Austin Airport Art Program Makes Every Flight a Trip to the Gallery: Got time in AUS? There are a lot of distractions in the plane’s view. – Arts
Uplifted Ground by Michael Singer Studio (Photos by Jana Birchum)
You know what a lot is at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport? Art. In diversity of form, in quantity, in glorious profusion: art. In fact, there’s so much art on Austin’s main portal to the sky—whether in permanent installations or the many temporary exhibits—that the experience can be overwhelming.
Where he would have be overwhelming if the creativity on display wasn’t a welcome respite from the rigmarole of TSA-enhanced air travel as we know it. Especially soothing to rest your eyes on an array of great Jimmy Jalapeeno scenery from Austin after crossing another security line with your shoes in hand.
Bonus: you may be on your way to or from anywhere in this crazy world, but a lot of the art you’re going to see in AUS is going to represent the local community – which some people who live in these areas choose to express on their life, their physical environment, this great disorderly miracle of which we all share the experience.
Meander wing by Marc Fornes
OK but Why is there so much art in AUS? Who is responsible for this ongoing celebration of creativity? Who pays for all this? How can it be viewed? And where can a citizen pick up a boarding pass for Tatooine or Hogwarts?
First, let’s break things down a bit. There are two public sections at any major airport: there is the pre-security, ticketless section, and there is the post-security, ticketed section. And both are steeped in art.
Austin’s Art in Public Places Program (AIPP) is in charge of huge outdoor installations that anyone can enjoy. There are many, because AUS is, after all, a massive ongoing construction project — and the City of Austin was the first municipality in Texas to commit to including artwork in its public building projects. Thus, 2% of eligible budgets for capital improvement projects are set aside for commissioning or purchasing artwork for these sites.
“It’s a real city ordinance,” says Constance White, director of the AIPP.
works by Rehab El Sadek
“And we’re racing to keep pace with construction,” says Curt Gettman, AIPP’s senior project manager. “Especially now, with the airport wanting to spend, what, nearly $5 billion over the next 20 years?”
That means the program has plenty of money to work with, and it shows up even before you leave your car in works like Arresting Erik Eley. shock egg (2015), time and space bending near cellphone lot. Marc Fornes’ Meander (2020) the sculpture – a kaiju-sized exercise in alien topology – is a sort of “pretzelcoatl” that complicates light and shadow as you walk beneath its slender curves in the covered walkway leading from the surface parking lots. Further on is Michael Singer Studio’s site-specific deconstructed cityscape called Raised ground (2015) which features concrete, granite and steel blocks suspended by cable dividing the long walkway on the roof of the red car park. More familiar, as it has been in place since 2006: eye-pleasing colors by James Edward Talbot Transitiona vibrant river of ceramic, stone and glass that lines the main pedestrian bridge leading to the Barbara Jordan Terminal and moves from Earth to the Sun and Moon and back again in a mosaic burst.
Fine use of funding, yes, but – we have other questions. What about space itself? Does the footprint of an AIPP installation manage to occupy 2% of the planned surface?
“Well,” says Gettman, “it’s open to negotiation between the stakeholders and the artists involved.”
some of those eight big guitars
And this vibrating Transition was created by local ceramist Talbot (famous for his Casa Neverlandia), but these new installations were created by people who aren’t even Texans?
“The AIPP does more than just bring international and national artists to work,” says Gettman. “There is also a sensitivity to making sure that we are creating opportunities for local talent. … We have more things to come that are funded by the AIPP for [the Barbara Jordan Terminal] – Joseph Christopher Letty, Beili Liu and Kat Quay are the next artists there.”
The AIPP is therefore also responsible for part of the art on the inside buildings, like that of Bruce Wolf true patriot (the Barbara Jordan memorial statue) and those Eight big guitars. As the Downtown Austin Cruisersgiant aluminum spaceships built by Young-Min Kang from images of city buildings, and that of Sandra Fiedorek To parts unknown, a series of 11 murals on baggage claim. And – where you can actually get those boarding passes to Tatooine or Hogwarts or Tlön, Uqbar or Orbis Tertius (and Oz and Innsmouth and New Crobuzon and Narnia, and more) – Janet Zweig Interimaginary departures catwalk that has its own flight announcements, with seats placed at an odd angle to the rest of the building.
