canceled. 

“I’ve been doing this long enough to be smart enough not to have money in limbo,” Bitter said. “I can always reapply to an art show, but to have a couple $1,000 in booth fees sitting out there waiting for an art show to turn up [is] especially unfortunate in the spring.” 

Bitter said spring is a much better time to sell two-dimensional art because three-dimensional, more craft-like art sells better in fall. This is because it is closer to the holidays. 

“If I was an artist that had to make a living, I’d be up a creek without a paddle because I’m just not making that much money from it,” Bitter said.