Kerry Awn

While the city of Austin has no specific prevention methods to keep well-known murals from being vandalized, it invests money to clean up graffiti if it occurs. The Graffiti Abatement program removes much of the graffiti around Travis County.

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider, Jack Dufon and Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

The city has no specific prevention methods to keep murals in Austin from being vandalized, but it invests significant funding to clean up graffiti when it occurs, according to city officials. 

Carole Barasch, communications and community development manager of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, said although the department has a hard time preventing graffiti, some murals are protected and preserved to a degree by a clear paint coating applied by the artists.

Artist Kerry Fitzgerald, known as Kerry Awn, painted the murals in the courtyard of 23rd Street and Guadalupe Street with two friends from the University’s art school in 1974. After the murals were seriously tagged with graffiti two years ago, security cameras were installed and the artists made repairs and applied the coating, Awn said.

“Supposedly [the murals are] sealed now,” Awn said. “You can take graffiti immediately and wash it off. It’s anti-graffiti coating, and there’s also cameras up there. There would have tapes if anyone did it. It’s a little better, they’ve got better lighting — they’re aware now that people will vandalize it if they can.”

While the Graffiti Abatement program removes much of the graffiti around Travis County, Awn and the other artists who originally painted the murals did the restoration work themselves after they raised $25,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, Awn said.

Awn said he realizes the danger of having artwork continually displayed in public, but said mural graffiti should still be considered vandalism.

“Vandalism is vandalism,” Awn said. “Just like you wouldn’t go to a statue and spray-paint a statue or something like that.”

Barasch said the Graffiti Abatement program received $516,219 from Austin’s 2014 budget to clean up graffiti around the city. The program, housed under the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, is the front line of graffiti removal in the city, Barasch said.

The program cleaned 7,694 sites, a total of 1,438,583 square feet of graffiti in 2014. 

“There are two full-time crews that go out to all parts of Austin and Travis County to clean graffiti,” Barasch said. “Our department cleans the majority of graffiti, but we work closely with the Downtown Alliance cleaning crew, [and] there is also a cleaning crew from Downtown Austin Community Courts program.”

Barasch said the Graffiti Abatement program does not clean up pieces that are beloved by Austinites, such as the ‘Hi, How Are You?’ and ‘You’re My Butter Half’ murals, that may have started out as graffiti.

“There are certain graffiti, murals or what are considered iconic renderings that we steer away from that have kind of informally deemed iconic — like that ‘I love you’ one,” Barasch said. “So we don’t take that down. People have graffitied over it, but that is not something we would remove. Sometimes, it’s a judgment call. There are lovely murals around town, and we wouldn’t remove those.”

Studio art alumnus Lakeem Wilson said he believes graffiti artists should be respectful of other artists’ space.

“It took an artist [hours] to paint a mural, to put in their time and dedication, and [they] thought out their image and brought this manifestation to a larger scale,” Wilson said. “Graffiti art is not as time-consuming. I feel like graffiti artists should find other areas.”

Students pass by the 23rd Street mural Monday evening. The University has asked original artists Kerry Awn, Tom Bauman and Rick Turner for their help in restoring the masterpiece after it was destroyed by vandals in January.

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

The artists of two murals that were vandalized in January will be restoring their original works over a period of 10 weeks but may not be paid for their time.

The University Co-op asked original artists Kerry Awn, Tom Bauman and Rick Turner to renovate the murals after the city removed the graffiti in the Renaissance Market area, which is located on Guadalupe and 23rd Street. A University Co-op security guard first noticed graffiti on the south wall of the Renaissance Market building Jan. 7 at approximately 6 a.m., according to Brian Jewell, University Co-op marketing director.

Awn, one of the three original artists, said he is concerned they will not meet their fundraising goal of $30,000. As of Sunday, the artists raised $13,570 through an online fundraising campaign that began Feb. 15 and will end April 16. 

“I don’t think we’re going to hit our total goal of what we’re trying to raise,” Awn said. “We’ve hit a wall.”

According to Bauman, the artists must provide funding for anti-graffiti coating on the murals, and whatever is left over will pay the artists for their labor.

