I took a vacation day recently to celebrate a milestone with my husband, and we decided to play tourist in Austin. First, we took the dogs to the new hike-and-bike trail that wends through the city’s growing Mueller neighborhood, where local artwork embellishes the trails, and where botanists with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center have helped restore a swath of native prairie grassland. Then, intrigued by the promise of more public art, we ventured downtown to the swinging 2nd Street District, where we browsed the shops, checked out the new Violet Crown Cinema (finally! an art cinema downtown!), and spent a rewarding few hours exploring the artwork found throughout Austin’s beautiful, limestone-and-copper City Hall, which was designed by architect Antoine Predock. (The angular, copper “armadillo tail,” which juts above 2nd Street, “literally shouts ‘Here I am!’” according to architect Phil Reed of the local firm Cotera +Reed.)
Modern architecture aside, what a surprising treat this art collection is. This is the 7th year that City Hall has hosted its year-long People’s Gallery exhibit—a collection of more than 150 visual artworks by local artists. The program, part of the city’s Art in Public Places initiative, is designed to encourage public dialogue and the understanding and enjoyment of visual art, and I’d say it accomplishes that goal. Edgy sculptures, contemporary paintings, intriguing photographs, and mixed-media pieces galore are displayed in the hallways, foyers, lobbies, and meeting rooms throughout City Hall, and we enjoyed admiring them as we moseyed through the warmly lit building. (There’s free parking in the City Hall Parking Garage, too; validate your ticket at City Hall or at most 2nd Street District shops and restaurants.)
The People’s Gallery Exhibition 2011 remains on view through January 12, and you can cast your vote for the People’s Choice Awards through December 30.