East Austin Mural Depicting Black Musicians Painted Over

May 12, 2017

An East Austin mural honoring famous black musicians has been painted over. New tenants of the building at the corner of 12th and Chicon streets covered the mural – which depicts Tupac Shakur, James Brown, Michael Jackson and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others – in a white coat of paint, saying they plan to “update” the wall with a new piece by a local artist.

“I knew that it was going to be a tricky situation,” said Veronica Ortuño, who is leasing the building and relocating her high-end womenswear and jewelry store there. “I didn’t know how intense it was going to be.”

"Honestly, I don't think it was the best mural it could possibly be,” said Ben Ellis, Ortuño’s husband. Ellis said his wife talked to members of the East 12th Street Merchants' Association before removing the mural. 

"We adamantly oppose the removal of artwork in the neighborhood without going through the process of involving the community," said Natasha Madison, a member of the merchant's association. Madison confirmed that Ortuño had said they were thinking about painting over the mural, but that the merchants’ association had encouraged them to involve more community members first.

Ellis, who said the original muralist was not local, said his wife plans to hire a local artist to paint a new mural.

“We do want to stay within the context of keeping it vibrant with African-American artists or, I guess, more of a community vibe – diversifying and being inclusive,” Ortuño said.

Jordan Spears, a graphic design teacher at Kealing Middle School, walked to the corner to see what had happened when classes let out. His sister, who had seen news of the painting on social media, had texted him about it.

“It’s a representation of not only black culture and our ethnicity, but also of our creative spirit,” said Spears. “When I share this with my students, a lot of them are going to be hurt…because that’s just another representation that, if they go out and create something beautiful, they not only have to worry about monetizing it, but they also have to worry about the legacy of it and who might take it from them.”

Gerardo Arellano, a local muralist himself, stopped on the side of the road to take a picture of the freshly painted wall.

“There are many artists here asking what is going on,” said Arellano, who said he was disappointed. “This was a specific theme for a black community.”

At least one other mural in the area was also painted over recently. The "Mamas of Color Rising" mural, painted in 2012 near the corner of 12th & Chicon, was painted over earlier this week according to neighbors.