Julia Narum, Travis County Health and Human Services program supervisor, said the city removes graffiti but has a limited role in restoring murals.

“Once [the city is] finished cleaning it, I don’t know that there [is] much else to do,” Narum said.

Narum said she thinks the public’s response has been integral to the Renaissance Market murals’ restoration.

“There’s been a big enough outcry about it,” Narum said.

According to Awn, paint company Winsor & Newton donated paint and supplies, and the Co-op donated $5,000 to the artists to work on the project but asked them to raise the rest of the money needed to complete the renovations. Awn said he thinks the artists will break even.

“The Co-op seems to think that we’ll just come in there and do it for free,” Awn said. “We can’t take two months of our lives and do that. We have to live and pay rent.”

According to Awn, most of the money raised will fund the artists’ labor and transportation costs. Awn said he and Bauman commute about 20 miles each way to work on the mural, and Turner, who lives in New York, must pay for his airfare and accommodations to be able to work on the mural.

Awn said the renovations on both murals are scheduled to be completed by June 1. Currently, the artists are working on the 12-year-old mural of Texas and hope to complete it by April 15, after which they will begin renovations on the 40-year-old mural of the Austin skyline.

Awn said, no matter how much money is raised, the artists will restore the murals and potentially make additions, even though they may not be paid for their time.

“We probably will put more stuff on there, because that’s who we are,” Awn said. “It’s a labor of love for us.”

A student walks by the 40-year-old Austin mural on 23rd street. and Guadalupe that was recently vandalized. The Austin City government, University Co-op, and the original artists are looking to crowdsource funding to complete the restoration process.

Photo Credit: Caleb Kuntz | Daily Texan Staff

After public outcry over the defacement of two murals near 23rd Street and Guadalupe, the original artists, the University Co-op and Austin officials have removed the majority of the graffiti and are crowdsourcing funds to finish the restoration process.

Brian Jewell, University Co-op marketing vice president, said a co-op security guard first noticed graffiti on the 40-year-old mural, located on the south wall of the Renaissance Market area, on Jan. 7. Jewell said the guard did not see anyone deface the murals, and no security footage of the area was available, so the co-op could not file a report with Austin police. Jewell said the graffiti removal is nearly complete, and the co-op and original artists are raising funds through online donations to begin restoring the murals in mid-March. 

Jewell said the mural is an important part of Austin history.

“[The mural] is 40 years old, and it’s an iconic symbol of Austin,” Jewell said. “It’s almost a rite of passage to view it.”

Kerry Awn, one of the murals’ original artists, said he did not realize the mural was important to the public until he witnessed the extensive media coverage done on it.

“It took the whole public to let me know that people care about it,” Awn said. “In a weird way, it’s kind of a good thing.”

According to Awn, he and the two other original artists — Tommy B and Rick Turner — will complete the restoration over the course of 10 weeks from March 15 until June 1. Awn said the co-op will take additional measures, such as installing cameras and additional lighting in the area, in an attempt to prevent additional acts of vandalism toward the mural from occurring.

Julia Narum, Travis County Health and Human Services program supervisor, said cold, damp weather — which makes removal less effective — delayed the city’s process of removing the graffiti. According to Narum, the city has removed graffiti from more than 1.5 million square feet of public and private property. Narum said the city’s annual budget for graffiti removal is approximately $516,000, including supplies and labor costs.

Narum said she thinks the amount of graffiti has increased, forcing the city to dedicate additional funds to graffiti removal. 

“It’s, in part, a growing pain,” Narum said. “There are so many events, so many visitors.”

Narum said graffiti is more common in places where there is more pedestrian traffic, but she said business owners sometimes paint murals to try to deter graffiti.

“When [vandals] did the [graffiti] at the co-op. To me, that means they have gotten really bold,” Narum said. “The [graffiti on the] murals have proven there’s no respect anymore for the murals.”

Jewell said he thinks it’s important to preserve the murals for later generations to view.

“It should be preserved,” Jewell said. “Not just because we should always preserve something, but because its helped define Austin.”