Oh those 2%! Of course, there’s more art in these public places than there are snakes on an airplane.
True Patriot (The Barbara Jordan Memorial Statue) by Bruce Wolf
“The airport’s expansion development program involves the construction of the new terminal and other structures,” confirms Cory Hurless, the airport’s director of art, music and graphics. “Which will trigger greater involvement of the AIPP – it will keep Constance busy until retirement.”
“Airports are different across the country,” White explains. “Sometimes there’s one person managing the exhibits and the art and the music – like Cory – and sometimes you have a hybrid situation, where you have a local talent agency working with the airport and their team to integrate the program and their projects.”
So here is AIPP and Airport Art working together, with Hurless in charge of Airport Art. “It’s a strange job, isn’t it?” she says. “I didn’t go to school thinking I was going to work in an airport. My degrees are in art history and anthropology, and my master’s is in museum administration. So I did that for a few years – I was the curator of small museums – then I applied here. And there were 80 applicants, and I never thought I’d get it, but here I am. And now it’s been six years .
Over these six years, Hurless has brought a wealth of cultural wonders to this busy place. Without even mentioning all the live music bookings, its impact can be seen most delightfully in the program of changing exhibits that lie beyond security checkpoints. Currently on display, in the dedicated and integrated showcases along the aisles between the doors, are works by Lys Santamaria, the 620 group, Rehab el Sadek, Sylvia Troconis, and more. : the kind of artifacts and images you would see in the best local galleries – because they come from the best local galleries. Why, there’s even a Texas Toy Museum display, with little robots and cowboys and gadgets from many Lone Star childhoods. And, in a series of large kiosks rising from the ground in front of Gate 10: the light creations of Del Valle ISD visual arts students, grades K-5.
Meander wing by Marc Fornes
“I spread my love of art around me,” says Hurless, “so part of my job is to help local schools or organizations like La Peña or Six Square. In addition to individual artists, I also try to enhance Austin’s cultural offerings.”
And – just to make sure we’re doing it right – the AIPP doesn’t pay for any of this?
“No,” says Hurless, “it comes from AUS, from what is now the Department of Aviation. Back when this place opened in 1999, they originally saw it as a place where people came to have fun – that’s how the whole live music program They thought, “People from Austin can come here and have fun. And, before 9/11, it was true: the airport was a place where you could make your date, get food, watch airplanes, so they came up with this inventive idea: Let’s do live music, let’s do art, let’s do it really sophisticated! 9/11 changed everything, so now a lot of what you’re going through is about ticketed passengers – you have to go through the TSA.
[Note: Sadly, that’s true for Zweig’s Interimaginary Departures.]
Landscapes “Green Austin” by Jimmy Jalapeeno
“But, even with that in place, we still have the largest live music program at airports in the United States,” continues Hurless. “We have 40 performances a week. And now you have to come here, what, two or three hours early? And after you go through the stress of going through security, you can relax and listen to music and see rotating exhibits of local artists.”
We can relax (well, maybe a little) as these two entities, AIPP and Airport Art, work well together to bring the culture of Texas, from Austin, to our global gateway. The sky is populated by metallic birds and their nests are home to local wonders. But creative collaboration can be tricky, right? Are notes compared, aesthetics debated, when planning a commission or checking out an exhibit, so new additions can complement each other and what has come before? How does that work with the percentage of all those billions that the airport is going to spend? What is the granularity of the process?
“We have a master plan that we are developing,” says Gettman. “We’re going to find the opportunities early, have something well thought out, instead of just saying, ‘Oh, let’s do a thing here, let’s do a thing there. It will be a comprehensive plan.”
“There are many other entry points to this consideration,” White says. “Concessions, real estate transactions, and all that. So it’s a bit of a balancing act, but sharing voices to talk about intentionality, to think about purpose in all spaces – that box be precise. She smiled like a woman whose flight arrived on time. “Our focus is not without challenges sometimes, but we all have one very big priority: customer service, right? We want to contribute to the traveler experience in the most positive way possible.”
To learn more about the Airport Art program, visit austintexas.gov/department/art-barbara-jordan-terminal-airport.