HOPE Outdoor Gallery faces another delay, but organizers determined to open new art park

The new site of HOPE Outdoor Gallery in southeast Austin remains under construction and closed to the public, though organizers are eager to open once everything is ready. The art park will include curated exhibits as well as areas where anyone can paint, carrying on the tradition of the original graffiti park located on Baylor Street.

Andi Scull wanted nothing more than to have the new HOPE Outdoor Gallery open by now.

That goal seemed on track a year ago, as construction crews were busily building the new graffiti park in southeastern Travis County, and organizers were assembling an artists’ showcase for an anticipated January 2024 grand opening.

Crews had even brought over a “tribute wall” from the original graffiti park site on Baylor Street, an iconic piece of weird Austin that drew hundreds of visitors a day before it closed in 2019 to make way for luxury condos.

The new HOPE Outdoor Gallery, rising from a pasture near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, promises massive new graffiti walls plus murals, meeting spaces and a food truck park. The outline of the structures, visible to anyone flying in or out of Austin, spells H-O-P-E in 180-foot-long letters.

“Anticipation was palpable as we prepared to reintroduce the art park to our community,” said Scull, the founder and creative director of HOPE Outdoor Gallery.

Then everything came to a halt last October.

A piece of wall from the original HOPE Outdoor Gallery site on Baylor Street was installed in May 2023 at the gallery's new site.

The gallery organizers discovered “substantial construction issues,” Scull said. Among them: A notice from the Austin permitting department cited “many issues” with the stormwater drainage and erosion control plans.

Scull said those and other construction issues were serious enough for the gallery to part ways with its contractor, hire a new general contractor and reexamine the work done so far.

The January grand opening was nixed. It’s unclear when the new target opening date will be — but Scull and the gallery team are determined to get there.

“Every effort is being made to expedite the process and overcome the obstacles we’ve encountered,” Scull recently told me. “We’re driven by the knowledge that the end result will be immensely rewarding — bringing the Austin community together once again and transforming our blank walls into stunning masterpieces of artwork.”

I had reached out to Scull to ask about the status of the new graffiti park, as I’m among the many Austinites who are eager for it to open. It’s hard to believe it has been five years since the original location closed. Scull often described the old graffiti park as a “visual open mic” where anyone could experiment and express themselves.

“Part of that love of creative energy, and sharing it, and trying and doing new things is just part of the spark that makes Austin special,” she said.

People often forget that the original graffiti park on Baylor Street, which started as a pop-up installation during the 2010 South by Southwest festival, was intended to be temporary. But it was so popular that it thrived (with the property owner’s blessing) for nearly a decade, until the gallery organizers found the site near Southeast Austin for a permanent outdoor art park.

People visit the original HOPE Outdoor Gallery site on Baylor Street in 2016.

The original graffiti park was a beloved spot for artists, amateurs, tourists, and people photographing milestones and everyday life. The ever-changing walls became a canvas for everyone.

“It showed us the need for safe places for creativity, outdoor spaces for public art and expression, but especially places where people in Austin felt that they could go and feel inspired and come up with their own ideas, or try different things, or see different things,” Scull said.

While the temporary site seemed to emerge with ease, however, the permanent location near the airport ran into a series of complications. The COVID-19 pandemic caused delays. A fence line dispute with a neighbor triggered a 2021 lawsuit that was later dropped.

The permitting process proved more time-consuming than organizers hoped. They’re dealing with both Austin and Travis County regulators, as the site is just outside the city limits, but within the extra-territorial jurisdiction where Austin still has some oversight.

Then came the construction issues that emerged last fall.

“It’s been a setback that we were not anticipating and no one was prepared for,” Scull told me.

But the HOPE Outdoor Gallery is the brightly colored embodiment of resourcefulness and improvisation. Organizers turned those delays into opportunities to improve their design.

A piece of wall from the original HOPE Outdoor Gallery site on Baylor Street was moved in May 2023 to the new site near Southeast Austin.

They added creative spaces and expanded their plans for rooftop solar panels that can provide energy to the grid and some revenue for the facility. They sold about 8 acres to the owners of the neighboring Carson Creek Ranch, providing room for overflow parking for that venue while also raising money for the now-9-acre art park.

The rest of the construction costs have been covered by investors and lenders, Scull said. Once it opens, the new HOPE Outdoor Gallery will be free to visit, with revenue coming from the sales of food, beverages, art supplies and merchandise.

The wait is proving longer than anyone hoped, but I will happily celebrate the opening of the new HOPE Outdoor Gallery whenever it finally happens. The graffiti on the walls will still change by the moment. But the platform for everyone will be here to stay.

Grumet is the Statesman’s Metro columnist. Her column, ATX in Context, contains her opinions. Share yours via email at bgrumet@statesman.com or via Twitter at @bgrumet. Find her previous work at statesman.com/news/columns.

Learn moreFor information about the new HOPE Outdoor Gallery, including how to help support the project, visit hopeoutdoorgallery.com or email info@hopeoutdoorgallery.com.

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