A Tale of Unity at 12th & Chicon: “We Rise”
If you’re driving through East Austin or checking out the burgeoning clubs near 12th and Chicon, take note of the mural at the northeast corner of the crossroads. Behind the bold portraits of notable Black figures is a story of a contested public expression, with a fragile future.
In 2014 Chris Rogers painted a mural on this building, depicting Black artists such as Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Beloved by the community, the work combined a kaleidoscopic palette with a jagged style, embodying the anxiety and tension felt by many in this rapidly changing area. In May 2017, this so-called heart of Austin’s Black community was struck when Veronica Ortuño, who relocated her clothing store Las Cruxes in the Romani Gallery space, decided to paint over the relatively new mural. Worse still, the new coat of paint was stark white—a painful symbolic gesture for a neighborhood strained by gentrification.
This decision to erase Rogers’ work exemplified the many changes happening in the area, and a public backlash followed. A few weeks after, Rogers and Ortuño met and agreed that the artist could create a new mural on the wall. Local nonprofit Six Square, a leader in preserving Austin’s black culture heritage district, commissioned the work and coordinated public input meetings to get community input on the new mural. Rogers set back to work in December of that year.
Rather than reflecting the anxiety of East Austin as in his first work, the new mural entitled “We Rise” is vibrant, hopeful and unapologetic. It depicts significantly more women, including Beyoncé, Selena, and Nina Simone; but also trailblazers and scholars such as Barbara Jordan, Muhammed Ali, and local community members such as Richard Overton. Images of a phoenix and Día de Los Muertos face painting contain metaphors for transformation, new life and regeneration. At the unveiling of the mural, crowds congregated in front of the images to take pictures and celebrate the beauty and history of the revitalized artwork.
Themes present in this story is that of a community that decided to come together, uniting towards their shared vision instead of giving up or retaliating. However, this victory could potentially have a short shelf life. Six Square’s guardianship of the wall will cease in 2023, meaning the painting could revert once again to a blank white canvas. The possibility of this fate should inspire action in all communities to fight for the Black community surrounding 12th and Chicon, whose history and culture is continuously wiped away before their eyes.
Behind the Scenes in E4’s Creative Production Process
To share local historical knowledge of 12th & Chicon, E4 Creative Mentor Jorge Ramirez interviewed Executive Director of Six Square Nerfertitti Jackmon and longtime Austinite Pearl Cox. Ricardo Villegas and Jennifer Chavez captured video of the interviews.
Audio editing was done by Creative Mentor Jennifer Chavez, Duc Nguyen, and Austin Blankenship. Video editing was done by Duc Nguyen. The 360 images used to build the VR environment were captured by Ricardo Villegas with a Vuze 360 camera, and coded by Chris Robinson using Glitch.
The Creative Mentor team collectively conducted research to learn about East Austin landmarks, and seeked credible local figures to share their knowledge of the area. Production logistics were overseen by AV Producer Mikayla Dumas, and Interactive Producer Grant Loveless.
This article was written by Jorge Ramirez, and E4 Producer Victoria Valadez.
Hero image by Lynda Gonzalez/KUT Austin.