City, artists to work together to preserve iconic Austin murals


by SHANNON MURRAY / KVUE NEWS and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @ShannonM_KVUE

Posted on January 10, 2014 at 7:41 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 10 at 8:01 PM

AUSTIN -- Vandals are hitting some of Austin's most iconic murals. Now the city and the original artists are doing something about it.

There are plenty of places, like the graffiti wall near 10th and Baylor St., where artists come to do graffiti freely. Street art can be spotted all over Austin. City staff tell KVUE when it comes to removing it, they walk a fine line between whats art and what's just vandalism.

Every day thousands pass by the mural on 23rd Street near the University of Texas campus.

"People have loved these murals," said artist Kerry Awn.

Awn is one of the original three artists who painted it in 1974.

"We had so much fun doing this," he recalled.

Forty years later, he's still working on it.

"It would be nice to just re-do the whole thing but, man, that was a lot of work.," Awn said.

In addition to the expected wear and tear, others have decided to leave their own mark, and graffiti now covers both sides.

"This is not adding. This is vandalism. This is just ugly, ugly, ugly," Awn said.

Awn says people respected the murals for years, but in the past six months the gigantic tags and profanity have appeared.

"Poor Stephen F. Austin has been graffitied," Awn said.

"We're just trying to keep up," said Health and Human Services Program Supervisor Julia Narum.

It's markings like those that keep city staff busy, and Narum said the problem is only getting worse.

"I've been here three years doing the graffiti program with Health and Human Services, and my numbers just keep going up," she said.

Narum said her staff spend each day cleaning up graffiti around the city to the tune of about $500,000 a year. Typically they only remove it if people complain.

"We work with businesses if it's attractive, it's not offensive in any way," she said. "A lot of people feel if they put that on their wall no one will come tag it, but we're seeing that's becoming not the case anymore."

The damaged murals present a unique problem.

"There's no way we can go clean it because the artists put so much work into it, and if we try and clean it, we'll mess up the art," Narum said.

Awn is willing to do whatever it takes.

"We have to re-paint this. You can't just scrape this off," he said. "It makes me feel very frustrated."

Awn is meeting with city staff next week to discuss a plan for fixing the mural and preserving it just in time for the 40th anniversary.

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